In addition to my PhD program, I teach a couple of classes in an unrelated (non-science) thing every week. The group of people I work with doing this is very outgoing. They’re very extroverted, and thrive on partying, “going out”, and all of those other things that make me want to curl up in a ball and not come out for weeks. So I usually just smile and say “thanks for the invite, but I have to be at work early tomorrow”. But this Friday was the birthday of one of my coworkers, and she had personally invited everyone to her birthday party. Despite knowing full-well that I don’t do well at parties, she asked me repeatedly to come, and there was a lot of pressure for me to make an appearance. So despite it being Friday night, when all I really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and process my week, I decided that I would suck it up and go to her party.
She was turning 33, it wasn’t a crazy college blowout – there were lots of people (and about 5 too many dogs – hello, overactive startle reflex), but no crazy loud music or rooms packed full of awful dancing or anything of that sort. There were nice people, most of whom I knew, and decent food, and lots of space to spread out and have some relative quiet. I made it about an hour and a half. And I’ve been completely wiped out for the rest of the weekend. Am I glad I went? Well, the exhaustion isn’t at all worth it. I didn’t really have a good time at the party itself, either. It wasn’t bad, it’s just really not my thing. But I went, because I knew it would mean something to this coworker, and I think it served that purpose. Was it worth it? I don’t know.
Being autistic means that I live in a world that is too loud, too smelly, too fast, and too full of people. I don’t do well in groups. And when I try to venture out into the expected world, it takes a toll. While I was able to cope with the bit of the party I was at while I was there, I’m still reeling from the after-effects over 48 hours later, and I don’t expect it will wear off for another few days. Basically, I’m worn out. Moral of this story? Just because someone is able to do something once doesn’t mean they can do it all of the time. Invisible disabilities are like that. It means that I might be able to “pass” or “fake it” for an hour or two. But the cost is enormous. When I accept an invitation, it’s because I’ve saved up enough spoons to be able to spend them. It’s because I have weighed my options, and decided that this use of spoons is a good one in the long run, that I don’t need to save them for something else. Sometimes the decision comes out in favor of the gathering. Usually it doesn’t. And that’s OK. I’m allowed to say “no” too.
That is all.