Family gatherings – social demand

The bell rings, the sharp noise hitting my drums. I open the door preparing myself for the hug I’d rather not have. My once tranquil home gets filled with noise of shoes whipping on the mat, giggling, shuffling coats. They hug me and all differently depending on the person, you have the patter, the squeezer, one armer. All sensorily different. Each time my body has to adjust to knowing what sensation it will feel otherwise it’ll distress me. Then the general ‘hello how are you?’ comes in. I’m always fine. Whether I am or not I’m fine. A string of pleasantries empties out of their mouths which is fine but my autistic brain just sees them as a little pointless.

Once the ritual of everyone entering the house has finished, I relax a little. I’ve gotten used to them being in my house. I get involved in the chit-chat. My best tool is to make jokes as I’ve mentioned in a previous post seriously funny. But this is not something that has a lot of longevity for me. So I need to think of another tactic. I see my little cousin come jumping into the room like a pocket rocket. My brain gets an idea. I’ll look after my little cousin. All I have to do is what my cousin tells me. That’s the great thing about younger kids, they have less social rules that I have to abide by. Less pressure. So me and my cousin play with stuffed monkeys making them fly and launch into space. My cousin is laughing away leaping around and jumping on my bed. This was easy for me. All I had to do was put on a funny voice. My speaking did not need to be complex, well thought out. No hidden body language to observe, no tone of voice to detect and match with the words. Everything from a child is literal really and even when it’s not they haven’t quite worked out how to master lying so it is really easy to detect. This took up like between an hour or two. Though I start to burn out like with every social interaction and coax my cousin downstairs with the adults.

Everyone sits down for dinner. Now I’m a really slow eater I find eating a sensory nightmare. I can’t cope with certain textures, I hate the sensation of swallowing food and I get bloated really easily. So when I’m eating around others it places more pressure on me. I try and eat faster because it can take me an hour to eat one meal. Also I get bored of eating so I might stop even before I’m full. So when at a gathering and everything is focused around food I feel uncomfortable. Also when eating with others there’s the small talk. Don’t need to speak about that again.

Now I need a break. I’ve been socialising and focusing for like 4 hours now. So I take myself to the lounge and sit down to relax. Minutes later I’ve been found and one of my relatives has come to talk to me. My heart sinks. I just wanted a bit of time to myself but I can’t exactly go upstairs so I thought everyone is having a good time in the dining room sadly it was not to be. So then I have to make one on one small talk when really I have nothing to say. We cover the general topic of my work, I say my default sentence of ‘it’s boring exam period is coming up and everyone’s stressed’ and how things are for them, each second I want to run and hide in a corner with a blanket over my head. Though I power through until another relative comes to talk and I can give some of the talking to them and I can just sit there. Small bit of relief as some of the social pressure is taken off.

I’ve had my rest and feel like my brain has rejuvenated enough for me to return to the family action. We play board games and have a general laugh. This is the bit of the gathering I like. I enjoy board games because they are structured fun. You play by rules and everything makes sense working towards an end goal. That’s how I like things. My brain is being used but in a logical way which I’m good at. Also you can have a joke, make fun of each other because the game clouds a lot of what you say and people are only half listening so it’s great. The atmosphere is light, relaxed and warm. This is when I feel the great family spirit.

The evening is now coming to a natural end. It’s been around 6-7 hours. I’m ready for everyone to leave. It’s that last push before I’m free to do what I want and shut my brain off. However, people aren’t moving as quickly as I’d like. My family are at the front door, yet they are finding something to talk about. It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit. I can almost hear the noise leaving the house and feel my body relaxing from holding tension of thinking for so long. The last goodbyes, the last hug I’ll have to endure, the last words as they leave the house. I wave them goodbye as they drive off. I shut the front door slowly. Air begins to fill my lungs at a rapid pace. My heart slows down to a regular rate. My eyes open as there’s no more squinting to be done just to manage all the movements and micro-expressions have gone. Now I can truly relax.

I do enjoy parts of my family gatherings and I love my family. It is just a lot of work. Work that they don’t realise I’m doing. To them I’m not autistic. I’m me. When I’m with loved ones the label does not need to exist because the reason I need the autistic label is to help people accept me, to understand me. But I have a great family who have always accepted my quirks and have never needed a justification. Sometimes I wish they could understand that this is hard for me and it’s a challenge. My autism is unspoken at home. This can be good and bad. My autism is just there like dust in the air. Sometimes it settles, other times it’s stirred up but it is always forever there. Maybe they do know. Either way I have to deal with these gatherings because I want to see them and enjoy seeing them I wish it wasn’t as hard for me to do though.

Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it. Peace out!

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