So, here’s the situation: the museum I work for has lent a large, valuable item to another museum several hundred miles away. Months of work have gone into the organisation of this loan, but now the borrower’s exhibition is about to open, and, as a courtesy, I have been invited to the opening event. I knew this invitation would come long in advance, and I thought I would go. The other museum is in a very pretty place, a tourist honeypot. I’ve visited the town twice, loved it, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again. So when the invitation arrived, I accepted it. But then I had second thoughts. The event was this past Saturday. Going there would mean a 5 hour drive on Saturday, staying overnight (which cost a lot more than I am happy with) and a 5 hour drive back on Sunday. All for an uncomfortable 90 minutes of hovering, clutching a glass and smiling vaguely at people. I thought it would be good to go, if only to represent my museum, and because I thought it was nice of them to invite me. But the closer the date came, the more anxious I got. I started enumerating the reasons which I shouldn’t go. Here is how I argued the case before myself:
- It’s a hell of a long drive. I’m an anxious driver anyway, and to keep it up for hours, knowing that at the end I will have to find an unknown hotel car park – I think by the time I got there I wouldn’t have any teeth left. Especially since the forecast is for rain. Not to mention being completely shattered when I have to go back to work on Monday. (As it turned out, Saturday was fine, but it rained on Sunday.)
- There was no cheap accommodation to be had, and the money I would have to spend on the hotel, well, I’d much rather spend it on something else, or not at all.
- I have other things to do on that weekend. Specifially, I am the treasurer for a small voluntary organisation, and I have to get the accounts audited every year. The next audit is on Wednesday. I need several hours to prepare the accounts. I had hoped to do this over the weekend, working a bit, taking a break etc. If I haven’t got the weekend I will have to do the work in the evenings when I come home from my paid job. My paid job is extra hard at the moment, because my boss left, and hasn’t been replaced yet, so his work is being done by others of the team, which means that currently I’m doing almost a job and a half, and am really tired by the end of the day. The thought of having to sort out accounts on top of that frankly horrifies me.
- Accordingly, my baseline stress level is already pretty high, so to add other stress on top of that would not do me any good.
On the other hand, I felt that I should go to this event, since they were so kind to invite me. I felt it was kind of expected of me. Also, I still can’t quite stop listening when people tell me that it’s good to go out and meet people. That’s the normal thing to do, isn’t it? And a trip to a nice city, surely that’s something to look forward to? It should be a treat, not a chore, no? Am I not just being too lazy? Am I not just chickening out? Shouldn’t I rise to the challenge and get out of my comfort zone? Am I being too easy on myself?
I argued back and forth with myself. In the end, I decided not to go and cancelled the hotel. I think it must have been the right decision, because as soon as I’d done that, it felt as if the clouds were lifting and the sun was coming through.
The funny thing is, I recently accomplished two social events without major stress, certainly nothing like what I have described in this post. I think there were good reasons for that. The first was my boss’s leaving do in a pub near the workplace. It was in the evening, so I went home between work and the event. It was alright, because I knew where the pub was, and I knew that I would know all the people there. It wasn’t like the other event, where I only knew one person well and one slightly. That made a lot of difference.
The other occasion came when a colleague (call her A) said to me that she was meeting former colleague B for a drink and invited me to come. I had an hour to think about it, but eventually I said yes. Not because I really wanted to, but because I feel awkward saying no all the time. This wasn’t too bad either. We met at a nearby pub I know well, and I knew both A and B, and there was no large group, so it was all manageable. I even said yes when they suddenly decided to eat something at the pub as well. Again, there are good reasons why I could do that without major anxiety. We were staying in the same place, not going elsewhere for food. We were only going to sit at a different table, which we could actually see from where we were. I had a look at the menu and knew there would be food I liked. So it was easy to picture myself in my head, sitting at the other table, eating familiar food. Because I could form a clear picture of what was going to happen in my mind I was okay to go along with it. It still needed a lot of social effort, but it wasn’t nearly as stressful as it could have been.
Compare that, though, with the projected trip. Everything about that would have been much more energy-sapping, with a wholly unknown situation waiting for me at the end. And I think my relief at cancelling the trip tells you I was right.
I still couldn’t help thinking that I had been too easy on myself. This was about self-care, certainly, but was I taking it a bit too far? Self-care, or even extreme self-care, is widely discussed by autistic people here on WordPress (and presumably elsewhere). Are we all a bunch of self-pampering slackers? Do we use autism as an excuse to turn our back on our fellow humans because we can’t be bothered? Well, no, of course not. I don’t have to go into why these things are harder for us than for others, you know it all to well yourselves. But I think there is another reason why self-care is discussed so often. It’s not really that we need to take more care of ourselves than other people*. Everyone needs to take care of themselves, nobody should have to run themselves ragged. But I think most people do it as a matter of course, without the need to discuss it. The reason why we autistic peeps talk about self-care so much is that we wonder whether we really deserve the care we give ourselves. All those thoughts I have outlined above run through our heads. It’s not so much that we deserve more self-care than others, it’s that we are harder to convince that we do deserve any at all.
*okay, in a way we do have to take more care of ourselves, but only because we need to take more care in order to achieve the same levels of wellbeing that others achieve with less self-care.
Image: my knitted microwaveable cat snuggled up in my blanket. You microwave the cat to heat it up and use it as a warmer. When hot it also emits an odour of artificial lavender, which I find a bit unpleasant, so mostly the cat is just decorative.