Many of my previous posts have been entirely focused on issues I still have to deal with as an Aspie – specifically my challenges with anxiety, socializing with others, and focusing. For now I’d like to take a short break from lamenting on how challenging life can be for me, and share something a little more positive. Therefore I’ve decided to dedicate two whole posts to some of the ways I have been attempting to overcome these issues. Some of methods I bring up may even be helpful to those who are struggling with similar kinds of problems.
The first step I’ve had to take to make any serious progress is becoming more self-aware of my problems and what may be causing them. Although I’ve learned a lot about my various issues from my parents and my teachers, in the end it is me who has been most helpful in convincing myself that I struggle profoundly with this and that. Thanks to constant personal experience and deep self-reflection, I have had to come to full terms with the fact that I have trouble maintaining good composure in social situations, that I’m very unfamiliar with how most people form and maintain friendships, and that I can’t seem to keep my focus on what’s happening in front of me. The bottom line is that only when you are thoroughly aware of your personal challenges can you hope to fully understand your challenges, and thus find effective means of coping with them. Fortunately, I now have a fairly good idea of why I continue to have many of the problems that I have mentioned in earlier posts. For instance, I’ve realized that much of my severe anxiety stems from perfectionist thought patterns, including this false belief that I’m “not good enough.” I may further explain my issues with perfectionism in a future blog post.
With a better understanding of my difficulties, I have discovered several tools that can somewhat alleviate them, or at least make things slightly less problematic for me. When it comes to my difficulties with socializing, I’ve been using a number of websites to help expand my social life a little bit. For instance, there is a site called Meetup.com that gives individuals an opportunity to join online groups which assemble in person every once in a while. It is through Meetup that I’ve been able to hang out with some really nice, fun people that I share numerous interests with. I have enjoyed some great times with particular group called Albrony Meetup, which is a community of (adult) fans of the television series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, that live somewhere in New York’s upstate region.
I have also used a couple of sites to socialize with people and even make a couple of acquaintances on the web. One website in particular is called WrongPlanet.net – a virtual community dedicated entirely to people on the autism spectrum. Wrong Planet includes a comprehensive forum, a chat room, countless articles and videos about ASD, and even a dating section. I actually don’t use this site very often anymore, but I’ve definitely had a lot of fun on this website simply hanging out with other Aspies. If there is any website I can recommend to my fellow Aspies, it would have to be Wrong Planet.
Another way that I’ve been trying to improve my social life is by adapting a number of helpful behaviors to use in social situations. They are behaviors that people have been telling me to do for many years, and it’s only in recent years that I think they are finally starting to kick in. There are two main behaviors that I am consciously attempting to engage in while hanging out with other people. The first one is to stay casual as much as possible and be myself, rather than stay on edge and try to be “cool” or what I think others want me to be. Much of the time throughout early childhood up to high school, I would frequently attempt to blend in and get more attention by adopting the behavior that I noticed in my peers (or on television). I didn’t often allow myself to simply relax and be my own person, mainly because I had a hard time identifying who this person is. To be honest, I still can’t exactly pinpoint what my personality is at its very core. Nonetheless, I have at least learned that it’s best in social situations for me to say and do what feels natural for the moment, rather than try so very hard to make other people admire me or mimic their mannerisms.
The second behavior that I endeavor to become a habit is to not speak so much or dominate the entire conversation. I’ve already mentioned in my second post (“Tim, please… keep it to yourself”) that regulating my speech and giving other people enough room to speak is a somewhat of a challenge for me. What I’ve been attempting to do lately is actually follow the advice of my parents and be a little more silent when socializing with other people. As you would expect, this is a hard thing for me to do, and it doesn’t always work. So I need to keep telling myself as much as I can that I don’t HAVE to be talking every 5 seconds, and that I don’t HAVE to bring up everything that’s on my mind. I also try to put myself mentally in the shoes of whomever I’m chatting with, reflecting on how much I hate it when I’m constantly interrupted and given little room to speak. There is, indeed, a significant degree of self-restraint and memory involved, meaning that I have a long way to go before this becomes natural. Fortunately I’ve noticed slight progress in keeping thoughts to myself and not dominating the conversation, so I can say there is some promise in getting much better at social situations.
In order to prevent this post from becoming waaay too long, I will have to continue this topic in another post, which will be uploaded next week. There I will describe how I’ve been coping with my anxiety, attention problems, and obsessive mindfulness in recent times.