Learning to be social again

Photo by Ryanniel Masucol on Pexels.com

The covid lockdowns had a huge impact on everyone. For myself, there was a huge change to how I engaged with other people. The pandemic wasn’t the only reason for this, as I’ve mentioned before, I had quit drinking and one of the tools I relied on to help me mask had been removed. So why is being social still an issue for me? How come, years after my ASD diagnosis and the lockdowns, I am still struggling to communicate with others?

There are a couple of factors that immediately spring to mind when it comes to how I communicate. The one that feels like it has the largest impact is the previously mentioned lack of alcohol in my life. I was an alcoholic (technically I still am) and although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was using alcohol to self-medicate a condition I didn’t know I had. I could use alcohol as the reason for my quirks, and more outlandish behaviours. When this approach became problematic, I lost a lot of friends and my communication was severely impacted. The system that I had in place for engaging with others had left me reliant on the presence of alcohol. Without it, I felt powerless to communicate clearly, especially when I was having a serious autistic episode.

Another reason I struggled, was the impact that the pandemic had on medical services. Normally, when someone gets a late autism diagnosis, they are offered additional support. This can be something as simple as counselling and other talking therapies, to more practical support like visits to help develop useful coping strategies or techniques. To reduce the risks for all involved, support and care was reduced to priority cases only. While steps were taken to engage non-priority clients via video calls and other methods, these took time to implement and as a result I fell through the cracks. This is a topic that I have mentioned frequently, I don’t blame the NHS for what happened. Reducing the risks of transmitting covid, was a priority. It just feels that some of the impact that my diagnosis had could have been counteracted by more support. It is clear to anyone who reads these posts that it has had a lasting impact on me.

While they aren’t the only things that have impacted my communication skills, they are the two biggest. However, even before the pandemic and diagnosis, communication used to be a challenge for me. This is most noticeable in how I play video games (bear with me, this will make sense). While I enjoy playing games where there are other players (FFXIV, WoW and Destiny 2 to name a few), I don’t actually like being around players I don’t know. I tend to treat the players I encounter as slightly more erratic NPCS. As a rule I don’t do any voice chat, even if it’s built into a game, and apart from the polite o/ and ty I usually do my best to avoid actually engaging with players I don’t know. I have a small selection of people who I talk to in voice, and in most cases I have known them for some time. How come? Well, part of it is that people I know are aware of my autism and make allowances for that. They’ll understand if I don’t want to engage or if I suddenly go off on a random topic that is hardly related to the original one. They will also help to reign me in when I start oversharing, as well as being able to help with gameplay processes that may take me a little longer to grasp. There’s a lot of fear that engaging with strangers will lead to embarrassment and confusion. With a group of people I already know, that risk is reduced. 

So how am I going to overcome my difficulties with communication? I wish I had a simple answer to that. It isn’t going to be a case of waking up one day and finding myself being more social. My current approach to socialisation (and life in general) seems to be quite useful for me, though. I have stopped blaming myself for mistakes I make or issues I encounter, and instead focus on learning from them. For example, I recently signed up to attend a group aimed at people with social anxiety. I dived in and ended up becoming so overwhelmed by the communications via the app and WhatsApp that I ended up not attending. In the past, I would have written off the group entirely. This time I took a step back and assessed what actions I could have done to reduce the overstimulation. Firstly, I went onto the website and reduced all email contact down to the bare bones. This means that I am not going to end up with a bunch of messages about everything that happens on the site as well as within the group (at one point I was getting a new email each time someone signed up to any activity within the group). I have also muted and archived the WhatsApp chat. I haven’t left it, I just realise that it will be much easier for me to engage with it when I know people there and have made a decision about how I feel within the group. Not blaming myself, and making space to look at how I could approach things differently, has allowed me the chance to make adjustments that are less likely to cause me future difficulties. It isn’t an easy process, especially when the urge to blame myself for things is so overwhelming, however it can be very useful and even reassuring. From this experience, I have learned that I should avoid throwing myself in at the deep end, as well as to find ways that I can control things to avoid overstimulation. I have also learned that I don’t need to sign up for the first thing that catches my attention, that there is nothing wrong with taking time to make a decision.

I still have a lot to learn, however I feel positive that things will improve as I gain a better understanding of my needs and how to accommodate them. What kind of things help you with communication? Is there a method that you use to help you? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Published by Kle

A busy bee deep into video games and other gaming related things

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