Social Anxiety

Social interactions have always been difficult.

As a general observation, social interactions have always proved to be a minefield for me. I did my best to step carefully through this minefield, but I did step on some landmines. I thought that was just me being “quirky” but I think now it is my autism. Truth be told, there were many instances in my life where starting an interaction was difficult. I had problems with phone calls, for instance, since early in my life.

To this day, I either prefer face-to-face conversations or text, rather than a phone call. For me, email amounts to the same as texting on a phone, so I treat both as “text.” For some strange reason, phone calls fall into some sort of uncanny valley for me. I’m not sure why. Maybe face-to-face conversations at least allow me to use the full set of social cues. I’m not great at using those cues. However, I have all the social tools at my disposal if I need them. Text, on the other hand, evens out the playing field, so to speak. Neither of us has anything else to work with than the actual words in the messages. All the cues present in face-to-face interactions are absent. Yes, there can be nuances, but they are extremely dampened by the medium of text.

A phone call falls into a kind of unhappy middle, where some of the social cues are not available, but there are enough of them available to the person that I’m talking to that I feel at a disadvantage. I remember, when I worked in an office, my colleagues would generally call me to talk, whereas I preferred to walk over to their desk to have a conversation. I now believe that it was my autism making me act this way. Even now, if I want to talk to the rental office where I rent an apartment, I’d rather walk over rather than give them a phone call.

Besides phone calls, I also managed to find myself in social situations that made eminent sense to me, but not to other people around me. I remember when I was in my teens, I think, my brother was playing on the stairs and managed to fall and hurt himself. It was serious enough that I had to call an ambulance. They took us to a nearby hospital, but that hospital wasn’t next door. After my brother had been seen by the doctors and discharged, we had no clear way of getting home.

I decided that the best course of action was not to return to the hospital and ask them to contact my parents. Why would I do that? Nobody there really knew us. No, no, no. Why would they want to help me, then? It was much better in my mind to walk over to a store whose store owner was an acquaintance of our father. So we walked over there, and surprised the store owner, who called our father. As I recall, we had already been in his store before, so he knew us, contrarily to the workers at the hospital who did not know us.

This plan made sense to me. My brother is two years younger than I am. I suspect he was just trusting me, irrespective of whether it made sense or not. I don’t think my plan made much sense to anyone else, including the adult now writing these lines. This is just one of the occasions that I recall where I came up with a plan that seemed logical to me, but did not make sense to other people. I stepped on a landmine. I am sure there are more cases like this one, but that I don’t recall them clearly right now.

Even now, social interactions are difficult. Last weekend I was at a social event in town, and I was talking to people. Then I noticed that my foot under my chair was rocking side to side. I had my feet crossed so that the left foot was on top, and I could rock it. Then I remembered right there and then doing the same thing when I was younger. I suspect that maybe the ability at masking can come in waves? I don’t know. Maybe in my teens I was less able to mask, then I learned how to mask like a pro, and then I lost some of the ability to mask with my cancer?

More stories to come.






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