Personal Stories, Autism

Recovering from a social hangover

I am currently struggling with a "social hangover". This is a term I use when I feel that I need to shut myself off from the world, after a period of increased social demands. After a busy period with multiple social events, I am now exhausted, on edge and need time to socially detox.

It has been a big month. Coming together with women who are literally changing the world, speaking at a global conference in Paris, meeting people who want to talk about neurodiversity, and rounding off a busy year at work.

All in all it has been a positive month. Yet here I am, feeling wiped out. My body feels leaden, and the thought of facing anyone (even my family) causes my body to tense up. All I want to do is hide in bed and escape from the world. I am not depressed, just drained.

Some of you may be wondering why. Especially if I told you that I am an extrovert who loves being around others .... most of the time.

For a long time it made no sense to me - how can you be an extrovert who struggles with being social? For me, socialising takes a tremendous amount of effort. I struggle in large groups, find it hard to connect with people I don't know, feel nauseous when I need to make small talk, and find it difficult to participate in unstructured group discussions.  I now realise that I need to socialise in moderation.

Too much socialising and I will be left with a social hangover, as a result of the effort that I need expend in order to achieve that level of sociability.

When meeting people I don't know, I need to work hard to overcome my fear of talking with people I don't know. I struggle to remember a lot of the information that other people tell me, have to actively remind myself to ask people questions, and proactively stop myself from just talking about me and what I think. This means that I also sometimes struggle to remain engaged in conversations, as I often forget what is said in a fast moving conversation, and then need to try patch together different parts of the conversation before I can respond.

When out in groups, I want to have a fun night and join in, but feel unsettled. I can't think of things to say, and became overly worried about boring people. As a result I often stand around waiting for my moment, only to feel like a third party in group discussions. When not trying to make conversation, I spend a lot of time wandering through the crowd looking for people I recognise but feel too unsettled to stay longer than a few minutes in any one conversation. As a result, I don't really allow myself to stop and enjoy the fun.

In work meetings, I have to restrain myself and work hard to look for signs when I might be starting to disrupt the flow of the conversation and negatively impact the usefulness of the meeting. I am constantly reminding myself to let other people talk and not to dismiss things I didn't agree with, whilst trying to keep my face from showing any frustration. Then there is the needing to think carefully about what I say so that I don't come across as lecturing the others or trying to "railroad" the conversation. And, of course, I needed to follow what was being said without zoning out and losing track of the conversation, which can be a struggle when many people are talking.

The social demands of these events have taken it out of me and I am struggling. The family are downstairs and I can hear their laughter (and occasional squabbles) whilst I sit here in my room alone. I would love to head down and join them, but my body and mind are screaming "don't go".

I need social detoxing before I can enter into the social world again. The cure for this social hangover is some downtime and a manually repetitive task that requires little thinking, so I am off to catalogue my photo collection. I am ready for this hangover to be over so I can get back to engaging with my life and those around me.

We are always looking for people to share their experiences or thoughts on topics related to Neurodiversity. Please get in touch if you are interested.

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About Helen Needham

Helen is the originator and founder of Me.Decoded. A passionate advocate for Neurodiversity, - diagnosed as autistic in her 40's after a lifetime of feeling like she was on the outside looking in.
  • England