social hangover - tips for avoiding and managing the impact of social demands


Since writing about my own experience of a social hangover, I have found out that I am not the only one to experience this and have spent a lot of time thinking about it.  This is the physical and mental shutdown that I can experience after times of extreme social demand, where I am left struggling to face the world around.

At this time of year, the likelihood of social hangovers are much greater as everyone Here is what I am trying to avoid and deal with social hangovers


  • Identify social demanding situations. I now am actively working out what situations I find difficult, and thinking of ways that I can achieve the same outcome in a different way. For me, this means avoiding free-flow group discussions where possible and providing my input before / after the discussion
  • Enlist a social ally. Finding someone who I can tell about the things I find challenging and the support I need to get through it. They can then be my social support to get me through situations I find demanding and avoid compounding difficult situations by unintentionally adding to the demand when I am struggling. I have found this has been the greatest help, as I no longer feel that same level of fear that I did when I felt I was in it on my own. 
  • Find out what to expect. A much as possible, taking the time to find out what is going to happen so that there are no unexpected surprises. This way I can process things ahead of time, and work out my responses. I find it much easier to cope with social situations when I know what to think
  • Be selective with social events. For me, this means saying no to invites to many social events, especially when there are a large number of socially demanding situations looming. Previously I would try to do it all - now I realise that I need to limit myself otherwise I will end up not enjoying anything and I will end up in a state where I can't deal with anything
  • Take time-out to detox. Ensuring that I balance the socially demanding situations with downtime and activities that help self-regulate my social anxiety. For me this is putting time aside for activities that help to relax me - like gardening, listening to music, watching telly, cataloguing my photo collection and more recently Pokemon TCG. 
  • Have an emergency plan. Socially demanding situations can't always be managed or avoided, and sometimes the lure of some situation is so great that the risk of a social hangover is something that I am willing to take on. I have people ready to step up when it all gets too much an I am in danger of self-saboutaging as my anxiety gets out of control. I also know the signs that it is time for me to remove myself from the world in order to regain my composure and top up on my resilience. 

After 40 years, I am still learning about my own social limits and what it takes to help me through socially demanding situations. These tips have started to make a change for me, and I am sure that there are many more to be added to the list. 

I have no desire to become a social butterfly, but with some careful planning and management, I do hope to reduce the frequency and impact of my social hangovers
telling the people close to me after I had been diagnosed as autistic

Telling the people close to me that I had been diagnosed as autistic was surprisingly less emotional than processing my own thoughts of my past and working out what autism meant for me.

I took about 3 weeks to tell the people close to me. I knew at some point I wanted to share my own story on my blog, and I wanted them to hear it from me first. With each person I told, I had a growing sense of relief and I felt myself owning my diagnosis a bit more.

I hadn't thought about what to expect when I told people, and at first, I was a bit puzzled by some of the responses. My husband helped me realise that this was new news to them, and they had no idea of how I felt about the diagnosis. Looking back, I realise that blurting out "I am autistic" might not have been the most subtle approach ... but then subtlety has never been my strong point.

I was amazed how my opening up about why I went for a diagnosis, helped me reach a new level of understanding with some of the people around me. 

The post below is the collection of thoughts I noted down during this period. 



Family

I called [my husband - OH] as I was walking from the office to the car. I told him about the appointment and what the psychologist had said. There was no shift in the world, and no life-changing insights as I shared the news. He offered me his support, wanted to know what I needed, and wished me a safe drive home. I had said it out loud and my autism was "out in the world". Right now I don't know what I need, but at least I know he is there for me no matter what.

Telling [my eldest] was even less eventful. He responded as only he would. I got a shrug and a reminder that he already thought I should be at autism school (he goes to a specialist school). He now often makes reference to me being autistic - usually when I get worked up about something. He has some odd views about autism, which has made me realise that it is one thing to acknowledge being autistic and another thing to understand what it means. We have to talk about his misconceptions some time, to clear them up.

I called Mum (she lives in South Africa) to tell her my news. The line was crackly and her hearing seemed to be having an off day. After repeating "I am autistic" several times with increasing loudness, and several wrong guesses, she finally worked it out. [My husband] was in stitches as he watched me squirming in the study trying to make myself understood ... no mum ... the world is not coming to an end .... I am not dying .... the kids are not dying ..... there is no major life catastrophe ... I simply have been diagnosed as being autistic. 

At first, mum was confused and uncertain. Were they sure? Was I sure? I didn't have the same challenges as my eldest when I started school. Yes, she struggled with me as a child and took me to see a specialist .... but he had said that my refusal to listen or do as I was told was down to lack of discipline and she just needed to be firm with me ... counting to 3 to get me to do things. I was always headstrong, and my teenage years were really difficult for her (and me) compared to my brother, but we got through them. We have never been that close, but she felt that things were really changing in the past few years and she was treasuring our new closeness that has started to develop. 

