An autistic navigates large social events (graphs included!)

What is it like to talk in a crowd?

A big forced social gathering.

Sometimes these things happen. And sometimes they are unavoidable. Unavoidable mingling with strangers.

Interviews. Orientations. That sort of thing.

They are growing stress. Ever increasing over time. And once it reaches a certain point, it's like a curtain has been drawn over the stage, and I am on the other side. Not a normal curtain, but the curtain they use for dream scenes and such. It is mostly transparent. You can see and hear through it. But there is a feeling of different ness. 

And once I reach curtains, it is only a matter of time until a meltdown. Until I panic and run out of the room( link on running away) or can't run so I hide and cry.

To illustrate, here is a graph.

The stress level grows over time. Once it reaches curtain stage, it grows faster. Eventually, it reaches the meltdown threshold. And then I'm gone (the meltdown threshold is a blurry one. Sometimes, the meltdowns are slower to build up, where I can escape somewhere in a panic. Or I can run. Sometimes it's not).

Of course, there are different factors that can change the rate at which stress builds up at. Sometimes,  under the curtain threshold, there are even things that can decrease the total amount of stress.
Above is a close-up of the graph. Dark blue is the normalized, normal level of stress. Sometimes things can make the stress increase at a greater rate (green line). For instance, I might be wearing uncomfortable clothes. I might not know where I am or what I am supposed to be doing. I might be hungry or it could be loud or crowded or weirdly lit. But there are also things that decrease the stress (orange). If I have someone i know with me, someone who can manage introductions, someone I can follow around and so I can have less decisions to make. Or if I am carrying something in my hands, or weighted down (I love my backpack). 

But what if I take a break? Find somewhere quiet to sneak away to for a while? What then would happen?

Well, THIS is what happens. See the breaks! Those squiggly black lines. If that happens, then, as you can see, stress decreases. BUT it decreases much slower than it had increased. (Part of this is because I feel bad for taking breaks, or there aren't good places to take breaks, or I am worried people will ask me why I am wandering around or not at the event. And partly is just because I take a while to recover). And also, if you look carefully at my excellently drawn graph, you can see that AFTER my break (for a while at least) , the stress increases at a slower rate than it had before the break. So breaks are good. If I can find a way to make them happen.

So then, what would be an ideal (but realistic) graph of what would happen socially?

Generally, it looks like this, if the night goes relatively well. (If the night goes well, I don't reach the curtains cut-off). My stress level goes up, throughout the night. It goes up when I am wandering about, looking for someone to talk to, something to do, unsure of what I am supposed to do. As I talk to people, it slows down. It almost plateaus out, barely increases. I have a purpose. But the conversations die down, or it's time to mingle some more with other people. And then it's stress. A lot of stress. More wandering aimlessly. Building back up. And then I talk to some people again and it levels off. It's a regular pattern. 

It's unrealistic to expect the tiredness and the stress to not be continually increasing throughout the night. But as long as it doesn't get above a place where I can't handle it, as long as it doesn't reach curtains, then I am ok. I will be tired the next day. I probably won't talk all that much when it is over. But it will be good and I might have even gotten something out of it or networked or learned new things or eaten good free food or managed to successfully spend my time at a required event.

And that's all I really expect.

But also, being stressed is not the worst thing ever. Sometimes it is necessary. And sometimes good things or necessary things require it. And as long as it doesn't cross the threshold, (and as long as it isn't all the time, every day), I can deal with it. Which is good, because sometimes it is necessary.

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