This post isn’t particularly insightful, but since my goal in writing this blog is to show how my brain works on a daily basis and in response to things, I thought I would share something that I’ve been stuck on for a while.
One of my biggest challenges is going somewhere new. This could be a new restaurant, a new theater, a new parking lot, anything really. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been to hundreds of restaurants before. If it is a chain, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been to others in the chain. I will still be supremely nervous about going to and entering a new place. This stems from my poor social skills, and the fact that I have to learn the “acceptable” patterns and interactions. Lets continue with the restaurant theme. First off, some restaurants have multiple doors. Which one do I use? Once I’ve figured out how to get into the building, is it a “seat yourself” or is there a person waiting to seat you? Does this change depending on what time of day it is? Sometimes there are signs or a person standing there to help answer that question, but other times it is ambiguous. Once I’ve been seated, and have a menu – is there food I can eat? If not, how can I modify an existing menu item? And past that, how can I communicate this to the people who will bring me food? And finally, at the end of the meal, do I pay the waiter/waitress, or do I have to take my check up to the counter or register? I have worked very hard to be able to generalize my model of “eat a meal at a restaurant”, but it isn’t easy, and I mess up quite often.
As you can see, there are numerous challenges associated with going to a new place. I’ve been to a restaurant/bar several times now (for various friends goodbye parties), and I’ve never figured out how to order a drink at the bar besides water, which is free. I can’t figure out how it works. I don’t drink, but I really like virgin strawberry daiquiris – it’s basically a strawberry smoothie after all, and I’d love to figure out how to order one. But I digress.
I solve this problem in several ways. When I’m nervous about going to a new place, I try to go with a friend. This way, I can follow their lead. If I’m with someone else, and we mess up the social stuff, that friend usually is able to smooth things over, where I would just melt down on my own. But usually the friend is able to adapt to the new environment very quickly, and I’m a good mimic – I can just follow their lead. I try to challenge myself by occasionally visiting new places on my own, but I find the stress of it is too much most of the time, and I’d rather just stay home. The other way I solve this, is if I know I will be going alone on the day of (for example, many doctors appointments), I do a “practice run” – I’ll drive to the place, find the right doors, etc. a few days before, then I’ll practice the steps in my head until the official run. This isn’t always practical, but it is a way to work around this issue.
This brings me to my newest dilemma… I’ve been wanting to get back into swimming. I did it as a kid during the summers on swim team, and while I was tiny and skinny and would literally turn blue during our dawn practices, I really enjoyed what I was able to do. I’ve been wanting to do some more serious exercise that I can control on my own, and I thought swimming would be a great way to do that. This should be easy. My university has an indoor heated pool that I can use. But the thing is, I don’t know any of the steps to “swimming”, beyond getting in a (hopefully empty) lane and swimming back and forth. And sharing when there are too many people. So things like how to use the locker room. How to get into the locker room is step 1. I think this is easy, I just show my ID. I’ve watched people do this, but some of them don’t, and some do, but only sometimes. Once I’m in the locker room, I assume I can use a locker if I bring my own lock. I’ve read my university’s policy, and it seems that if I use my own lock, I can keep stuff there while I’m swimming, but not overnight. When I walk to the pool, I keep myself wrapped in my towel, right? Or do I put clothes on over my suit? But then, when I’m done swimming, can I shower? I assume yes. I hope so. Do I wear shower shoes? Again, I assume yes. What do I do with wet bathing suit and towel? I assume I put them in a plastic bag then as soon as I get somewhere that I can, I hang them up to dry so they’re not sitting in a gross bag all day.
I’ve been thinking about swimming early in the mornings for months now. I just need to actually do it. I know that if I had a friend go with me once, I would be able to do it on my own later. But right now there are so many obstacles in my way that I’m too nervous to actually do it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get myself into the locker room at some point and from there, I think I’ll be able to figure things out.
A lot of people assume that autistic people and others with social phobias just don’t want to do new things or interact with other people. While that is true some of the time, quite a lot of the time, it is just the opposite – I want to do something new, I just can’t figure out the steps to do it on my own. It is too daunting to try a brand new social situation completely cold, so I just don’t. I’ve been challenging myself on this whole swimming thing. Maybe now that I’ve written this post, I’ll just do it. It’ll have to wait a few weeks though – I want to do it in the early mornings (the pool is open to lap swimmers 7-8am) since I figure it’ll be less crowded, but right now, my mornings are dictated by labwork, since I’m sharing equipment, and the only time I can use it is before 9:30am. Makes for very early mornings, and I’m not giving up my precious scope time for a major social nightmare.
How do other people handle these sorts of situations?