We talked for hours, about the things that I struggle with and how I felt growing up. We have never talked like this before. In those hours, I learnt more about mum, my family and my childhood. As we said goodbye mum told me it changes nothing for her, she loves me and has always been proud of me. 

My first reaction was "I should hope so too" as I am still the person I was yesterday and the day before that ... I just have a new label and new insights into myself. Nothing has changed. My second section was to look beyond the words and realise that it was mum's way of telling me that she loves me just the way I was. 

[My brother] was out to visit us from the U.S. and so I was able to tell him face-to-face. Once again, the talk lasted for hours ... or to be more accurate, I spoke at him for hours with him sitting at the other side of the table trying to adjust to the time-zone difference and Hubby sitting between us. I talked about our childhood, school, work, my conversation with mum and all my thoughts and insights into our lives. He nodded, made some comments and sat. Hubby thought I had been a bit full on and was expecting a major awkward moment the next morning when Brother stated " I am a bit confused, can you clarify something for me". Turns out he just wanted to know if people were coming to fix the broken glass panel in our conservatory two days later.

I have realised that my family and I have much more in common with each other than I thought. We have just never talked about it as we have never really been a heart-to-heart family. We are a "just get on and do it" family, we don't often share our inner thoughts or feelings but we will always be there for each other when it is needed. 

Friends

WhatsApp was the channel of choice to share my news with friends and neighbours. The message sent out was simple and pretty much went along these lines ....

I wanted to let you know that I was recently diagnosed with autism, after having struggled with increasing anxiety. It is not a big thing for me, merely a confirmation of something I suspected since [eldest] was diagnosed. I realise that I am not someone that you would typically associate with autism,  as I would not have thought of myself as autistic until I found out more after [eldest's] diagnosis. Happy to answer any questions.

There were no questions ... and once again I was told that it changes nothing for the people around me, that I am still the same amazing person they have known for years and that they hoped I would find understanding and insights that would help me with my anxiety.

Like with my mum, the gremlins came knocking at my door .... of course it changes nothing .... nothing has changed. I should hope they still love and care for me .... I  am still the same person. Again, I realised that this was their way of letting me know that they cared for me and loved me just the way I am. 

It is a great reminder to know that despite my being rubbish at staying in touch, not remembering birthdays, and often talking at them as I get carried away with sharing my thoughts without letting them get in on the conversation, they would always be there for me.

Work

I am on a roll now, and feeling much more confident about sharing my news with people. I have taken the next big leap and told my immediate team at work! 

This time there were no questions and no comments. A bit of a dazed look and silence. There is no easy way to tell people, it is not like this is something that you can gently ease into a conversation... or at least I can't. I can still see their faces as if I had dropped a bombshell ... guess it is not every day that your manager tells you something like that. I have become so used to saying it now, that I don't really think of it as a big revelation. I have to remember that most people may not feel the same way, and may need time to ease into the news. Especially at work. 

Thankfully, since my initial reveal the awkwardness has passed and I have been able to have several conversations with different members of my team. I still don't think that they can get their heads around the fact that I am autistic, however we have been able to have some really positive discussions where I have been able to talk about the situations that I find difficult. 

I have been able to discuss why I find these situations difficult, and we have been able to talk through how we can do things differently. Sometimes it still feels awkward and uncomfortable, like getting used to a new pair of shoes. I am trying to find the balance between being open and honest about what I struggle with, and oversharing my every worry and concern. At the end of the day, I am still their manager and I need them to retain their confidence in my ability to effectively lead them. 

We are making little changes, like ensuring that no one brings any new ideas to me in a group meeting. In this situation, my brain is likely to say no and I will come across as negative as my brain works through the new idea - especially if it is a deviation from a previously agreed plan. A much better approach is to write it down and send it to me to mull over, followed by a one-to-one discussion to talk through any questions I have. Once that has happened, we can then take it to the group for additional input.

At some point, I want to let more than my immediate team know however I am not yet ready to take that leap. 

In the meantime, I am continuing to focus on being me, not the thought of who I should be. I am also enjoying not feeling as guilty for so often rubbing people up the wrong way at work, and finding new ways to shape the world around me rather than trying to shape myself to fit into the world.


autism diagnosis assessment as an adult woman, working out what it means for me


After getting diagnosed sooner than expected, I went home with a new view of myself and the world around me. It wasn’t all in my head, and I could stop beating myself up for struggling with many things that came so easily to others around me.

