Participation

The one thing I have always hated about starting a new class or course is the ‘getting to know you’ activities they always make you do. The one where as soon as the class starts, the teacher announces; “alright everyone, we’re going to take it in turns to tell the class a little about ourselves”. (Strangely, this recently happened at a lecture about Aspergers. Of all scenarios, I would have thought this would not be requested!).

It’s at this point my amygdala kicks in and sets my heart racing with intense volume, thudding so hard that it makes my voice tremble with each rapid beat. As I speak, my throat starts to constrict and I forget to take a breath at an appropriate moment, like reading a sentence without commas. I then put off taking a breath, knowing if I do it’ll need to be an unnaturally large breath due to postponing it. Usually, then at this point I am left to physically push out the last few words, making my throat ache; that aching feeling you get when holding back tears during a heart wrenching movie whilst watching it with others you don’t wish to have see you cry.

That might all sound like when it’s my turn to speak I actually say a lot. When in fact, I struggle to get many words strung together at all. Words defy me in public situations, only basic caveman monologue stumbles out. Well, not quite that bad, but remembering words becomes challenging. I guess it’s performance anxiety, that’s what I’ve always identified it as anyway.

I have noticed however, that when it is a subject I’m interested in or keen about, my knowledge can fill the word gaps with relevant information. I hadn’t thought about it until my more recent consideration of being Aspergic, that this may fall into special interest info-dumping. Not official terminology, but I’m sure you know what I’m getting at.

An example of this info-dumping, was when my husband and I were at a party with his circle of friends, whom we hadn’t seen for a long time. As usual, I was trying to stick close to my husband to avoid the whole; awkward standing alone, wondering what to do with my arms, how can I be brave enough to go join a conversation, should I just go hide in the toilets for a while – scenario.

Anyway, the conversation was happening around me, I had nothing of value to offer, other than to appear interested. Another friend joined the group and started asking about our new place we’d recently moved into. The conversation soon moved to our search for our daughter’s first horse. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop talking and asking questions. It was a topic both this friend and I were interested in and I was aware of myself becoming elated and very animated. There was so much I wanted to ask and discuss and he was the perfect one to talk to.

Meanwhile, the others left the conversation and walked away. Even though we’d actually only been discussing this topic for just a few minutes. Eventually, my husband let me know it was time to go, but I was enjoying the conversation and just didn’t want to leave yet. He literally took me by the arm to encourage me to depart, as I tried to get one more question in as we left.

I’m either silent, doing all the right facial expressions, hiding in the toilets or gabbling about something that I’m interested in; which doesn’t happen often. I believe it’s when I don’t have to consider and ‘act’ my way through a situation that I can relax and become animated and natural in my communication. My thoughts are on the topic I know and like, not on trying to perform and force words and actions out. I have something to say, the words flow without the need for too much thought and effort. But when I see I’m boring the other people, or the subject changes, or I know it’s time to let the topic shift to someone else; I fall silent again and nod and smile and struggle for words.

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