Once I was finally diagnosed a few years ago – in my mid thirties so way too late to be useful in school days! – my psychologist explained a new concept to me.
She explained it like this – Every human being has a cup of human interaction. Many humans rarely fill this cup. They could go out to work all day, and social events every night, and still be happy to go back for more.
For some of us with Aspergers – and some without, this cup is filled on a regular basis. When my cup of human interaction was full, I needed to be in a safe place with only trusted humans around me in order to empty the cup before I could be around the other humans again.
I suddenly had a huge breakthrough. I totally understood why I simply could not go to school sometimes – it also had happened to me with work as well. Dealing with the “normal” people was sometimes so tiring, exhausting even.. and I just needed peace time to recharge my batteries. Renee from About A Bugg explains more about the cup concept here.
I think what I have learned in the years since my diagnosis about how to manage the cup is – it is all about timing for me. When I worked five x8 hour days, that was simply too much for my cup. I can do a nine day fortnight in the right circumstances. Four or five 6 hour days works for me. I can even do six or seven 6 hour days in a row, as long as I get a couple of days off afterwards.
However, if I have a bad interaction on day 1, that is going to limit my cup capacity until my next day off. And usually a bad interaction leads to further bad interactions, plus, even in my downtime I will be turning that bad interaction over and over in my mind, trying to figure out where I went wrong.
So I think a useful point is – anything that can distract me from turning that interaction over in my mind is like gold, and for me that has always been computer games. My cup will empty in half the time if I can spend it playing a game that I love.
Theme Hospital – one of my favourite Good Old Games.
But come bedtime, there it is again.. what I usually do is read until I am too tired to keep reading. Even if it is a book I know back to front (and could totally write out from memory!) it takes my mind off That Thing, which is, again, like gold.
It is completely exhausting to try to be “normal” for 40 hours a week. It is even worse when someone tells you “it is ok to be who you really are, truly, trust me and be yourself” because the actual truth is, it is not ok to be who I am in a workplace. It is not ok to say what I really think. And while I think I have become good at pretending, they can *always* tell that I am holding back, because my poker face pretty much sucks.
So then I do the thing they have asked me to do – be myself – and all of a sudden, my personality is a “problem”. Why anyone thinks that is ok to say to someone.. I do not know. But that has happened to me more than once, sadly. I even got asked to lengthen my probation and the fact that my personality was a problem was put in writing for me to sign!
I will never, ever, be the real me in a workplace again. No matter how many people try to tell me to “be myself” – every past experience has taught me that it is NOT OK TO BE MYSELF. I will never blame myself for keeping my real self 100% hidden away from the “normal” people. They have proven to me that they cannot – or will not – or refuse to – accept the real me.