I had another appointment with the university counsellor on Wednesday. I originally got in touch with him because of my struggles with the workload, just to see if there was anything he could suggest or help me with. Yet in the space of 4 appointments, he’s come to learn all about my SA, depression, experiences with bullying, self harm, and past assessments for autism. I honestly wasn’t looking for someone else to help with all of these things, but he has so far been great at understanding everything. I don’t know if it’s because he’s older than any professional I’ve seen in the past, but he does seem very, very good at his job and genuinely listens to what I have to say. He’s very easy to talk to because of this, which certainly helps a lot.
As I mentioned in my last post, he’d given me the task of starting a small talk type conversation with him (I was supposed to pretend that he was a random person that I’d met in the university canteen or somewhere similar). All I really managed was “Hi. How are you? …. I’m fine, thanks” before I got stuck. On the few occasions when someone at university tried to make conversation with me, it was much the same – the talk would never last longer than 30 seconds or so, because I just never know what to say. Throughout the hour session, we continued to practice at having a conversation. I don’t think I ever really knew just how clueless I was about talking to other people until then. The counsellor told me that the main trick with conversation is just knowing what questions to ask/ finding something in what the other person says that you can ask a question about. He made it sound so simple but I struggle even with that. Often I’m so anxious that I can’t pay full attention to what the other person is saying. For some reason, my attention span when people are talking to me is very short and I find myself zoning out a lot and missing things. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with anxiety… I’m often quite awful at processing and following spoken instructions also. I’m not good at asking questions of the other person or taking an interest in what they’ve said, in order to allow them to speak. If you imagine making conversation as a game of tennis, where each person has 3 tennis balls, typically the other person throws me a ball (i.e. a question) but I hit it off in the wrong direction rather than returning it to them, so they soon run out of balls to throw and lose interest, and the conversation is over. I’m usually too scared to throw them a ball myself. I could talk about myself quite a lot if someone asked me, but I’m usually poor at asking the other person questions about their self and their life. Perhaps this is one of the down sides of seeing professionals for years – I’m used to having to talk about myself but not having to have a proper, equal conversation. The professionals learn a lot about me and my difficulties, but I learn very little about them. I feel very selfish for focussing on myself and not being able to bring the focus back to the other person by asking them questions. Even on this blog, all I ever really write about is myself and my own thoughts and feelings. I suppose that’s the nature of blogging but still…I really need to learn to pay more attention to others. I must really bore people because of this, and because I have (compared to the vast majority of people) a boring life.
So I have mixed feelings about our last meeting. On one hand, I’m upset and angry at myself because I’ve only just fully realised just how little I know about making conversation and how unskilled I am at it. I’m 19 years old and I’m only now learning the most basic aspects of conversation. It just seems ridiculous when I think about it. As I’ve had so little social experience in my life, I’m basically still a toddler in terms of social skills. I’m going to have to greatly and rapidly improve on this if I am to have any chance of making friends or being in a relationship. I wonder if that’s even possible – 16 or so years worth of social skills in a few months, for example. And even if it is, that’s just one component of reducing/ overcoming social anxiety. It disheartens me. And it disheartens me to know that I am so far behind everyone else, while other people just ‘get’ social interaction and appear to know (or at least have an idea) of what to do in most situations, due to their extensive social experience. On the other hand, I am glad that the counsellor is actually trying to help me improve my conversation skills, because – somewhat bizarrely- none of the other professionals have ever even touched on this before. I really hope that I can improve with his help. He has been very encouraging so far, despite my difficulties: “I know that even walking in this room and trying to start a conversation with me is difficult for you, so you should be proud that you gave it a try“. I will probably try and find a good book on social skills which I can read this summer, but I think direct social experience is what will most help me to improve. I never realised quite how little I know about interacting with other people.