Anxiety Makes You a Jerk

I did half a Post Graduate Diploma in Education after I finished my English degree. Only half because I dropped out at Christmas…probably due to anxiety (and whilst that might seem relevant due to the title of the post, that’s not why I’m telling you this).

I don’t really remember any of the lectures I had except one, which was all about how ‘context matters’. The lecturer showed us a photo of a small child crying and asked us who would instinctively want to pick that child up to offer comfort. Pretty much everyone in the hall put their hand up. She asked how many people would change their mind if they knew the reason the child was crying was because they’d just been sick. A few people put their hands down. She added that just out of shot the child was still holding handfuls of the vomit. Almost everyone’s hand came down.

I have much younger sisters; I was immune to gross.
I have much younger sisters; I was immune to gross.

She gave other examples and the last one was that, as a teacher, if you asked a class full of children what they did over the weekend and one swore at you most people’s reaction would be anger towards that child. If, however, you knew the child had spent the weekend cowering in the corner whilst his dad beat his mum and his sister took drugs in her room you’d likely be a lot more sympathetic.

So, yeah. Context matters.

That lecture has stuck with me.

The thing is: autism and anxiety go together like Amaretto and milk (which probably isn’t something most people drink – actually – but it’s really good…for any new readers, I’m a bit crap with similes).  I suffer from anxiety.  Tyger is a very anxious child.  And anxiety, as you probably gathered from the title of this post, turns you into a jerk.

I’m actually quite a nice person, I think.  I care about other people.  I like to be kind and helpful.  I hate to ever think I’ve upset anyone or made their life harder.  But…I’m not sure it always seems that way.

I’m sure some of my social shortcomings are just down to ASD but it’s the anxiety (possibly caused by the autism) that really makes me flounder around people.

For instance, I don’t ask people much about themselves because I’m always worried they’ve told me before and I’ve forgotten.  This feeling I ‘should’ know things means I daren’t ask in case I offend someone by implying I didn’t listen the first time they told me.  I end up not knowing what jobs people do, what their kids names are, even what their name is sometimes, where they live, what their partner does (or even whether they have a partner), why they were in the hospital last week, whether they’re going on holiday in the summer…anything.  And I can never find out because…because…I just can’t.

This makes conversation a little difficult.  Having to largely avoid asking questions (unless I make a massive effort) and being unable to talk about any common ground (because I don’t smegging know if we have any) means I just talk about myself.  Now, I’m – clearly – no expert in social communication but I’m pretty sure that’s considered self-absorbed and rude.  Yup, I’m a jerk.

Anxiety Meme

I also rarely volunteer to do anything in case I do it wrong.  I’m not just talking about big stuff like helping out at fund raising events but even getting tea and coffee for people at kids’ groups.  What if I use the wrong mugs or forget what someone wanted and give them coffee instead of tea (horrifying) or tea instead of coffee (to be fair, tea is superior) or I put too little sugar in or take too long or I put the teaspoon in the wrong place when I’m done…in fact, should I wash up the teaspoon up as soon as I’ve used it or just leave it in case people make more drinks later?  And should I run a proper hot, soapy bowl of water to wash it in or will that seem wasteful and excessive?  But if I just run it under the tap that might be considered gross and slovenly.

You know what, I forced myself to do it the other day.  After all, I make myself at least four cups of tea a day at home.  That’s 1,460 cups of tea a year minimum (plus the tea I make for Wolf and Colour Blind Sister) and I often make coffee for Wolf and my parents.  I’ll be 30 next year, for frack’s sake!

So, I did it.  And you know what?…It was awful.  I don’t know if it was the old teabags or if I didn’t run the water long enough or the cups needed rinsing but it tasted disgusting.  So, I probably won’t be making tea or coffee for other people outside the house again for another 20 or 30 years.

Then there’s text based communication.  You might think I’d find that easier and in some ways I do but…see, when I’m face to face with someone I have to respond to them then and there.  When someone texts/messages/emails/tweets me or comments on my blog I want to reply.  Often, when I get the message, I can’t reply immediately because I have Bear on my lap (he’s a bit of a limpet at the moment) or I’m getting the boys lunch or I’m in the middle of reading an important article on the five ways my cat is trying to tell me she’s gay or something.

For the record, I'd love her just the same.
For the record, I’d love her just the same.

So, I think to myself, ‘I should give this message/comment my full attention.  I can’t do that right now but I’ll come back to it later.’  Later, though, I’ve left it a bit and I’ve promised myself to give it my ‘full attention’ so I feel I need to write a proper reply.  Not ‘Haha, thanks.’  So, I stress myself out trying to think of a worthy response: something detailed and long and maybe witty and thoughtful.

Of course, this leads me to delay further…which makes it worse.  ‘I’m great, thanks.  How’re you?’ is fine as a reply within a day of receiving a message but is completely inadequate three weeks later.  Half the time I just don’t reply and that has the same result as my face to face communication: I appear to be self-absorbed and uncaring…you know, a jerk.

Tyger’s anxiety also makes him a jerk, though far less because of tea and coffee making and more in the sense that it causes him meltdowns where he shouts at me, tells me I’m not his mum anymore, throws things at me, pushes Bear over and tells Bear to go in the bin so the rubbish truck will take him away.

The one good thing about it is it reminds me constantly to remember that lecture.  I try to always give other people the benefit of the doubt.  If they seem ‘off’ with me I assume I’ve done something awful and have inadvertently offended them I try to remember they have their own life, own baggage and own insecurities and try not to be annoyed.