As I worked through things, I found myself thinking about my past and all the things I have silently struggled with. Through it all, I kept asking could it have been different if I had known sooner. Since then I have realised that my experiences have made me who I am today.

At the time I might have over-analysed everything, but that microscopic review of my past enabled me to gain perspective and consider my past in a new light. Since then I felt unburdened of all the luggage that I have been taking on over the years.



The past few 24 hours have been a whirl of emotions as I replay the assessment and what was said over and over in my mind,  working out what being autistic means for me.

Leaving the office it was a matter of fact, I felt neither happy nor sad. It is what it is.

Driving home, I listened to the radio (Heart FM) singing along to songs that suddenly took on a new meaning. “I know I’m not the only one”, “Islands in the stream, this is what we are” and “Don’t stop me now”. I felt empowered and positive as I thought, “this is me, no excuses”. I wanted the world to know so that they may start to understand, and I wanted to change things for the better by showing that it was the world, not me, which needs to change.

I was supposed to meet up with people from work last night but had to cancel as I just wanted to be alone to think things through. I also couldn’t sleep as my mind was whirring with thoughts of the years gone by.

My primary school lunchtimes spent in the library reading Nancy Drew, whilst the other children played together on the playground. Never feeling alone, but never feeling like I belonged. The fear of starting high school as I struggled with the large number of people I didn’t know. Sitting alone on the field in the first weeks of high school, watching everyone else get to know each other. My tears and despair the next year when I started the new year and found that I was no longer with the few people I had got to know. The years of not fitting in, being laughed at, and being bullied. The number of days I took off sick because I couldn’t face heading into school when things became overwhelming.

I thought of university and feeling out of step from the other students who seemed so much more carefree than I was. My awkward attempts to integrate during freshers week, and my determination that post-school life was going to be different. My low attendance as I didn’t enjoy lectures with the hundreds of students, and found it much easier to teach myself from the textbook, and copies of notes from those who did attend. My seriousness about everything, and my inability to just go with the flow. My quest to be out partying with everyone else, but never connecting in a way that led to friendship.  The series of boyfriends interspersed with feelings of loneliness...  strangely, it was easier to bond in a relationship than it was to make friends however it never lasted.

Then I thought of work. My difficulties of integrating into new work environments, and the need to find a friendly ally before I could break the ice with the others (which sometimes took years). The common misperception that people have of me, and their surprise when they get to know the real me. My feelings of being an outsider and wondering why I couldn't make friends.

The years of thinking I need to do better and be better. The self-help books, counselling and coaching to try to improve myself. The guilt as I struggled with the demands of being a wife and a parent, and my growing anxiety as I increasingly struggled to fit into the world around me.

I thought of my history of friendships and relationships. Short-lived and intense. Each one completely different. I morphed into each relationship - the reggae lover, the alternative rocker; the raver, the 90s pop princess. The supporter of rugby, football, golf, cricket, F1 racing and rowing. The party-lover, the theatregoer, the classical music aficionado, the fine diner and lover of simple pleasures. The crafter, the baker, the homebody and gardener. The career women, the innovative thinker, the methodological planner, the confident trainer and coach, the bold go-getter, and the cautious questioner. I took pleasure in how different I could be.

All of them me at one point in time - many of them forgotten as soon as the relationship is over. Do I even know who I am, and what I truly enjoy?

Would it have been different if I had known sooner? Would I have felt less isolated and anxious? Would I have felt less pressure to try to be sociable and fit in? Would I have been more comfortable with who I am, rather than try to be someone I am not?

I can’t change my past, I know that. I do wonder though whether I can change the future and use my experiences to change things so that my son doesn’t need to go through life feeling the way I did.


finding my roots as a adult after I was assessed and diagnosed with autism.

The day of my first assessment for autism passed by quickly. After a morning of nerves and a delayed start, I spent just over an hour talking with the psychologist and then it was over. I was back in the world with a professional view that I am autistic. In a short space of time my questions were answered, only to be replaced with a new set of questions. 

Below is the first part of an entry I wrote the day after my assessment, which is about the assessment itself. 



First things first, I am autistic. That, is the professional view of the clinical psychologist who saw me yesterday. I hadn't expected to get a view so soon, as I thought that it would only be determined after the longer assessment which will involve a series of psychometric tests. So, there you go ... I was one of the pool of undiagnosed mothers, and I am feeling [as yet to be determined].

So back to the assessment. It did not get off to an auspicious start. I turned up more than an hour late, desperate for the loo, stressed out, and with a good portion of my coffee down the front of my dress. 

Not my finest moment! 

