Last week, we received in the letterbox an invitation to a Christmas street party, and immediately my heart quickened.
My thoughts (paraphrased here for brevity) as I expressed them to my wife when she presented me the tiny slip of paper:
- I can’t go to a Christmas street party.
- Why do they want to have a Christmas street party?
- I think they’re the new people (they are relatively new – they moved in around 6 months ago)
- “Annual” Christmas street party? Do they want to do this every year!
- What if we’re the only people who turn up?
- What if only us and the neighbours we don’t get on with (there are two sets of neighbours who don’t speak to us – one because I had the cheek to ask them if their kids could not play basketball in the street at 10 o’clock at night, the other because they wouldn’t fork over half the money for a dividing fence) turn up?
- Number 34? That isn’t far enough away from us.
- Can we go out instead of going to the Christmas street party?
- Why haven’t they capitalised ‘Christmas’ in the invitation?
It isn’t that I don’t like Christmas; I’m not Scrooge, this is something else entirely. Social anxiety? Fear of large groups? (Maybe those two are the same thing!) Simple shyness? Worry about the double empathy problem?
I’ve always struggled in social situations, but, importantly, do not consider myself antisocial. While it’s true that I’m most contented in my own company, I do crave companionship and connection. And, most notably, many years ago I fell in love with a woman who I now call my wife and cannot imagine life without her.
But my issues with people persist. Eye contact for me as a child and young adult, even well into my twenties, was almost impossible, preferring instead the far less confronting practise of chin or mouth gazing. And, despite my love of words, I have always struggled to find the right ones to carry on a conversation. (Bull-shit! I hear my wife cry. But it’s true.)
But, if I’m with only one other person, or in a small group of people I know well, I’m a different beast completely. I’m able to relax more for starters; and with that comes a much chattier Glenn (the one my wife knows 😊), a more outgoing Glenn, one from which conversation can flow, and one from which can even spring the odd comedic flurry.
Throughout the years, I taught myself to make (not sustain – never sustain) eye contact as I perfected the dark art of masking. Faking sociability the best that I could, while struggling to hide my internal torment.
But I don’t believe that my specific form of social anxiety has anything to do with my being Autistic, or at least not directly.
Rather, I feel that my anxiety around social situations is because of my ‘rejection sensitive dysphoria’, something I’m not sure if I was born with, or developed after a series of social failures, actual or perceived on my part.
As a kid, I was small, skinny, short, light. And, in those days, I recall feeling threat from all around me anytime I left the house.
My first day of school, I cried my eyes out when mum dropped me off at the office. At first break, my lunch was mercilessly derided. It seemed that everyone possessed the ability to intimidate me – just by looking in my direction.
And despite me making some friends (something I have always been able to do), for all of the years from these earliest childhood experiences until I was well into my twenties, I largely withdrew from the world and avoided interaction.
Of course, none of that has anything to do with Christmas. That I love – entirely. My memories of Christmas days spent with family, extended and my own immediate, are some of my fondest.
But spending time with my neighbours, most of them complete strangers, in a carport, in 30-plus degree heat, eating sweaty ham and gluten-laden rolls that are destined to make me sleepy – I think I’ll pass on that.
And besides, if it is to be the annual event the invitation claims it will be, there’s always next year.
And so it is for us, dear reader, as we bid adieu to 2023 in anticipation of everything 2024 (hopefully) has to offer.
Merry Christmas everyone! And thank you, as always, for reading.
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