Today was another better day. I was still depressed in the morning, but I spent two hours working on my Doctor Who book in the early afternoon and got about halfway through tidying up the formatting and removing various sentence connector words and phrases that I felt I was overusing. I’m hoping to finish it tomorrow, or the beginning of next week at the latest, depending on whether I have urgent job applications to write first.
Then I had CBT. The CBT therapist felt it would be good to do an experiment on observing how I talk to other people, as this is a key area of social anxiety for me. I had two short conversations with one of her colleagues, one structured (i.e. I knew in advance what I could talk about, in this case my Doctor Who book, which the therapist suggested because I feel embarrassed about liking Doctor Who), one unstructured and free-flowing. My therapist recorded these conversations on her phone so we could watch them afterwards; we also got the other therapist to answer some questions afterwards about how she perceived me and how she felt the conversation went.
On one level this is obviously very artificial. In fact, it felt weirdly like a shidduch date; (blind date in the religious Orthodox Jewish community). The outcome was interesting. I felt that I did have things to say once the conversation started, even though there was a long pause at the start of the unstructured conversation while I tried to find something to say. My body language was somewhat closed (arm across chest, resting right hand on left forearm), but was more open than I expected. I did try to make eye contact, even though I was afraid I would shake if I did. I did actually shake a bit, but it wasn’t noticeable on the phone playback. I realised that I do have a tendency to talk quite fast when nervous and then to suddenly pause as my brain tries to catch up with my mouth and think of words to say. The therapist I was talking to said I seemed nervous, but not awkward or weird and that I was interesting.
She also said she liked my hair, which I keep thinking about because I’ve been self-conscious about my hair since childhood. I have very think, frizzy hair and I tend to let it grow a bit on the long side, not afro length, but not short, as I hate having my hair cut (a mixture of social anxiety and autistic discomfort), but I used to get bullied for having it long at school, and sometimes the girls would come and pat it, so I don’t really like it either way. So I was glad that she liked it.
My therapist said that I would become less anxious the more I practise speaking to strangers. I hope so. My experience in the past has been that periodically I push myself to talk to people, but I feel that I am not doing well and fall back into social anxiety and solitude. I think it is probably the case that I will never be completely confident talking to strangers. My high functioning autism is always going to mean that I have to put extra effort in to the consciously thinking about conversations because I can’t intuitively tell what the right thing to say or do is in a given situation. But this was positive overall.
The other issue, beyond autism, is whether the things I like to do and to talk about are acceptable in my religious community, which is a rather different question and one I really have to work out on my own somehow. After today I do feel somewhat more confident in terms of thinking about shidduch dating, perhaps because I think I would be trying to date women who are more modern, although I’m not sure how I would meet them. I do still feel uncomfortable at the thought of dating without a job (or a writing contract).
I feel subdued and tired now. Shiur (religious class) left me feeling, not exactly depressed, but a little disquieted by a couple of things, but I don’t want to go into detail about them. Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know what is going on in a particular social setting or what I should do or say or do. I guess that’s autism again. I also came away from shiur thinking that apparently I wasn’t born, as I always thought, in the month of strict justice, but in the month of great kindness. It’s just that we (the Jewish people) haven’t yet made ourselves into the appropriate vessel for that kindness, so it overwhelms us and produces negative effects instead. I’m not sure what this means for me or for my conception of myself as someone steeped in strict justice and negativity.
I also always seem to leave shiur feeling drained. I guess it’s a lot of ‘peopling,’ in terms of being in a room full of people for an hour and not wanting to seem stupid or heretical, but also being aware that there is ‘banter.’ Unlike the twelfth Doctor, I am not opposed to banter, but I never know what to say and sometimes I don’t understand the jokes, or whether people are laughing at me or with me, or are laughing about something else entirely something that has nothing to do with me at all.