About four times a year a small group of mums in the village meet at someone’s house for an evening of shared food, wine and gossip. Everyone takes some homemade food along, makes the effort to put on make up and to wear fancy shoes, which always get discarded at the door anyway. Its a relaxed affair, and everyone eats far more pudding than they mean to.
I manage about one in four of these occasions, crying off with made up excuses or genuine headaches. The anxiety is usually more than I can handle. And even if I don’t drink I am likely to have a stress-induced hangover for 24-48 hours afterwards. But this time they are onto me. They now know I’m autistic.
They’ve kindly reassured me that there will only be six of us, most of whom I’ve known and liked for over ten years. They’ve told me, “just come if you like, there’s no pressure at all.” And, love them, they mean it.
But, beyond the basics of what to wear and what food to take, here are just some of the things I will need to plan for in advance:
What time will I leave my house, what route will I walk, how fast will I walk, what exact time will I arrive, who might already be there, what face should I make when someone answers the door, what are the best replies to make to Hello! How are You? Alright? (Or any other of the myriad of opening lines people make), where precisely should I head for when I arrive, who might be in that space already, where should I put my contribution, what should I say, should I accept a drink (I have a very low alcohol tolerance), should I have a mini speech ready or will there already be a conversation in progress, hmm… do I actually have any mini speeches, how should I start them, end them, say them without boring people or confusing them…?
Each of these questions will require me to visualise the situation or run through the words multiple times with several variations so that I will have less to spontaneously react to on the night. Because once the evening is in progress I will have enough processing to do in terms of: where will I sit, what will I eat, when will I go to the loo (it’s astonishing how difficult it is to work out when it’s the right time to get up and leave the room, I don’t know how school kids manage this at all!), and, most problematically, when is it an acceptable time to leave?
Because all the autistic folks reading this will know that however much you might be enjoying the occasion, trying to follow the threads of conversation is a bit like playing chase for a few hours across a busy motorway. It’s knackering and highly stressful. And the sooner you can get home to spend a few hours lying in bed awake to process all the information you took in but didn’t have time to deal with, much like a manual defrag on a PC, the better.
But I do honestly want to go. I’ve known these women since our eldest children were toddlers. We’ve seen each other through crises and new babies. We’ve camped together, babysat for each other’s kids, met extended families and drunk many gallons of coffee over the last twelve or so years. They helped us move house eight years ago this week when I was teetering on the edge of a major breakdown.
So, I need to find a way to do this. To quell the anxiety that even though they say they want me to go that they might rather I didn’t. To decide to not worry if I stumble over my words, knock over the wine, offend someone, eat too much (eating is my stim process), fall over or bore everyone. Does anyone have any tips?
I also want to apologise to those of you who are still waiting on some actual detox and food posts! Trying to figure out what autism means to me is taking up all of my thought processing at the moment. Writing some of it down is my personal detox. As soon as I can I’ll get back to it, but I think autism is going to be this blog’s theme for a bit longer.
Love to all of you!