I think meeting new people is a scary thing for everyone, but for myself and probably most other aspies, it’s not just scary. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s terrifying.
In a situation where I am due to meet someone new, I begin to panic. I think of the worst case scenario and I make sure I plan out everything I’m going to do or what I’m likely to experience, in the hope I might actually get it right. Because if I make a fool of myself, I’m going to think about it for the next several weeks and continue to penalise myself for it.
Usually, in a case of an unexpected meeting, I hold myself together quite well. It’s a moment where I just know what I’m doing. Probably because I don’t know it’s going to happen and therefore, when it does, I haven’t got time to panic because I need to deal with the situation.
For example, the other day, my boyfriend and I were walking home from town and a man came up to us and asked if we were locals. Of course in this moment, my heart leaped a bit because a stranger had spoken to me. How dare they! But I just somehow reacted in a calm and relaxed way. My boyfriend had said that he wasn’t local as he’d only lived in the area for a few years, so he said to the man that I was. The man then asked where a particular road was and I had no clue. “I have no idea where that is. I’ve lived here all my life and I cannot remember a single street name!” I laughed. The man laughed with me and asked if I then new where the local college was. We were luckily just down the road from it. “It’s literally right around that corner over there.” I began to point. “If you just go round the corner, you’ll see a big building with the name of the college on the front. You can’t miss it.” So the man smiled and walked off down the road and went to where we had directed him to.
After this had happened, I felt quite pleased with myself, having been able to respond to him without freaking out and being able to speak without stumbling over my words or making any strange gestures. I felt socially acceptable.
But there are other times when I am not so sociable and sometimes come across as rude because I’m so scared. Mainly when I am going to see someone who I haven’t seen in ages or when I am to meet someone for the first time.
When it’s a friend, I am usually trying to be confident and show I’m not scared, which actually results in me behaving quite weirdly. I shake immensely which I find embarrassing and I can’t get my words out right. I just make a mess of myself. But I then feel like I am being rude if I don’t try to communicate with people. It’s a battle that can’t really be won.
With people I am meeting for the first time as a planned event, I will have elevated anxiety right up until the moment that I feel comfortable with the person I’m meeting (if I ever reach that point). So from the moment the event is planned, up till the moment it’s over, I am in a constant state of heightened anxiety. This makes the time before the event, very unsettling. I am usually quite uptight and frustrated and sometimes the rude side of my asperger’s, shows. I begin to think too much about what can happen, and the night before, I can sometimes have nightmares about the meeting going wrong. However, I have taught myself to prepare so I am not given any reason to get angry or upset, due to the anxiety. All these things may seem small and pointless to some, but for me, they control the outcome of the situation. If I prepare myself enough, I am able to deal with it, but if I am rushed or things have changed, it can actually cause me to get quite distressed. Though I am more tolerant of these changes now, compared to when I was younger, it can still unsettle me.
Having known that planned meetings of people that I have not met before are harder for me to deal with beforehand, I have learnt to prepare. Preparation is my key for being calm and relaxed. And if even if there is a change, I am prepared for it. I am anxious, but calm and aware enough to cope.