I used to have a good friend at work. I’ll call her “Cecile”. She was a wild and wonderful Latin Euro woman, who had a real zest for life, as well as a fiery temper. She was opinionated, confrontational, and people dreaded dealing with her. She and I worked closely together on many, many projects for the four years I was at that company, and I was the one person in the company who could deal effectively with her on a regular basis.
Most people were afraid of her, but I wasn’t. We would get into yelling matches about policies and procedures, but in the end, we both ended up close friends.
At least, that’s how it used to be.
It’s been quite some time since I last had any contact with her. And there’s a very good reason for that. See, Cecile was an extrovert in the extreme. She loved being in the midst of crowds with lots of activity. Nothing made her happier than being in a whirlwind of excitement, interacting with tons of people, who may have been tipsy or high. She loved the thrill of society, and she went to extravagant ends to cultivate a socialite persona. She spent hours getting ready for parties, and when she emerged from the ladies room, she looked completely different than she usually did at work.
She even had a different name she used with her outside-work friends — Cece — and she only told her closest work associates about her socialite nickname.
She invited me to all her parties – both in her home and out at restaurants. She invited me to concerts with her other friends. We were very close at work, because I was a calming influence, and I could also communicate with the colleagues she alienated with her fiery temperament and her confrontational manner. And I think she hoped that that closeness would carry over into our outside-work life. She and I both grew up with a lot of sisters, and we were in many ways like sisters.
But I could never keep up with her. I couldn’t go to all her events, because they were just TOO MUCH. I couldn’t deal with all the people, all the input, all the sensations. She was sensation-seeking in the extreme, and so were all her friends. The net result, after I attended a couple of her grand production “get-togethers” was going into shutdown mode, the day after… and staying there for about a week.
I tried explaining that I couldn’t take all the activity, but she wouldn’t listen. She just seemd to think I needed to try harder, to relax, and just flow with it. Easier said than done. The last time I saw her, it was for dinner with her and a couple other former co-workers who were in town from overseas for a company meeting. I had met up with my one Japanese co-worker the day before. We’d grown pretty close in the past — since I’d left the company, we’d missed each other’s company terribly, and so we spent a quiet afternoon at a local art museum, and then walked around town for a while, just looking around and taking pictures, and then we had a quiet dinner and parted ways.
We didn’t invite Cece, because it was during business hours. And we also just wanted to hang out together, talk, have dinner, and chill out. My Japanese colleague was still jet-lagged. And we wanted to just chill.
The following night, a bunch of us had dinner together, and when Cece found out that the two of us had gone out and done something without her, her face fell. I knew her feelings were hurt. I felt terrible, but frankly the last thing I could have handled, the day before, was her energy, her bounciness, and the drama that always followed her everywhere she went.
I’m pretty sure her feelings were hurt enough to count me out, socially. And that’s actually okay, because I simply can’t keep up with her level of activity. The one thing that’s not okay with me, is the fact that I’ve never been able to fully explain to her why I couldn’t deal with the situations she so eagerly invited me into.
This is one of those instances where I tend to think that having an official Aspergers/autism diagnosis would help me. If I tell her I’m an Aspie, would she even believe me? Or would she think I’m concocting a far-fetched excuse to get myself off the hook? If a doctor gave me the diagnosis, and it were official, that might make a difference – it would certainly be more credible in many people’s eyes.
It could make it easier to explain a lot of things. And I’d have back-up. It would give people a context within which to understand me — and (re)set their expectations of what I can and cannot do… what I do and do not want to do. And it could give them much-needed tips on how to engage with me in ways that aren’t all one-sided — perfectly fine for them, a borderline horror show for me.
I really wish I had a way to convey that to folks… but perhaps I’m being too optimistic, thinking that it would make any difference. My assumption that having an official diagnosis would help, is perhaps reaching. There’s no guarantee that people would understand what the Aspie deal with me is, and it might actually do more harm than good. They might jump on the “diversity bandwagon” and start treating me with kid gloves. Or they might start avoiding me completely, thinking that I’m too fragile to deal with. My own wife, when I told her that I was having a lot of trouble with physical contact feeling painful, decided that that meant she could never touch me again. Not a touch on the shoulder, not a hug, not anything. I had to explain — several times — that me feeling sensitive one day, doesn’t mean it’s going to be ALL days.
People without my kinds of issues just don’t always have a clear view of how to move forward, and in some ways, it’s easier to just go along with how they want to interact with me. It’s easier for me to let them set the pace, and then adjust to what they want, as we go along. I can always opt out of something they want to do, or avoid getting involved in how they want to interact, if need be.
For example, it’s easier for me to go along, letting people think everything is perfectly fine with me, when they set up social events. I can just excuse myself as being too tired or having a conflict, if it looks like their events are to cacaphonous for me. But if they aren’t too crazy, I can join in. And it’s easier to go along as though I’m just like everyone else, trying to interact with others, just keep a safe distance saying I’ve got a cold coming on, when everyone is doing the hug-hug kiss-kiss thing. Or I just put up with the discomfort, till they’re done with the tactile business. It doesn’t hurt forever — not like a perceived slight does.
With neurotypical folks, I find they can be quite ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with people like me proactively. My issues are not familiar to them. I’m not on their radar. And when they try to accommodate, it’s clunky and embarrassing for everyone. So why even bother?
But still… it would be nice to have an explanation for Cece, about why I just can’t — CAN’T, I tel you — deal with her style of socializing. When we worked together it was fine. But out in the wild… not so much. I just wish people didn’t have to get hurt in the process.
Especially my friends.