When I walk outside to go meet a friend, there is a lot more involved than just simply seeing my friend. The second I walk outside my door; people are perceiving me. From the cars that stop so I can walk across the street, to the couple sitting on a bench in the park, I am on display. For many years, I thought my discomfort with this fact was due to having social anxiety disorder. I seemed to be disturbed by the idea of interacting with people I don’t know and being seen by others. Surely this was a mental disorder, right?
Now that I understand my neurotype, I don’t believe I have any “disorder.” I am just #actuallyautistic and I can literally feel people staring at me. It’s an actual felt experience. How? Because I’m friggin sensitive, that’s how. It is not just being seen by others that exhausts me, it is the potential that others may converse with me or signal me in some way, and I will have to interact with them. And interacting with other humans is not an easy feat for me.
The only way I can describe the difference between interacting with humans as an autistic vs not (mind you, I don’t truly know what it’s like to be allistic, but I digress), is to liken it to the difference between a manual and automatic transmission. For allistics, interacting with other humans is as natural as breathing and therefore, automatic. For me, interacting with other humans is not natural, I have to do it manually. Each part of the interaction requires me to mentally analyze what is happening and guess as to how to change the gears. It is easier with other autistics because I don’t worry so much about getting it “wrong”.
So, imagine every time you leave the house, there is the looming threat that someone will force you to manually drive a car that you don’t want to drive. And with every eyeball that looks in your direction, the threat becomes more real. You try to lie low but just existing puts you at risk of eventually someone stopping to ask you something or to comment on some random aspect of yourself which would force you to look at the gear shift and try to guess what to do. Just the mental energy of being acutely aware of this is tiring.