There’s a joke about a man who is lost in the countryside and asks a farmer for directions and the farmer says, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here…” That’s how I feel today. I feel like I’ve got to get somewhere and not only do I not know how to get there, but I can’t even get there from where I am now. More than that, I feel that I could be a great person if I wasn’t me, that I have some good components, but my essential me-ness stops them working properly.
These feelings are in response to an email I got from a friend about my last post about being too shy to talk to people, especially about myself. She said to talk to one of the people from shul about Doctor Who and see what happens.
There’s about a million things I can see that can go wrong here. First, I don’t even get to shul (synagogue) any more on Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings, so I’m not in kiddush (refreshments after the service) to even have this conversation, but we’ll skip over that and assume I make it one week.
The most basic problem is that they probably don’t like Doctor Who and think I’m crazy for trying to talk about it. Even if they don’t actively dislike it and mock me for it (and I’ve been laughed at, quite literally, for my love of this TV programme before), it’s just a strange non-sequitur to bring up. “Why are you asking me this?”
In fact, I only talk about Doctor Who with other card-carrying fans. My parents have seen every episode since the series returned in 2005, yet if they try to talk to me about it, I give short answers and try to change the subject. I have been far too badly burned by the hatred I got for this programme in the nineties and early noughties to feel comfortable sharing it with other people – too scared of mockery, too fearful of being exposed as a superfan who knows the difference between Steven Moffat and Steven Taylor. As a child I was always being bullied for being too clever and knowledgeable by other kids, and told off for showing off that intelligence and knowledge by adults and for trying to send the conversation to my favourite topics (what I now think of as my Aspie special interests), even though it was never my intention to shame or show off anyone, so I’m now too scared to show any kind of enthusiasm or knowledge about anything, particularly my subject of subjects, Doctor Who (now you get a glimmer of how hard it is for me to go to shiur (religious class) each week and answer questions – to show off to the people there, even though the assistant rabbi encourages it, indeed, actually asks me questions directly). Plus, I get a bit proprietorial about this silly kids show that I’ve stuck by over the years. I feel a bit resentful about people who have only joined since 2005 calling themselves fans when they’ve never seen a black and white episode or winced at bad CSO (early greenscreen, except on Doctor Who it was usually yellow).
But let’s assume that I can talk about Doctor Who on this day. There is still worse to come. Worse is if they are too frum (religious) to own a TV. In my head, I can see the whole shul lapsing into a horrified silence as everyone turns to stare at me, the apikoros (heretic) who watches TV and, worse, is writing a book about it! The rabbi points silently to the door as I leave, shamefaced, no one making eye contact with me as I go. I can never return.
(Seriously, this is how I feel about watching TV, just think how I feel about my really heretical opinions…)
But worst of all is this: I do not know how to start a conversation.
I will say that again in case you missed it:
I am thirty-four, I have two degrees and I do not know how to start or keep up a conversation. Just asking how my colleagues are in the morning is an effort. I’m so terrified of saying the wrong thing, intruding on a personal area or being so arrogant as to believe that someone might want to exchange words with me (I generally assume people are too important to talk to someone as insignificant and irritating as me) that I can’t actually get the words together into sentences, let alone get the courage to walk up, open mouth and let them out.
I do not know what to do about this.
I’m sure it’s a mixture of low self-esteem, bad childhood memories and Asperger’s symptoms, but I don’t know how to move on. I literally can not talk to people. If they talk to me, I answer briefly, but try to shut the conversation down, because I can’t cope with it. If I’m trapped with someone (e.g. they are giving me a lift in their car), I panic about what is going to happen. I worry that whether I speak or whether I stay silent, I will be found boring and stupid, but at least if I stay silent I can’t reveal any of my crazy opinions or interests, so staying silent seems preferable.
I know some people on the autistic spectrum see autism as nothing bad, even something good, but I feel I get no positives whatsoever from it and my communication difficulties are a massive, massive burden that I can’t cope with any more. Because I want friends, I want a community and I desperately, desperately want a wife and children, and autism, low self-esteem and social anxiety are stopping me getting those things that are essential to my sanity.