I hate when people worry about me. People often get confused because when I start talking about a problem in my life, or especially when they asked me about a problem in my life, I often deflect or laugh even if the situation isn’t funny. It’s because I want to be done with the interaction as quickly as possible, so I do not get overwhelmed.
Why It’s Hard
They ask me what is wrong or what is going on. They may already sound concerned. This makes me feel bad that I’m taking up their time, so I either say “oh it’s nothing” or I do try to explain the problem with as few words as possible. If I do try to explain it, I may start choking up because I am feeling the experience of dealing with this problem as a whole – not in that moment, but from whenever it happened onwards, or I may be taken back to that place in my mind, with all of the emotions I had during the event or multiple events. And so I naturally become more frustrated having to think about the problem, but I have think about it in order to explain it (ironically, when I get emotional I have a hard time talking, so by thinking about it I’ll have a harder time explaining it). So I start choking up, and because the person sees me choking up or looking down in real time, they get even more concerned. They think, Oh, this must be really bad! Otherwise she wouldn’t sound so upset right now! Which of course, is not what is happening at all. In fact, it’s often the opposite.
So after seeing that I am overwhelmed, the person interrupts me to interject to say one of these things:
- Oh I’m so sorry!
- That must be very difficult for you!
- Have you tried this solution or looked into X?
And of course, what I really want to say is:
- It’s not that bad, I’m just frustrated for needing to tell you because talking is hard.
- It is kind of rough but it might not be comparably, and you’re making me feel much worse about it by saying this and making me feel bad for myself that I deal with my problems internally for so long without telling anyone, because it wouldn’t matter, and it’s too hard to deal with telling people in the first place and dealing with neurotypical expectations surrounding that.
- Yes, yes, yes, I have tried every solution. I’m likely only telling you about this problem because I have done literally everything I can to research the problem and I literally have to tell you what is going on in order for me to function on a daily basis, and so you worry when I may be acting differently or may be out a lot, or when I change any other thing on a daily basis because of this problem. Telling you about my problem is a preventative way of dealing with it in the moment and getting caught off guard by someone’s sympathy and being so overwhelmed and concerned with what’s expected of me that I just break down or don’t respond properly. It has nothing to do with me, it’s about making sure I don’t trip myself up with further interactions with other people when this problem is brought up by others.
My fake, protective answers are:
- “Oh, it’s fine, no worries”
- “Eh it’s actually not that bad”
- “Yea.. it’s not really a fixable problem” (or sometimes, just nothing, “…”)
When it Backfires
Unfortunately, and as you can probably tell, these don’t always work so well.
And then the other assumption, if you mention your problem in detail, even if completely neutral (i.e. “Yea, this happened last week..[describes situation]”), is that you are just complaining. You want sympathy and you’re just complaining because you want others to feel bad for you. That’s why you talked about it so much!
When in reality, I talked about it in detail because the details actually matter and I want the other person to understand the seriousness and the reason behind why I am mentioning it. I actually would love if people were not sympathetic towards me when I mentioned this. That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m just trying to explain why X thing will be hard for me to do. And I’m trying to get them to take it seriously, since of course I had never mentioned the problem before, even if it was going on for an entire year. But the assumption is that it is something “sudden” because I didn’t talk about it, so now if I talk about it “excessively” I must just be complaining and have no real point to what I’m saying. Whenever I talk about myself, it’s usually to make other people understand, and not because I ‘like’ talking about myself. I actually hate talking about myself verbally to other people. I fear that I may be perceived as cold, arrogant, uninterested in others, or smug. It’s so befuddling to me that other people think my internal motivations would be to gain sympathy or attention, especially when I rarely talk about myself to my peers (unless I am friends with them of course).
Talking with Other Autistic People
Here’s the thing. Because a lot of autistic people don’t have that huge inflection in vocal range that neurotypicals do (or at least don’t use it the same way), when I talk to an autistic person about my problems, I rarely ever have that same problem when conversing with them. One of my family members is likely autistic, and I find it so much easier to converse with them about my problems compared to conversing with my neurotypical family member, simply due to the vocal inflection of “worry” that NTs seem to be able to drum up at will. That inflection is so overwhelming and makes me feel so guilty, as if I am attention-seeking, or making a big deal out of something, that it very commonly drives me into shutdown.
- Listen to the autistic person about the problem.
- Consider that the autistic person may already have a solution!
- Ask if they would like advice, or no advice.
- Infantilize them via tone of voice/body language/phrasing.
- Assume you know more than them regarding their own problem.
- Tell them what they should do.
- Project your own worry onto their problems.
- Ask why they seem upset, or expect them to talk about how they feel, for the love of god!