This is a slightly longer story than just a “moment”, but I’ve been using this header to indicate that I’m going to talk about something specific that’s been happening in my life.
On one weekend in October, I had a double whammy: first, a work-related conference, and then a weekend meeting of one of the associations I’m a member of (not work-related).
The conference took place in a city several hundred miles from my home. This meant travelling on the day (Thursday) before the conference (Friday) and staying overnight. Fortunately the weekend meeting was in a town not far away from that city, and I had already booked a room in a hotel there, so it was easy enough book the two preceding nights as well and take a train to the conference city and back. Also the booking was done for me by the friend who had organised the weekend meeting. Win!
The fretting started at least two weeks before the conference. I was speaking at the conference as well, but only giving a very short presentation. That didn’t really frighten me anyway, I’m good at public speaking and not unduly fazed by it. It was the whole travelling, changing trains, will something go wrong, will I get a seat, will I be sitting next to a noisy eater etc. thing. When the day came, I so wished I didn’t have to go. But of course there was no way out, so I went. Once I was on the train, everything went smoothly. Arriving at the hotel was super easy, as it was just across the street from the station. I didn’t sleep very well – unfamiliar bed, and the air conditioning was humming all night, and noise was coming in from the street. Also the walls were very thin. But anyway, the travel to the conference in the morning went well.
The conference itself had good and bad moments. I had to contend with one of my major enemies in the world: the PA system. Loudspeakers turned up to “deafening boom”. Clip-on microphones that CRACK! and BOOM! with every movement. A roving microphone which people wave about, producing shrieks of feedback. After an hour my hands hurt from squeezing them together (an anxiety stim). At some point I had to leave the room to stave off a meltdown. On the other hand I coped with the social side very well. I talked to a few nice people, and, this being a conference with a particular subject, no small talk was required as everybody talked about the subject.
Things improved in the afternoon, and I felt sufficiently calmed to attend the evening drinks reception. Oh, and my presentation went well. Success!
I won’t talk much about the rest of the weekend. The non-work-related meeting was a relaxed affair, with a bit of social stress but not much. The journey back was only moderately stressful as well.
The downside was that I arrived back home on Sunday night and had to go back to work the next morning. I felt like I hadn’t had a weekend, but again, there was nothing I could do, I just had to power through.
One thing I have been thinking about recently is the effect of events (social and otherwise) on autistic people, and how I compare to other autistic people. Yes, I’m still playing that game. Luke Beardon in his latest book (and also on his blog here) describes very well the various stages. First, there is the anxiety-filled anticipation, starting often long before the event itself. Then there is the stress of the event itself. Then there is the come-down period, the social hangover, the need for recovery.
I get the anticipatory anxiety – oh boy, do I get that! Massively, no doubt about that. The event itself is usually much easier. Not stress-free, but never as bad as feared. But I don’t get the social hangover afterwards. That is were I thought I wasn’t “autistic enough” (like I said, I still play that game) because I was able to go to work the next day, work through the week etc. I didn’t have to lie down in a darkened room. I didn’t have to take a day off to recover. I just went on as usual. So – another case of “not autistic enough”?
Thinking about it, though, I have realised that the “missed” weekend is still making itself felt. There is a period of relaxation, which was my due and which I am now missing. And I notice it in the little things. I’m less efficient at work. When I get home from work, I can’t do anything. I’ve let my cleaning schedule slide. Mess is accumulating on the floor. I still haven’t put away the bag I travelled with. I emptied it of course and put the dirty clothes in the laundry, but the bag itself is still lying around. I can only make myself do what is absolutely necessary. Otherwise I just have to leave it. And I’ve realised, that’s my version of the required recovery period. It’s been a week and a half since the busy weekend, and last weekend I was at my leisure. But I still feel that my energy reserves haven’t been fully replenished. I’m not back to normal, even though I go about and pretend I am. Eventually my energy reserves will have reached their usual level, unless something else comes along which depletes them. It is therefore with joy and relief that I received a message today that a meeting I had scheduled for Saturday (which would have involved more travel and would have taken up the whole day) has been cancelled. Yes! Relaxation ahoy! I’m not going to move from my armchair the whole day. Come to me, my lovely new big fat Cromwell biography, I will have a lot of time for you…