Context matters and we rarely know the full context around other people’s lives.

 

 

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23 Comments


  1. Ah, so THAT’s why you hardly ever reply to me. And there’s me thinking you were a jerk!
    (Not really) xxx

    Reply

    1. Haha. Your continuing support actually means I lot to me – just so you know! xx

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      1. You are a great mum, a talented writer and a wonderful niece. Can’t comment on the wife/daughter thing, though! I am proud of everything you have achieved and look forward to much more in the future. (I’ll stop now before everyone starts barfing.)

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        1. Hopefully, that means you’ve forgiven me for smashing all those plates… Thank you. xx

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  2. A few years ago, while I was very ill and struggling but before they’d worked out I had pernicious anemia, I was sent to a therapist because my GP was sure my symptoms were coming from stress.

    But she gave me a piece of advice that seems so simple and I’d never thought of. She said, just tell people if you are prone to anxiety, or need a lot of alone time, or are having a really bad day. Lots of times I’d hide in my room which obviously made my housemates think they’d upset me, or I was a jerk, same at work when I was too exhausted or upset to chit chat.

    Now everyone pretty much knows there are times, especially towards the end of my B12, when I need downtime. And my colleagues know to leave me alone for 20 minutes in the morning before starting with the: what did you do this weekends?

    And cause people know why I’m acting that way they’re not personally hurt and because I know they know I’m not upset or scared thinking I’ve upset them.

    Seems so easy but I’d never thought to say: hey, sometimes I can’t deal with people cause of my illness, it’s not personal. It was really hard to say at first but the good response helped me keep doing it.

    Reply

    1. I should just tell people, really. I’m getting a little better at explaining but am still reluctant. I think it’s because I hate feeling vulnerable and judged. I guess this post was testing the water for just telling people and it’s been pretty well received with supportive messages and everything.

      I’m glad you found people to be generally understanding (I’m also glad you did eventually get your pernicious anemia diagnosis).

      Reply

  3. Anxiety is such a bitch, which controls your life, I hate the anxious me and the fact that I also just walked away from a second degree in May last year, just before the final exams, I like exams so it wasn’t that, Totally relate to the txt reply thing too, great read x #bigpinklink

    Reply

    1. Sorry to hear anxiety has stopped you doing something you wanted to do. The worst part – when that happens – is you feel like it’s your fault. I hope you go easy on yourself.

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  4. Ahh honey. If it helps I’ve never thought you were a jerk. Introspective, intelligent, interesting (hmmm alliteration much?) but never a jerk. I hope you guys are doing well. We really must find a way to meet up!

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    1. Thank you. It does help a little. We’re doing well but might be moving soon, actually. Just waiting to hear the final ‘yes’ to a rented place in Greater London.

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  5. It’s true, I was thinking this at the weekend. We’ve got a lot going on at the moment and I’ve realised it’s made me behave like an arse. Not great for those I live with. Needs working on! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    Reply

    1. It does need working on but it also needs a little patience and understanding from those around you, too, sometimes.

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  6. I can empathise with so much of this post, it’s actually awesome to hear there’s others out there that react the same and I think sometimes I don’t realise how affected I am by anxiety. I always feel like I’m a jerk too, but perhaps I’m not! Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays! Kaye xo

    Reply

    1. I think if you worry about it, you’re probably not a jerk.

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  7. I could have written this, although things are getting easier. I feel like we should be friends, we can be slightly awkward and understand why! I do relate to almost every word of this, even down to my daughter having similar traits. We’re all working on it as a family though. I’d hate for her to suffer as I have. Anxiety sucks. I also find that some days I’m fine, and then others I’m awkward and prickly and I just can’t snap out of it! It’s such a mental minefield. Thanks for linking up with us! #bigpinklink

    Reply

    1. I think it helps to know there are other people out there going through the same thing. I can do slightly awkward friends!

      Reply

  8. I never thought I had anxiety, but so much of this post could be describing me. I’m always afraid I’ve offended people & I never know what I’ve done wrong. It’s horrible. I also hate small talk (and big talk come to that. I’d rather read a book!!)
    Fab post, thanks. #twinklytuesdays

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  9. My blog this week was about dealing with my ASD son’s anxieties, which he isn’t nearly so good at expressing. Thank you for your honesty and humor!

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    1. Anxiety and ASD really do go hand in hand, unfortunately.

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  10. Oh goodness I want to write a meaningful constructive comment but I don’t quite know what to say. I think it’s great that there are other bloggers on here who suffer from this condition and the wonderful thing is you all still get on with things, run your blogs, raise your kids and manage life! If you suffer from anxiety, you’ve done a brave thing writing about it! #MarvMondays

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    1. Thank you. Maybe I should start thinking about all the things I *have* done in a day instead of focusing on all the things I haven’t!

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  11. I can relate to a lot of what you have said but as I’ve got older I’ve taken the stance that yes, I muck up a lot, seem ignorant, forget details and refuse to ask etc etc, so a bit of a jerk, but age has made me care a lot less about what people think about me and that anxiety has faded. Now, I’m just anxious about how long I’ve got left here, will I live long enough to see my kids grow up, where did all that grey hair come from……

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  12. Really interesting Nym! And you most definitely are not a jerk! Thank you for joining in with #spectrumsunday hope you come by this week 🙂 xx

    Reply

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