One thing I have always been aware of – though perhaps even more acutely over the last few years – is how little “social stamina” I have compared to the vast majority of other people. By this I mean energy/ capacity for social interaction. I think it’s partly to do with having social anxiety and also partly to do with being an introvert. I’d say I’m easily in the top 5% of people when it comes to introversion, possibly even the top 1%. Even when I’m well rested, in a good mood, and not massively stressed about anything, I get tired out by social interaction far more quickly than most other people (even when I really WANT to be social). When my depression flares up (like it is at the moment), I have even less energy for social interaction. This might be part of the reason why I’ve never really liked pubs (there’s always so much going on in there that I’m drained and want to leave after about 20 minutes, usually!) Also, parties (all parties) have always felt far more like an endurance test to me than anything else. (I remember even as a kid, I would need to go and find a quiet room to escape to at big family parties because I was so worn out by it all). I did still very much enjoy the two parties that I went along to with classmates during my master’s (but I did feel VERY tired and had a bit of a social hangover the next day). I would be interested to know if this is a common experience for people on the autism spectrum too.
My boyfriend is also very much like this, which is really nice in a way (I honestly don’t know how I’d cope with a really extroverted partner, and they’d probably quickly get fed up of me with my tiny social battery). I do sometimes worry though that it sometimes means we aren’t giving social occasions a fair chance.
Whenever I’ve worked at the supermarket, it drains so much social energy from me (even though I interact with people a lot less than most of my colleagues there) that I don’t want to interact with anyone except my immediate family or my boyfriend for the rest of the day. If I absolutely do have to interact with anyone outside of those people after a shift, my total social battery amounts to about 30 minutes before I am completely and utterly drained. This happened to me the other day, when I visited my dad and his partner for Fathers’ Day. My sisters and I had all gone to meet him for a socially distanced chat. I thought we’d be there for about an hour at most but it ended up being about 2 and half. I felt terrible but I was just so tired that I was absolutely desperate to leave by the end of it. I’ve been sleeping terribly since I took the supermarket job so that probably contributes a lot to it as well. I mentioned how I felt to my sisters afterwards and they asked why I didn’t just excuse myself and leave. I know it sounds really stupid but it just never really occurred to me before that I could do that. I always feel that I have to push myself to stay in social situations I’m no longer enjoying for fear of appearing rude. I’d worried about what my dad and his partner would think of me if I left after only half an hour/ an hour. But it backfired massively on me because I was extremely irritable by the time we were leaving, so probably came across as far more rude and unpleasant than I would have if I’d just politely excused myself. I probably looked “like a half-shut knife” (to use a Scotticism) the whole time as well because I’d slept so poorly for the last few days. I do always tend to worry about what other people think and put their wants/ feelings above mine rather than doing what’s best for me. But I’m realising now that it would probably be better for everyone if I just gave myself permission to leave when I feel tired and irritable, rather than forcing myself to stay and just getting more and more grumpy. It’s sometimes difficult to know if I should just keep pushing myself to see if I could get back to a point where I’m enjoying the situation, but I can’t say that’s ever happened to me (at least, not without me leaving the situation for a bit and then coming back).
That said, I’d also like to find ways I can increase my social stamina, or at least make social occasions more pleasant for everyone involved. I’m thinking maybe I should make sure I’m well slept and go on a big nature walk before any big social occasion from now on! I have always done this quite instinctively on Christmas Day. I’ll normally spend an hour or two just by myself in my room in the late morning/ early afternoon and then get my dog out on a long walk before anyone arrives for Christmas dinner. It works fairly well. Perhaps short breaks to myself would help too (like sitting in my room by myself for a few moments if I’m at home, or stepping out for a quick burst of fresh air). I know a lot of people might find this strange, but I can’t change the fact that I’m highly introverted and have social anxiety. Maybe this would be a way to actually enjoy social situations more and still look after myself.
Can anyone else relate? How do you cope with naturally having less social stamina than other people? How do you politely excuse yourself/ extract yourself from a social situation, and how do you look after yourself during them?