December 05, 2015

Surviving the Holiday Office Party for Autistics: Part 2

I wrote my original office party survival post two years ago, when I was at a completely different company.

I survived my new workplace's party last night and I have some things to update since then.

First off, having been at my previous employer for two and a half years, and they were a company that liked to throw parties, I had a lot more practice in that environment. I came to know what to expect of their parties and my co-workers knew me better as a person. Also, being a male-dominated IT company, it was a lot more accepting of people being social awkward/inept. That company was also 10 times bigger than my current company, so it was easier to blend in or just not have tons of focus on me.

My downfall this year was a whole bunch of factors: 1) I hadn't been to a company party in a year, making me out of practice. 2) This company is much smaller. 3) People don't know me very well, nor I them. 4) This was my first party with this company, so I didn't know what to expect.

woman sitting in red dress looking at her smartphone image on
A woman sitting alone on her smartphone. This is what I wish I could do instead.

Despite trying to take care of myself over the course of the week, I woke up with anxiety on Friday morning. Great! I did everything I could to keep it at bay all day long. I think I did a good job of this, with the help of medication. By evening, I was pretty tired (it's tiring fighting anxiety all day!).

Dressed up and got out there. Was also a nice change because for this party I could bring a guest, so I brought Hubby. Having my trusted companion around, I know I can always have someone to talk to and his presence helps calm me.

Again, upon arrival, I do not understand the need to kiss and hug co-workers you saw just two hours before, but I do what I have to do if I have to do it. Especially when we don't kiss and hug good-bye on normal days. Why do we have to do it for parties?

My next major faux-pas was I forgot to compliment people on their outfits. Fun Fact About Me: I do like dressing up. I do like looking good. I do like it when others dress up and look good. HOWEVER, I rarely put this into words in a way that feels natural to me. I have to actually think about looking at a particular outfit and then saying, "that looks nice." Because, and I'm going to be really frank here, I actually don't really care what people wear.  I'm very pragmatic about most things and clothing is one of them. We have to wear it (in this culture anyway) so what people chose to wear is really of no concern to me.
I think next time I need to write notes on my hand to remind me I must compliment people or fear committing an awful social faux-pas.

Now comes the issue of food. Eh, it did not go so well here. Unlike my previous employer's fancy variety buffet where I could easily pick and choose, this was a sit-down formal five-course meal. I also wasn't all that hungry (thanks anxiety), so it's a whole lot more noticeable when you pick at your plate in a group.
It was much easier at my previous employer's - the room was darker, first of all, and I could wander around with a few things in my plate, pretending to be looking for food and very rarely sit down and actually eat. That way no one can scrutinize what or how much I'm eating. I don't want to make people uncomfortable with how I'm eating and I don't want to be asked questions about what I am or am not eating.
Because people get really concerned when you don't eat what's on your plate (a thing I don't understand, but it's just a fact). This is all about blending in with the NTs and it feels like an act. It IS an act, for me at least.

Then there was my lack of appropriate facial expression. I can be very happy. I can smile and look genuinely happy and excited. However, I can't always translate my feelings into my facial expressions. I need to think about things like that, because again, it feels like an act I have to put on so NTs can understand me.
So I was dancing and having fun, but apparently I was not exuberant enough, so someone asked me, "what's wrong with you?!" on the dance floor. I was also not excited enough about a picture (we had a photo booth set up) so I think my co-worker was angry with me, but I'm really not sure. It was a confusing conversation and she was kind of drunk, so I think that's all it was. But it's really hard for me to know or understand really. Especially when I'm already tired, it is hard to put on the appropriate act for NTs and I frankly don't really bother since I can get it wrong whether I try or not.

I want to make it clear though, I'm not upset about any of it. Hubby and I had a nice time. I just want to put out these examples of the amount of effort it can take for someone like me to be social and just try to do it. It's hard, but some of us still try. A lot of us don't try and it should be easy to see why, because even when we do, we often get it wrong.

Really, my only barometer of success for any of these things is that I get home at the end of the night and don't have a raging migraine. I think that comes with not being hard on myself for my failures. That eliminates a whole pile of stress right there.

I guess this is not amazing advice. This is more an explanation of how I cope or get through things that do not come easy to me, and maybe it will help someone else. At the very least, know you are not alone and maybe an NT reading this can see how hard some things are from this side. 

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