As my trip to Las Vegas for the fitness and blogging conferences draws closer, I’ve found myself, unsurprisingly, becoming increasingly nervous. In my experience, the ideas and planning of cool opportunities are always filled with much more excitement and a lot less anxiety than the days just before a potentially stressful but important event. As reality sets in, the impending challenges become more real and I have to work to counter my mounting anxiety with reminders and a positive attitude about the growth I will gain from the activity.
In this case, I’m mostly nervous to meet the other bloggers and navigate the social situation of a tight-knit conference of predominantly women with whom I likely share quite a few common interests and hobbies. I recognize that I probably won’t make lasting friendships because I’m abnormally slow to connect with people and the conference isn’t very long, but I’d like to feel included and accepted by my conference peers and find my own way (within the upper bounds of my comfort zone and maintaining my authenticity) to network with other women interested in writing and fitness. Adulthood lacks the infrastructure offered by sports teams and interest clubs, which are much more common activities for school-aged people, that naturally gathers individuals with similar interests, facilitating a basic common ground to begin a friendship. Of course, adults do have opportunities to make friends but they often seem to be less natural pairings of people with shared interests and more frequently a matter of circumstances thrusting people together: in offices or other jobs, in groups of other parents, etc. As I’ve mentioned, I work at my home office, don’t have kids, and do not readily participate in evening activities because of my biorhythm, I’m pretty isolated from easily meeting friends.
With that said, I’m simply remarking on the uniqueness and excitement of a niche conference “activity” that will gather adults with like interests. I find that notion totally intriguing; it’s one of the times I’ve wished I was not autistic so that I could more comfortably hob-nob and bond with my peers in a timely and confident fashion. While I know from my history and personality that it’s unrealistic and overly ambitious to anticipate meshing quickly and easily with the other bloggers or actually making a lasting friendship, I’ve set a critical but necessary goal of not saying or doing something blatantly stupid or awkward or committing some esoteric (to me) social faux pas. I may not make great friends, but I don’t want some confusing verbal or non-verbal communication to render me in an alienated or “obviously outsider” position. That’s my goal and, although a stretch, I’m hopeful and committed to doing my best.
The other facet of my blogger-conference-attributable stress centers around the content of my blog. The conference is designed for fitness, sport, and health bloggers. Although my blog touches on quite a range of topics including running and fitness, I think it’s fair to say this is more of a minor offshoot rather than the primary “brand.” Because I seem to vehemently hate being “different” and sticking out in group situations, I’m anticipating feeling sheepish and embarrassed when my fellow bloggers ask my what my blog is about: both because my niche isn’t really fitness so it’s somewhat weird that I’m at a fitness blogging conference, but also because my topic (navigating autism, depression, PTSD, and physical health challenges as an adult) is, at face value, also fairly embarrassing to me. I wish it wasn’t and I don’t like admitting that it is because I’m trying to champion autism and mental health acceptance culture, but that’s more of a “process” (partly hence my blog’s name), and I’m not wholly there yet. If I blogged about dogs, cooking, or some other “neutral” subject, I would feel less self-conscious explaining my blog’s angle. As this event approaches and I’ve tried to sort through and mitigate the escalating anxiety, I’ve realized that I’m still not that comfortable disclosing my diagnosis and challenges. Since learning of my diagnosis and beginning a lot more of this introspective self-understanding and self-compassion work, I haven’t been confronted with many situations where I’ve met new people; instead, my outward journey had mostly involved sharing this new information about myself with people who already know me. Fortunately, I’ve mostly been met with understanding and sort of an “ah-ha!” (no wonder Amber is so strange!), if not love and compassion from the majority of people in my life. I’m concerned that people who don’t already know me will hear “autistic” and immediately judge me or perceive me to be some way based on stigma; but ultimately, that’s my issue and part of my concern I still harbor about what other people think of me.
We are all told that it doesn’t matter what others think of you and that people who are worth having in your life will care about you no matter what, yet for me, that’s still harder said or believed than done. It’s too big of a mental step to authentically get to that place in a week when I get to Las Vegas; however, what I can and will strive to do is not obsess over it, give people the benefit of the doubt, and try to confidently own who I am and feel as worthy and “deserving” or belonging as anyone else there. I don’t need to project my insecurities into the impressions others have on me and I don’t need to apologize (which I usually literally do) for my differences or oddities. I will stand tall (at 5’1″!) and introduce myself and my blog with conviction and pride. Perhaps people will laugh to themselves about it or wonder why I’m even at a fitness conference, but I’m guessing that most of the attendees will be kind-hearted women genuinely interested and supportive of one another. I know I will be approaching each of them and their blogs and ideas from a non-judgmental and curious place and I imagine that’s the norm rather than the exception. If nothing else, I’ll have the opportunity to learn about things I love alongside other interested individuals, and the chance to practice putting myself out there in an environment where everyone is new and likely nervous. I’ll get my mindset and attitude in gear because this is liable to be not only an enriching experience, but one of life’s fun, impactful, and memorable gifts.