It started going wrong when I was so busy thinking about the assessment that I missed the motorway turn-off and had to drive an extra 30km to loop back to the missed junction. Knowing I was going to be late, and unable to get through to the office, I started panicking that they would cancel my appointment. Even after a call to my husband and his promise to contact the office, I couldn't calm down.  I was late, and everything was wrong. Then to top it off, there was no parking when I eventually got there ... cue hissy fit in the car, three attempts to park in the only spare space, another call to my husband to pay for the Ringo parking, and a mad dash to the office as I worried about being so late. Missing my mouth as I tried to finish off my cold coffee was the icing on the cake.

Thankfully there were no more incidents during the assessment. 

After a brief discussion about his credentials and his experience in diagnosing adult women (as opposed to kids and men),  I felt assured that I was in good hands. My key concern was that someone would spend hours listening to me speak and then tell me that I would need to go speak to someone else to confirm any diagnosis. I also didn't want someone who would just tell me I was autistic because they thought that was what I wanted to hear. After all, this is about me understanding myself and wanting to tackle my ongoing anxiety.

We spoke about my experiences and the reasons I thought I might be autistic, along with my struggles at work, home and in social situations. We talked about my job, what I do for a living, and the repeated feedback I received about needing to work on my social skills and communication style. We spoke about my mini obsessions, when they are most likely to occur, my ongoing struggles with anxiety and my often feeling like an outsider or displaced in crowds. Lastly, we chatted about my home-life and our family dynamics.

It wasn't as emotional as counselling ... in fact, it was pretty unemotional as I recited the facts of my life and he made notes.

Towards the end of the session, I was surprised when he mentioned that he felt that there was enough from what we discussed to suggest autism. I didn't know how to respond, so I didn't acknowledge it. Instead, I focused on next steps.

The discussion ended with the psychologist outlining the additional assessments (which he advised were not needed to confirm a diagnosis), and options for helping me to address some of the specific issues that I have been struggling with. It felt strange to hear someone talking to me about disabilities, the equality act and reasonable adjustments in relation to my struggles to get on with other people in the workplace. I don't want this to be viewed as a disability. I just want to understand more about why I struggle with things the way I do, and what can be done differently to help me succeed without being hampered by these challenges.

I am not quite ready to tell the world and have been processing it all day to understand what I think it means for me.  One thing I do know is that I feel very different compared to when my son was diagnosed. With him, I cried for his future ... today I cried for my past.



In my next post, I talk about my feelings after processing my diagnosis.
my experiences of being assessed for autism as an adult woman


This is the third in my series of posts about my autism assessment and diagnosis over the summer.

After I found the courage to book my assessment, I had two weeks of waiting. By the morning of the assessment, I was a bundle of nerves. It was difficult to think about anything else and my mind had become stuck on repeat, as I kept thinking through what I was going to say about why I thought I might be autistic.

This was written on the morning of the assessment, before I headed to the psychologist.



Today is the day.  By the time I go to bed tonight, I will have an independent view of whether it makes sense for me to go for the full psychometric assessment.

I am scared, nervous, and confused. I don't know what to expect, and it is driving me crazy. My mind is racing and I can't stop wondering about what is going to happen during the assessment.

I have so many questions playing over and over, like a record on repeat
  • Am I just jumping on the bandwagon
  • Am I looking for excuses
  • Am I overthinking or over-reacting about the struggles that I have been facing
  • Are they just going to get caught up on my family history
When I am not questioning my reasons for going for an assessment, I am thinking about all of the things that make me think that I might be autistic. I just want it to be done now, so that the repetitive thoughts will stop.

The questions and thoughts are making it difficult to focus on anything else, and I just want to to get back to a steady state where I am not up in the air .... but my anxiety keeps getting in the way. I can't stop wondering whether I am looking for something that isn't there, but then I am not imagining the fact that I am always getting the same feedback in my annual reviews and have not progressed at work at the same rate as my colleagues. I am stuck, and the same things keep holding me back. People, people, people. Why can't I just get on better with people?

I want answers and some guidance on what I can change to ensure that I don't continue to struggle. My greatest fear is that I don't get any answers, and will only be left with more questions. I am tired of being the difficult person, and being told that I need to change. 

I need a change, but I don't know for sure what that change is. Hopefully today can start to give me some insights into the change(s) needed. There is not much more time to think about it all now as I need to head out. It could all be quite different tomorrow!



My next post, on Monday, is about the first assessment and my thoughts & feelings as I processed what happened.

In my last post I wrote about suspecting I was autistic after having struggled with feeling like an outsider, often being viewed as abrasive at work, and increasing anxiety as I struggled with uncertainty and conflict at work.

This is my next diary entry, after I had spoken with my husband about my suspicions and contacted a clinical psychologist to book an autism assessment.
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