How to survive being social

I've been trying to find a good way to explain how we can 'learn' to be more social. Notice I don't say sociable. Being sociable assumes a predisposition to not only live with and get along with people but also a need for their company and a willingness to want them near. I'm not going totally crazy here, so I'm sticking with social.

Being social means not poking people in the eye when they say damn fool things to you. It means smiling and trying not to look like your gall bladder is puckering just looking at them. It is staying in the same room as your brother's obnoxious wife and swattable children. It is enduring other people while trying to make it look like you don't mind. Or hate them all.

The assumption that we all need to be social seems ingrained in humanity's collective consciousness. I guess it's a throwback to working as a team (sorry! I used the T word!) or at least having expendable tribe members to throw to the oncoming tiger.

We need to get along to survive; we need to be able to work with one another to make humanity a successful, thriving species on the face of a harsh planet. We need each other so there will be more of us later.

I know I won't be the only one who has noticed we succeeded. The planet is full of us and we managed to keep the human race going long enough to see off that nasty old tiger, once and for all. But still we go on and on and on, expecting other human beings to become part of the (give me a second, it hurts, I'll be fine, hang on) team.

Ignoring the need for actual survival, let's see why it might be good to be social - and I mean the non-aspie, everyday concept of social where you speak to people face to face, in the real world, with no phone or computer between you. Yes, the awful kind of social.

It's hard to get along in the world without learning the rules for social conduct. We don't need to be brilliant at them, just good enough to pass muster. As adults we can choose whether we put up with our brother and his annoying brood but family relations may become very strained if we make the decision not to see the brother again. This makes other people twitchy; they want to bring us all together, they want to reform the whole and make us see how much we need one another.

I guess it's kind of like one massive liver trying to heal itself - it seems the whole body needs the separate parts to work together, no matter how different they are. For the sake of family harmony, we bear his wife droning on about her new clothes, we put up with his grinning, overbearing, smug little brats stomping about all over the special edition Dr Who magazines. (Well, no, I joke of course. We either grab the offending children and clasp the magazines to our breast or we take unseen revenge later).

The point is, we put up and more or less shut up in the interests of an overall easier life. We try to do what other people do so that we won't bring on lots of extra difficulties later. And if it all becomes too much, we hide for a while and gather the strength to face the hordes again.

Being social is hard work but the only way to cope with it is by making sure you include other people in your life, even if it is in a small way. I've forced myself to go for milk before now when I would rather scream and dig a hole to hide in simply because I knew if I left it another day I might not leave the house for a month.

I don't mean we all have to do things we don't want to - this is the kind of tripe trotted out by bilious people who think being an aspie or not coping is something you can force out, like a splinter. No, I mean treat it like a vaccination: you need to be exposed to a little of the disease to survive the full plague. A little bit of humanity at a time makes it easier to cope when you really, truly need to see people.

In the case of learning to be social, regular, small amounts of contact keep you topped up for bigger bouts and also help you to recover afterwards. Being social does not mean liking it but in the end it's one of the few times I will tell you to face your fears and push a little harder. Unfortunately we do sometimes need other people and sometimes they need us.

Still, take heart readers. I don't expect you to be a team player, or take one for the team, or glorify in teamwork. I don't hold with that. Only go so far as putting up with the team and making sure you're out of the way when they need someone to throw at the tiger. Keep your wits about you and you can survive being social. Honest.


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What noise?

It's a small problem, right? It's not life-threatening: stars will not die nor oceans dry up. The moon will not change in its trajectory across our skies and the world health organisation will not start filling bunkers with nubile examples of the human genome.

It is, after all, only a noise.

It's a repetitive, annoying, unstoppable all-assailing noise which has decided to happen near me and cannot be locked out of my head without industrial-grade ear defenders. It is so regular and irritating that I feel as if my head will explode if it doesn't stop.

Anything else I have to do will stop. It will grind to a sudden halt as I stand, head on one side, listening to see where the noise is coming from. Once I realise the noise isn't under my control, I am doomed to listen, over and over and over again to this noise which will never end and stretches on forever into what used to be my future.

