Since I didn’t do a normal post on Saturday, I decided to do an extra post this week.
I have been reading some posts lately from autistic introverts and I have been reflecting on whether I am an introvert or an extrovert. According to a questionnaire I took recently, I am an ambivert. However, I wonder if this is really the case or if I am an extrovert that needs to be introverted at times because of my autism. I wonder if I would be more of an extrovert if I didn’t have autism.
For much of my life, I considered myself to be shy. I had a hard time starting conversations and attributed that difficulty to shyness. When people would ask why I didn’t talk, I would say that I was shy. People understood that and didn’t really ask any further so it worked. It wasn’t until I started this blog and started thinking about autism and how it affects me that I realized that I am really not shy. In fact, I am quite the opposite of shy.
I love people. I love being around people. I love hearing people’s stories. I love talking with people and I love talking too. Sometimes I probably talk too much once I get going.
On the other hand, I can’t stand people sometimes. I don’t understand them and they frustrate me. I don’t like certain things about people and sometimes avoid them because of these things. I can’t handle the loudness of a crowd and I don’t know how to start conversations without someone looking directly at me and I don’t know how to get someone’s attention when they don’t notice me.
Most of these things though stem from my autism. Most of the reasons why I dislike people or dislike being around people are explained by autism. Without autism I would probably be a very sociable person.
When I see someone sitting alone, my first impulse is to start talking to them. Then I start thinking, how can I talk to them? How can I start a conversation with them and what would I say? I generally come up with an entire conversation that we would have and how it would turn out.
By the time I’m done with this process the opportunity to talk to someone has usually passed already. If it hasn’t passed, sometimes I just give up on trying to have the conversation because I can’t figure out what to say or the conversation I have had in my head doesn’t seem important or significant enough to interrupt the person.
I often wonder though how many people I would have talked to or how many friends I would have made if I was able to just have the conversations I want to have with people. I wonder how many opportunities have passed me by because I didn’t know how to say hi to someone or how to start a conversation with someone. And ultimately I wonder how much different of a person I would be if I didn’t have autism.
Would I be kind and understanding or would I be aloof and self-righteous? Would I be a friend to the friendless or would I have a circle of people I was comfortable with and not feel uncomfortable with excluding others? Would I try to see people in the best light or would I condemn anyone that was not like me? Would I be introspective and strive to understand myself and the world or would I be content to accept things as they are and not seek for greater knowledge? Would I be overly friendly and make some people uncomfortable? Who would I be without autism and would it be worth giving up who I am and who I have become?
The hardest part about being an autistic extrovert is not being able to fulfill my need to be around people. Although most people think of introverts as being shy and extroverts as being outgoing and friendly, the true definition of these terms comes from where you get your energy. Introverts gain energy from being alone. They need alone time to recuperate from being with people and they are content to spend time with friends every once in a while. Extroverts, however, gain energy from being around others. Extroverts need to be around other people and lose energy when they are alone too often.
That is the predicament I often find myself in. I do not have the social skills I need to be around people as often as I need or would like to be around them. I wish I could call people up and ask them what they are doing and spend time with them. Unfortunately, I often don’t know how or I don’t want to bother someone because I don’t understand social cues and can’t tell whether someone actually enjoys being around me or not. I find myself losing energy from being alone and not having the social environment I need to thrive.
When this happens I generally resort to going online. Although the internet isn’t an ideal replacement for real life interaction, it keeps me going sometimes. My online interactions sometimes give me just enough energy to get through my more solitary days.
So, what’s it like being an autistic extrovert? In general, very lonely. But like everything with autism, you do the best you can because it’s all you have.