I wasn’t planning on going to the xmas dinner at my work because I know how it affects me. The thing about it is that I don’t mind being there at the time I get carried away with the atmosphere but the build up and aftermath is what I don’t like. So this year I said “I’m not going”. I was adamant that I was not going. I’d told myself countless times that it takes too much out of me and I don’t have the energy for it. Whenever anyone asked I said no. I also said because our department is so cliquey it made the dinner a bit uncomfortable because I would just sit there trying to listen to loads of different conversations unable to process or contribute to any of them. I’ve been every year (2 yrs) since I started work. I went my first and second year because I wanted to make the effort but this year I thought I’ve made enough effort and this year I’m not going to put myself through it.
So it’s the day of the xmas dinner and all week a few of my colleagues had been trying to convince me to go. Part of it became that I’d been saying that I wasn’t going so often I got into routine of saying it. Though I came out of afternoon registration and I had a bad day and I knew that no one was going to be at home and I didn’t want to be alone deep down because I was worried about the thoughts I’d have so I spoke to some of my colleagues. I began to enjoy their company and I knew I was going to end up going, against my better judgement.
For me personally one of the hardest social events for me is a dinner event. My autism is most exposed at this type of event and here’s why:
1. Dinner involves food – I have a lot of sensory sensitivities when it comes to food, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, so I have find it hard to pick what to eat and also eating typical portions. I have small portions because when I eat, especially in public, I get bloated and full very easily. Most people have a tendency to like food and to enjoy eating. I don’t get that same feeling and when you don’t a lot of people find it hard to understand or think you have an eating disorder.
Fortunately for me at the xmas do it was a buffet so there was less pressure because I could dictate what I ate and how much of it I ate without much notice. I still got bloated but not as bad as when I’m at a restaurant with a set menu.
2. You’re stuck to one place – you have a seat. You are supposed to sit in that seat for hours. The only time you move from that seat is to use the toilet. I want to move around. I don’t want to sit in the same seat I get fidgety.
At the xmas dinner I moved around the table like a bird flitting from one side to the other. I couldn’t sit still and sometimes I was bored by one group’s conversation so I had to move to the other side. I felt quite hyperactive and if I stayed in one place I was going to be stimming really big physical ones so I had to keep the blood pumping.
3. The overwhelming noise – from people talking to glass chinking to music playing the noise at a dinner is constant and bombarding. Filtering out sound is impossible and my brain actually feels like it is aching (not like a headache but much more deep). Linking with number two because you can’t move that much like at other social events the noise becomes even more overwhelming.
I became louder and louder and more and more brash as the evening went on as a coping mechanism. When the noise is loud I become louder than it because I can’t regulate the volume of my voice and also don’t know how loud I’m speaking. So I end up shouting most of the evening. Also when I say brash I mean crass and rude. I take banter a bit too far for most jesting insults at people. I make many inappropriate and naughty jokes which at a work do is not that appropriate. My filter for the most part goes out the window, though I managed to engage it once when I almost asked a newbie in front of the boss if they had dusted off their P40.
Towards the end of the evening I was being to struggle. My head was in so much pain. I was experiencing sensory overload and probably on the verge of a shutdown. I was enjoying myself though at the same time I was constantly self conscious about the things listed above. Fortunately for me I’ve been quite open about my autism at work so although there may be an element of judgement which is natural no one will really say much about it because it’d be rude of them too. One person there who was new year kept saying I was weird. I mean it is quite a shock to people when they first see me like this so I accept it. The moment I knew it was getting too much for me is when without thinking I smacked my head either side with both my hands. It was completely impulse and spontaneous. It really hurt as I was already overloaded. In my mind I knew I had to leave and fortunately others were leaving in my direction.
So as I walked out I felt an instant relief. My hyperactivity was dying down as the atmosphere was no longer hyping me up. I was drained of energy. Exhausted and felt unable to function any higher than being able to keep myself safe, i.e. able to cross the road. I’d survived with minimal embarrassment to myself. I did enjoy myself at the time in a way though in another way I’d been in a lot of pain the whole night blocking it out. It is frustrating that I have to go through all this just to hang out with people. I went out, made the effort and I feel good that I did so.
People may just think autistics are just anti-social but if they understood how hard it was for us to do so maybe they’d understand why so often autistics avoid these type of situations.
Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it. Peace out!