My teeth ache, caused by the noise. (Okay, possibly caused by setting my jaw in a suffering and rigid position). My head is full of the noise and nothing else can stay there for long. Any work I had to do comes second to the noise and any conversations I try to have tail off as I forget what we were saying and listen to the noise.

Other people are often so unaffected by this that I have to explain to them there even is a noise and then point out what it is. I stand there, angst-ridden, as they listen and finally hear it. 'Oh yes,' they say and carry on with what they were doing.

Later they might appear and ask, 'Why haven't you made any dinner?'

I look at them as if dinner was some new-fangled idea, then say, 'I was waiting for the noise to stop.'

'What noise?' they ask, having forgotten all about it.

'The noise!' I become animated. 'The noise that's been going on for ages!'

Non-aspies are never going to understand the profound affect of an unfriendly noise on the aspie consciousness. I barely understand it myself as I know, I really, logically know, that a small noise in the distance, or a larger noise next door, will not harm me and shouldn't put a hold on everyday life.

And yet it does. That noise becomes greater than it is, cutting out the aspie's shaky ability to process normal thoughts, making sure that the level of concentration required to hold it all together is disrupted to such an extent that nothing else exists within except the noise.

When it stops - bliss. The quiet! It feels like a vacuum, a beautiful emptiness devoid of anything but grace. It is the feeling we all live for, that sense of peace which makes the tumult of life bearable again.

Readers, it has stopped. It has gone. I am close to being human again. Everything denied me for the eternity it lasted is restored. I am whole once more.


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Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!

'You take it too much to heart.'

'Don't be so sensitive!'

'You need to forget about other people.'

'You're too thin-skinned!'

Does any of his sound familiar? Have you been bothered or upset by something and then been 'advised' to not take so much notice?

One of the issues I've found it hardest to put across is my apparently obsessive attitude to other people being snappy with me. I don't mean big arguments or even properly spiteful rebukes. I'm talking about the small stuff, the everyday sniping, the cat-calling, the tiny comments lodged in the heart of a conversation which jump out and become full-sized.

An hour's conversation can be ruined by one or two of these snide little comments or snarling asides. How does a conversation count as pleasant when the person you are talking to feels it's acceptable to slip in a shoddy reminder of what you did wrong? Why is it still seen as good social interaction when your confidante peppers all the nice stuff with remarks which are laughed off at the time and then examined after?

How many good situations have been poisoned in retrospect because I could see, in perfect, neon-lit clarity, the words thrown at me when I wasn't looking?

Is this how it is in normal society?

I don't want to sound as though I'm zeroing in on the bad stuff and ignoring the full and proper relationships which are the better part of my life. It's just that the good things tend to form together and become an indistinct mass, something kindly but with no distinguishing features. The bad stuff stays where it is, fixed in place until I need to pick it up and cut myself on it.

I know I'm also guilty of snarly comments and letting things slip which would have been better left in the cupboard. It's one of my faults so I feel a bit hypocritical bringing up how much it hurts me when other people do it.

I guess the difference is that I tend to angle the conversation around to discussing these awkward subjects, focusing on them in a way that might be better left alone. Want to avoid talking about your job-hunting? No deal, we're talking about it. Want to talk about nice, jolly shopping? Nope, we're going to talk about your finances and get them sorted out!

I have far less trouble if people do this with me, though. What I hate is having a quick, sharp spear thrown my way when I'm looking at something else then the other person carrying on as though nothing happened while I'm wondering about the pain.

Oh, I forgot a good one. This is one of those sayings that works its way onto internet memes and photo-shopped pictures of puppies with spilled dinners - Don't sweat the small stuff.

Yes, really, don't sweat the small stuff. Don't take notice when people attack you in a small way, or dig their verbal elbows in your ribs and expect you to laugh it off. Don't be upset when you are demeaned in little sentences rather than in a big, whole conversation. Don't cry when you are bullied in tiny, separate amounts rather than being beaten to the ground in one punch.

Don't sweat the small stuff, readers. Apparently save it for the big stuff, you know, the things that really hurt and upset you and make you wonder who your friends are. Sweat those instead.


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