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Seven things that help me with socialising

I know that socialising is really important. Draining though it might be. I know that, after a long period of not seeing anyone, I feel lonely. And that when I'm going through a rough patch, even just knowing that I could go and see someone (whether or not I do) makes me feel much more secure.

Socialising is exhausting. Primarily because it is so manual. Working out what people mean, what to do with my face, why they just did something with theirs, etc... In a neurotypical brain, all that happens automatically. For me, it takes up valuable computing space.

Add in the inherent unpredictability of a conversation, massive sensory issues caused by being out in bright or noisy places, and the possibility that locations, timings, or who is coming to an event can change with almost no warning... No wonder I reach my limit pretty quickly.

Below are seven things that help me get the most out of socialising, without breaking the energy bank.

Thing 1: Noticing how each person impacts my energy levels

Finding the "right" people to socialise with has made a really big difference. People who "get it" and are easy to just be myself around. They can be hard to find, but they do exist. I've made much more of an effort to spend time with people who leave me off better than when I started. And less with people who leave me feeling drained. It's no slight on anyone as an individual... Socialising comes with very particular difficulties for me, so there are very particular types of people who I can interact with easily.

Thing 2: Telling people what I need and why

All of my friends know about my diagnosis, and I've explained what that means for me. So, if I ask for something or do something that might otherwise seem "odd", I don't need to worry what they are thinking. Things like fiddling with a sensory toy while out and about, changing into something more comfortable at someone's house, bringing my own food as a backup, asking lots of questions about plans, timings, travel, how things will work at a restaurant, etc.

There have been a few times when people have dismissed this, or just not been able (or willing) to understand how big an impact my diagnosis has. That feels extremely frustrating and hurtful in the moment. But at the end of the day, it's a pretty helpful indicator that they belong in the "takes up too much energy" category and that I should move on. I am not responsible for educating every person that I meet.

Thing 3: Setting end times

I try to agree an end time as well as a start time for social events that happen during the daytime. This takes a huge load off my mind. Often, without one, I spend the whole time wondering when we are going to part ways. Not because I'm not enjoying their company. Just because I want to know the plan and how the rest of my day will look afterwards. Without that data point, I keep running every possible scenario on repeat while I'm meant to be concentrating on them. Which in turn does sort of take away from enjoying it...

Thing 4: Asking questions when things are ambiguous

I am much quicker now to ask for confirmation or details on plans if I'm not sure what is happening. Especially with dating, I used to hold back more. Presumably to give the impression that I'm easy breezy... But that is so incredibly far from the truth. I am far more open with people now. Quickly finding out that someone can't or won't deal with that side of me is much more important. (There are plenty of others who will....!)

Thing 5: Taking a break

If I'm at a party or in a large group, sometimes I take myself away for a little bit. In the past, people would have tried to come and bring me back into the group, or worried what was going on. Now, my friends know that it's because I've reached my a limit and just need some quiet time. After half an hour or so, I can usually come back and carry on enjoying the evening.

Thing 6: Saying no

Because I'm more aware of the energy cost of socialising now, I say no a lot more. Before, I worried what people would think, or that it would stop me from building friendships. But now I know that (1) the cost to my mental and physical health means saying yes to everything is 100% not sustainable, and (2) the people worth spending time with understand why that matters. There are certain things that I tend to avoid as a rule as well, e.g. having people over to stay with me, going to stay with friends, doing something social three days in a row.

Thing 7: Planning in down time

Understanding the costs of socialising means I have a choice. I still want to spend time with people. But I need to look after myself and keep things sustainable too. So, I plan in down time before and after socialising, to balance out my energy levels. I schedule time by myself to relax, exercise, sleep, have a bath, focus on a "special interest", whatever I want. And am much more comfortable protecting that from any new social plans now.

Lauren x


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