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I have recently acted as a sympathetic listener for a friend who has been stressed out by events in her family life. This is not a new activity for me. Over the last three decades or so I’ve often been the one that friends turned to for somebody to listen openly, and advise. My aim is always to find a solution, for any problem, and I don’t like it when friends make lots of excuses not to resolve their problems or attempt a solution.

And yet… And yet today I find myself the victim of my own stifling stress. I’m tired and grumpy and I want to stay in a dark room and just avoid the event that’s stressing me out. But I can’t.

What I want to do is stifle the stress but actually, the stress has been stifling me. It makes me inactive. I can’t focus on work. Household chores are too boring. I couldn’t possibly study today… all because I’m worried about going away for the weekend with my husband and child, to visit some of my husband’s friends. How dumb is that? I’m ready to throw in the towel over a weekend party.

And it is a party, with some lovely people, and I know my daughter and husband will have a great time…and yet.

I’ve been to these parties before and they always stress me out. I have to talk to lots of people that I only see once or twice a year. There will be lots of background noise and distractions because there will be so many children there. I will be worrying about my daughter’s ability to cope with how busy everything is. And I have to stay the night in someone else’s house. If my husband read this, he wouldn’t get it.

Parties are fun!

The kids will have a great time!

They’re being really kind hosting everybody!

As usual, I am the killjoy. Or rather, my Asperger’s is. Anyway, like the friend I mentioned earlier, I really just wanted to vent, so thanks for that!

On Saturday I shall be taking my own advice and going to the party. It’s a small price to pay for my family and my husband’s kind friends. Until then – I hope I can be a little less stressed, and a little less useless because of it.

Do you find stress stifling?

 

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This weekend I’ll be travelling to stay with some of my husband’s university friends for a two-day ‘party’ in their palatial new home. I’ve known these people for seven years and there are usually at least two of these events a year. Weekends filled with people (about 20 adults usually) and now an abundance of children too. Seven children in fact – and two ‘bumps’. It was only fairly recently that I managed to get through a whole weekend with them without crying, or feeling a desperate need to escape.

Since having my daughter I’ve started to relax a bit more. I feel a little more like I belong with them, and I’ve no idea why. Somehow, being a mother makes me more legitimately human. Do I associate being a mother with being normal? Before I was just myself, the Aspie of the group, the one who was not normal.

The more I consider it the more I think that motherhood has become the ultimate camouflage for me. I’m a wife and a mother, so I must be normal, right? That’s what I hope everyone thinks. But after seven years they must be getting used to me too. Perhaps my idiosyncracies blended away before I got as far as the pregnancy. Maybe it was only my perception that didn’t change, until now.

A large part of being an Aspie seems to be the pervasive feeling of being outside something and looking in. You can hear the party, you can see it, you’re just not there.

This happened to me literally a few weeks ago when I entered a social event, got overwhelmed by the noise and bustle, and went to stand outside instead.

I had a friend with me and she wasn’t too happy about being inside either. But, it was an event I was familiar with and I knew plenty of other people inside. So why did I have to suggest we go outside? Why do I dread every single iteration of that same event and do my best to avoid them? They’re nice events run by nice people and other nice people attend. I just suck at parties, and this event constitutes a party.

  • Lots of people? Check.
  • Lots of noise (from people and music)? Check.
  • Enclosed space due to large number of people? Check.

Ergo, it’s a party.

Parties are meant to be fun but when you’re an Aspie they can be terrifying, dull, or both. I get tired making conversation, tired following conversations and I panic when I can’t think what to say. If anybody ever invites me to a party my automatic response (in my head) is ‘do I have to?

Some people don’t get it. They think I’ll be missing out if I don’t show up, or they think I’m odd because I stand in the corner (or outside) not mingling. Technically it’s their problem but it highlights how different I am which tends to make me feel more awkward.

Luckily there are different types of social gathering and some are better suited to Aspie’s than others.

Events that involve activities

Activity days have a structure and there’s often an instructional element to them as well. This takes the emphasis away from informal interactions and simultaneously gives you something to talk about because you’re focusing on learning and performing the activity.

The structure of the day means you’ll know exactly what to expect and when you can leave! Knowing when it’s home time in advance is something I find very reassuring and it helps me keep things in perspective. Instead of thinking ‘O God this is awful, when can I stop?’ I can think ‘OK, only another two hours and it’ll be over. I’ve already coped with the first four!’

Events that involve small groups

Small groups can still be scary but they’re easier for Aspies to cope with. A double date, where one of the party is new or relatively unknown to the Aspie is a managable step. Spending time with your other half’s family (assuming they don’t have 15 siblings and 20 nieces and nephews) is doable.

Smaller groups are less daunting and make less noise so it’s easier for Aspies to follow the conversations and participate in them too.

Musical soirees or theatrical expeditions

An evening listening to good music or watching a play (or a film) is an easy way for Aspies to socialise. Little conversation is needed, all you have to do is make small talk as you queue for your tickets and discuss the performance during breaks or at the end. Thus your main topic is defined and there is only a small amount of actual socialising required.

Musical and theatrical experiences can also be great mood boosters. If you see or hear something that makes you happy and inspires you then it will be easier to talk about afterwards.

Pub quizzes

Pub quizzes are wonderful. You’re not expected to mingle. They’re held in informal environments. You can have a glass of beer to help you relax. Small talk is mostly unneccessary as you’ll be listening to the quiz master and answering questions. It encourages you to talk to your team members as you try to win the quiz. And there’s a proper structure to your evening!

Brilliant!

Having Aspergers doesn’t mean you have to stay in an empty room all the time. We can socialise and even enjoy it if we choose the right sort of events and don’t give up too quickly.

I have personally tried many versions of these types of event and I can vouch for them, which is more than I can say about going clubbing (unless you’re blotto), house parties and networking events.