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Too Much People!

No, before you get out the red pen, I haven't lost my grammatical manners - well, not all of them anyway. Today, I want to bring up the tricky subject of Too Much People. I don't mean there are too many people (that's a debate for a different kind of blog); rather, there is too much to be had of People in general. Let me explain.

People in the personal sense are bad enough, especially on prickly days. Your loved ones can drive you to distraction. They can be too focused on stuff you need to do, like remembering to thank old Mrs Edwards for her card and not run and hide behind the hedge when she opens the door. They can even get on your last nerve when they want nothing from you except a civil good morning. If this is how you are feeling, can you imagine what it's like to then have to face people you don't love? Or like? Or even know??

I've gathered, from my vague meandering into the minds of non-aspies, that people in the street, the shops, at the school gate and in other cars on the roads, are not usually considered a type of social contact. As far as I can work out, to non-aspies, social contact is when you actually talk to people, or touch them. It can also be things like chatting to strangers in the queue or on the next table in the cafe.

What non-aspies don't count is the general hubbub of society as it mills around you in its many forms. They can walk along a street with their best-beloved and not be distracted by the myriad faces around them or the sound of other voices. I think this is a kind of non-aspie focusing arrangement.

As an aspie, it's also possible to walk down a busy street and notice none of these things, but this is often only if you are already alone and have zoned out. Or you aren't alone but have zoned out anyway.

In a more normal frame of mind, where you're plugged in enough to talk to people and let them talk back, walking down the street is similar to being surrounded by pockets of sound, let loose by tiny orchestras, or by sudden thunder, followed by hail. It's very difficult to ignore other people if you are already paying attention to someone. You're completely switched on.

If I'm trying to concentrate on what someone is saying to me in the middle of the cafe, but behind them there is an elderly couple talking about what the neighbour saw on Friday night, then that's it. I have to know what she did see on Friday night. That's kind of fun.

If the same scenario has a crowd of women talking on the next table, not being loud or disruptive, just chatting, then that's not so fun. A bigger, more confusing noise can be like trying to talk in a noisy club. I can look at the person I'm with and listen to them, and I can catch the drift of the conversation, but imagine doing that with the noise of the club all around you. Distracting isn't it?

It's not just distracting though. Some days, days when I should perhaps have looked outside, then closed the door and stayed where I was - on those days, it's not good to see all the other people around me. It won't matter where I go or what I do, unless I live on my desert island or Scottish hillside, there will be other people in the day.

Each one can be a sharp blast of sound on the senses, cold rain down the back of your shirt. Like being slapped, hard, with a cold hand. Even the sight of other people on a bad day can have me shivering and wanting to be alone.

They don't have to do anything, you understand. I can be alone amongst them, no need to talk, no reason for them to even look at me. But they are there and I look at them. I listen to them. I avoid them as their presence seems greater than it should be, my personal space being invaded as they pass by. They have become bigger, they feel as if they come closer, I must take notice of them.

I think it's partly the need to spot danger that sets this off. If I'm having a bad day, then I already feel vulnerable, so going out into the world seems much more risky than before. As people are on my list of known dangers anyway, seeing them on a vulnerable day is like laying myself open to harm.

If I must go out when I feel like this, I try to avoid any sort of contact. Again, I would point out that my version of contact and a non-aspie one will be very different. It's days like this that I love those self-service tills in shops, self-service petrol stations, anything where I can minimise contact.

From the outside, I feel it must be obvious that I'm different, though perhaps I just look more eccentric? I'm sure my footsteps must be quicker, the actual steps closer together as I dash across the shop. I hope my stony-faced expression conceals the panic under the surface. I try not to look around because I know once I start looking, I won't be able to stop.

Back in the car, and, for a moment, panic subsides as I clutch the wheel and drop my bag behind the seat. The shop is over, now recover and do what comes next. It doesn't matter what comes next, be it more social contact or simply going home: I still need to recover before I leave.

I'll tell you the image that comes to mind most often when I'm feeling this way: a cheese grater. Sorry if you're squeamish, or have a good imagination, but the feeling I get from other people can be like having the world rub me up against the grater. It's sharp, painful, damaging. On a better day, when things haven't got to bad, it might be more like sandpaper.

You can see why, if I feel like this, that I sometimes have a Too Much People day. The trouble is, if you give in to your instincts and stay at home, or in your safe place, then one TMP day can lead to another and another. It becomes easier to avoid them more than you see them.

It's not hard to see how you can move from there to a place where you spend more time apart from the world than in it. As an aspie, this feels more natural, as you're always set apart in some way. An increase in separateness can be a blessed relief, a chance to relax, knowing you don't have to try to be normal enough to fit in.

Another small step from there and you would barely go out at all and it would soon become harder to deal with the people you do see, even though you know and trust them. Logic rules here and if you wean yourself away from people, then you do end up living without them.

It's a hard choice, though. Believe me when I say, I understand the temptation to live the life of the hermit, in a modern sense, with internet shopping and yourself for company. I see it as it can be: tranquillity, a blending of you and your environment in a way that doesn't happen when you're constantly striving to live by society's rules.

Be careful, dear aspie. It is tranquil, so peaceful. There are no distractions, no sudden noises, no sharp rain down the back of the shirt. How comfortable it is, how easy.

Except, so is falling asleep in the snow and look where that gets you. It's quite possible to be so cold you start to feel warm and, before you know it, what you used to recognise as danger becomes a welcoming relief.

Don't close the door every day. Watch out for the TMP days and do what you can to alleviate the stress. As always, be kind to yourself. But not so kind that you shut the door altogether.

Those pesky people in their awkward world, full of noise, awash with drama, always seeming to want something from you and never giving you the right keys to their own mysteries: you need them and they need you. This is one of the mysteries of life.

For all the noise and drama and cold rain, we all need each other and to be without that social contact, even if it is just the chatting in the queue, is to lose a part of yourself that can be very hard to reclaim.

Close the door, dear aspie. Lock it if you must. Then on the next day, open it again and see how things look. Don't assume the weather hasn't changed from the day before. If you can, go out and come back in again. Exercise your People muscle, don't let it wither.

You see, some days will be People Days, without the TM part. It doesn't matter how thorny you are, or how unlikely it seems. Keep opening the door and going out and you will have People Days. Just don't forget your umbrella, as there is always going to be cold rain sometimes. And don't fall asleep in the snow.


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