Social Skills

Because of the conjunctivitis, I was unable to work as much this past week, as it significantly hampered my vision and made looking at the computer nearly unbearable. Although this should have been relaxing, it actually increased my anxiety and caused me to feel antsy and unproductive. I am fortunate to truly enjoy my job most days, and the structure and mental energy it commands is a potent anti-anxiety medication. Without it, my routine is disturbed, which alone throws me into disarray, plus I get money concerns (we are on a tight budget and I have no paid time off), and mental fidgetiness. My favorite thing about my job is that it does require a high degree of mental focus and cognitive power. This, by nature, serves as a strong diversion from my mind wandering into trauma-land or depressed thoughts and escalating worries. I also couldn’t read, write, or do much research—leisure activities that normally provide entertainment and exhaust my brain—because of the eye pain. Consequently, I found it difficult to satisfactorily fill my time and keep loneliness, anxiety, and depressed feelings at bay. Wednesday was particularly a struggle, because I also had the sensory insult of appointments and trying to procure my prescription.

Thursday, I set out to use my time more strategically to take care of myself physically and mentally. I went to the library, did an online social skills support group for women on the autism spectrum, and walked to the farmers’ market in town to practice conversing in the way we rehearsed in group. I was surprised at how well-attended and bustling the farmers’ market was. There was live acoustic music and many tents and booths with artisans and vegetable sellers. I meandered through the rows of tables and inquired about some of the interesting finds that caught my eye.

Unfortunately, I did seem to have one interaction where I inadvertently put off the vender by asking (with innocent astonishment) why the small jars of pickles were nine dollars. She became quite defensive and upset but I apologized and tried to justify the question by simply telling her I didn’t know what went into the process of pickle-making and I was curious to learn. I attempted to backpedal out of the faux pas by laying on a bevy of compliments: “they are so beautiful that I was really drawn to them”, “I imagine it’s a labor of love”, and “I bet they are almost worth it.” The last didn’t seem to win me any points but I meant in sincerely. Maybe at this point I had just alienated myself or made it clear I wasn’t going to be buying any. She did try to recommend one of the jars but I informed her that I wasn’t able to buy any today and that I was just out hoping to meet nice people to practice talking to improve my social skills. She guffawed, but I wasn’t making a joke and told her so. Her facial expression was unfamiliar and uninterpretable to me but it seemed to remind me of those on kids who used to tease me or think I was a complete weirdo. It didn’t feel good. I left her booth with my heart a little lower and my confidence a little bruised. The rest of the market I perused in silence to save any potential embarrassment. The music rallied my spirits somewhat and I think I will return next week, perhaps avoiding the pickle section.

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