Is It Worth It? Social Interaction and Neurodivergence

This past Sunday, I did something that is a normal part of the morning for me: deciding whether to go to church. It was a Sunday after all, and part of my Sunday routine is going to church. While some of you may have trouble believing this, there are benefits to the activity. For me, at least. I have friends there who I want to see and find out how they’re doing. It can often be a chance to talk about things that I find interesting; books, films, even theology–although my take on the latter probably makes some folks uneasy. And, there’s always the fact that Michael Usey will include some off-the-wall shit in his sermon. It’s not all sunshine and motherfucking rainbows, though. There’s the fact that I have to be social and I may not be in a place for that. I also have to let people into my bubble which is not easy for me. And, that bit about my theological takes making people uncomfortable? The fact that I don’t want to be “that guy” (i.e. the one who’s an asshole) coupled with the bullshit Richard spouts in times like these means deciding whether to go or not is a goddamn whole-ass process. All of this is what preparing for social interaction is like when neurodivergence is in the picture.

Why Is Social Interaction a Bitch When Neurodivergence Is In the Picture?

It’s because, for me and a lot of other NDs, every social interaction involves an in-depth cost/benefit analysis. And I mean every social interaction. Even something as trivial as going to the store. I run through a series of questions prior to an outing to see if I can handle it. Things like: do I have the reserves to expend this much energy? Are there factors that will offset that expenditure? If not, are there places on site where I can hide out and recharge? Or, will I have time afterward to do that before something else comes along? I’ve learned that bad shit will happen if I don’t take all of this into consideration. If not bad shit, then at the very least, less-than-good.

A Time Less-Than-Good Shit Happened

Somewhere around 10 years ago, the daughter of my then significant other got married. As the mother of the bride’s boyfriend, I was there in support. Keep in mind that all of this was happening before had a decent understanding of my issues. Anyway, the ceremony was lovely and went off without a hitch. Then, we retired to the location for the reception. Now, I am not, nor have I ever been, what you’d call “great at parties”. They’re just not my scene. But, trying to be a good partner, I gave it my best effort. Until my tank ran dry. At that point, I had to go. I didn’t understand why I had to go, just that I had to. So, I made up some bullshit excuse and left. My girlfriend was not happy. Which probably goes without saying, huh?

Hindsight Is 20/20

Like I said, I didn’t know why I had to get out of there, only that it was so goddamn necessary. I still didn’t understand how things worked for me in social situations, even though I had known I had ADHD for like, 20 years. I didn’t get the whole “introvert” thing–I was just learning about that, too–and had no idea of how social situations can drain me. Nor did I understand the way my “fight or flight” instincts will kick in when my reserves are depleted. I also didn’t have any tools in place to stretch those reserves when the situation called for it. Worst of all, I didn’t have the language to explain what was going on to the person I hurt. I get all that now, but then? Not a fucking clue.

On the Same Goddamn Page

After that little tale of woe, you might be thinking, “Wow, Joel. You kinda suck as a boyfriend.” And, that is a valid assessment. One that’s borne out by my rathered checkered love life. But, I learned from that fucking fiasco. If that same situation were to occur today, I’d be so much more prepared for it. I’d have a plan in place that included a group of people I know to hang out with, breaks to slip away and recharge, and an exit strategy that had been laid out and agreed upon before all the shit kicked off. Because, in addition to learning more about my hinky ass social issues, I also figured out that things go much better when everyone is on the same goddamn page.

Is Social Interaction Worth It When Neurodivergence Is In the Picture?

It depends. If I could always take some time to think about an upcoming social interaction and come up with a plan like the one above, that would make things better. But, that’s not always an option. Sometimes, circumstances don’t allow for it. Other times, it’s all me. Because no matter how hard I try to make a plan or anything else, I still have this brain with all its issues–executive dysfunction, issues with object constancy, and shitty memory, just to name a few–that can make that sort of thing difficult. Of course, society could help with this by not prioritizing extroversion and various types of neurotypical behavior, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Which brings us back to the question, “Is it worth it?” No, it’s not. But, it’s the only game in town and I have to fucking live with it.