You know how excited some kids get about their birthdays and Christmas etc? I was not that child. Events of Consequence, Special Ceremonies, and other social spotlight situations have filled my heart with dread for as long as I can remember.
People expected Proper Reactions. I don’t do those, not naturally. As an adult I know how to behave in social situations–I’m pretty damned good at it, if I do say so myself–but the knowledge came from observation, imitation, and rote repetition without any deeper emotional understanding of why. When I react naturally, most of the world stops, blinks, and edges uncomfortably away. It took decades to learn the skills I have.
As a child the transitive association got ingrained fast.
- Special Occasions=Super-High Chance of Bad Reactions.
- Bad Reactions=>Humiliating Corrections
- Special occasions = Humiliation.
Sure, I loved getting presents, who doesn’t? But I didn’t love the Expectations, capital letter and all. Social infractions were addressed immediately and directly and were used for future lectures and lessons. When Special means abundantly stressful, being absent and/or invisible becomes a practical defense measure. It becomes the preferred state.
Before I lost all my baby teeth, the stress of worrying about my behavior more than outweighed any possible enjoyment. I still don’t do well under the heavy weight of expectations, and special occasions all come packaged with a big ol’ box of ’em.
Here’s a list of life experiences I avoid and minimize whenever possible:
- Birthday parties (my own, especially)
- Planned Parties in general
- New Year’s Eve
- Other public skill demonstrations
One important point to clarify: I love all those things when the focus is on other people. I adore buying gifts, decorating for holidays, cooking for special events and potlucks, watching parades, listening to recitals…being the audience, a spectator, a fan & supporter? That’s all good. Grand, even. Love-love-love-love it.
I adore the trappings of happiness, so I actually adore special occasions–in my own way. From afar. From the corners. What makes me happier than a clam at high tide is people coming to visit, hanging out and having fun in my home while I hang out nearby.
But I can’t enjoy being a participant, and especially not the centerpiece. Active attention in small social settings will always feel like being burned in a fire. I’ve recovered from the worst early terrors, but damage can only heal so far. Wishing will not make it different, and to be honest I don’t wish it. I don’t miss out– I don’t feel a loss. Scars are usefully numb that way.
I do not want what I am not made to want. So I emphatically do NOT appreciate people deciding they have to “help me get over it,” or “learn to like” games, surprises, and suchlike. Surprise me, and live with the consequences. Friends know this. Friends who don’t respect it do not stay friends.
And I also know other people have the same kinds of issues, which is why there are always at least two rooms plus the kitchen open to guests at my house. One wherever a gathering is officially happening, and another available space, quiet and open to be used.
So if I’m lurking in the quiet room at my own “party” or finding excuses to check on things in the kitchen, or when I’m studying your knick-knacks or sitting with my nose buried in a sketchpad, notebook, or electronic tablet– please don’t worry about me or at me. I’m happy, I promise. It’s just complicated.