530: Just Three Minutes of My Day (Aspie Exhaustion)

Ironically, after posting about ‘small talk’ on a social media site, I was in Trader Joe’s grocery store last night and the male checker locked eyes with me and asked, with a toothy-grin, “So, what have you been working on?”
What have I been working on? My face squished up in confusion.

Number one thought barged in: Glad I am wearing a winter hat to hide my burning red ears.

The bombardment of thoughts that followed went something like this: What does this question mean? I am embarrassed. Can he tell I am beet red? I wonder if it bothers him he is balding. I wonder if he is single. What does he think of me? Why would he ask this? What am I supposed to say? He is staring at me. Can he tell I am embarrassed? What is he thinking? How should I respond? I am taking too long. Do I look autistic, shy, or stuck up? I don’t want to look at him. I don’t want him to think I am in a bad mood or mean. I am not. I thought I was better equipped than this. I thought I was prepared. I bet I look stuck up. Just like in high school, always misinterpreted. The people in line are looking at me. I wonder if they are married? I wonder if they can tell I am so embarrassed. They are frowning. Are they tired or sad, or mad at me? I look flustered. How much time has gone by? Why did I choose the shortest line and not the line with the female checker? (That’s about half the thoughts, anyhow.)

Only seconds had past, but in my reality it seemed hours.

I refocused. All l I could think to say was: “What made you ask that question?”

I realized immediately that I sounded evasive, suspicious, and even perhaps flirtatious. Not my intention.
By this time, I wondered if he was perhaps psychic, and could sense I was working on many projects.

The checker responded quickly and easily, in a manner that screamed ‘this is so easy for me. “Oh, I was just making small talk to pass the time.”

Small talk. Small talk. Small talk! Should I explain there isn’t such a thing in my mind?

He stared at me, and I knew as the blood-shot through my cheeks and up to the bridge of my nose that in this communication game it was my turn to speak. I stuttered some, and then formed some shaky sentences about my new job and such, remembering of course, with screaming reminders in my head, to ask him about himself. By the time the three minutes were over and the checker had scanned and bagged my ten items, I felt I’d been to war and back.

Sam Craft, Everyday Aspergers

19 thoughts on “530: Just Three Minutes of My Day (Aspie Exhaustion)

  1. Hi, this is a great post.
    I feel the same about small talk and I am not even an Asperger! Why would I want to tell a complete stranger what I have been working on?

    Obviously, social situations require some sort of response. I try to keep it simple and as vague as possible: “Nothing special, have been busy with work as usually”. Or something about my last trip (“Went to XY last weekend and had a great time”) – this actually works quite well. Or you can say something about the weather (“The weather hasn’t been great recently, has it”). I know this is not an answer to “What have you been working on?”, but surprisingly works too.

    You managed it well. Keep your head up! x

    1. I marvel at people who know what to say/do. Excellent suggestions…if I can just remember them and not freak out!

  2. My internal judge does things like that to me too.

    My social script for that includes “I don’t even know where to start.” It’s a good general noise maker that tends to deflect further questions. It’s OK.

    I once just burst into tears and the checker backed off. I hate having a meltdown in public, but sometimes someone sees in it an invitation to show kindness with just a look of silent sympathy.

  3. I empathize. i always have a bombardment of thoughts going on inside my autistic brain, even when others aren’t around and lately they have been very negative. Maybe it is the fact I feel more threatened since my main support person died earlier this year and it is Christmas time when even the most socially awkward like me want some company throughout the Holiday and Christmas season. If a complete stranger asked “What have I been up to?” My 1st thought would be one of confusion as well. I would have to ask “What do you mean *up* to?” I’d need clarification.

  4. Once an old man offered me a piece of candy on the beach. right away I wondered if he was flirting. also, I can’t eat candy because my over developed sense of taste makes it taste like honey mixed with syrup and sugar. but I’d feel horrible about hurting his feelings. he was so nice. so I took it, walked away, and threw it in the garbage. all the time I felt horrible, like I did something terrible and insulting, so guilty.

    this happens to me all the time. I dont want to walk with someone because he/she may not want me to and I’m interfering, but if I say no, then I’m rude and hurting their feelings. either way, I feel bad.

  5. Oh my gosh. This is a spitting image of me I cant even believe it. I only shop at trader joes because it is the only healthy affordable store but i absolutley HATE it!!! It is small, crowded, you are always in someones way, and the small talk at the counter is unbearable. I always wear a hat because I turn so red because i hate small talk so much. I just dont get it, why would you ask me what i am doing that day?? I dont even know you! It makes me soo uncomfortable and i barely muster little mumes like “oh nothing, just errands”. I always turn so red and get so flustered because i need a few seconds to process things when i am spoken to and i get extremely uncomfortable because they stare at me while i think. My husband gets so mad at me because i put off shopping until we literally have bare shelves. Sometimes i just wish i could say SORRY I HAVE ASPERGERS after every social situation you know? Or wear a shirt that says “I am weird because i have aspergers”… ugh…it is a battle every time.

  6. It does seem like an odd question for a stranger to ask! I would have been confused too. I am used to people asking things like, “How are you?” or “Are you doing anything fun for the weekend?” as small talk. But “What have you been working on?” seems awfully specific! I would not have known how to answer that!

    1. Yeah, me too. Seriously he thinks that’s small talk?! I’m used to ‘what have you got planned for your weekend?’ or ‘how are you?’ (and sometimes they regret asking that!) and can usually reciprocate enough to last for packing my shopping and getting the hell out, but ‘what have you been working on?’ sounds like he’s been spying on me and knows I’ve been writing or something! I’d either be doing my ‘I have no idea how to answer this’ face or my ‘seriously? and people think I’m weird’ face 🙂

  7. I would have had very much the same responses, including the beet red part. And by the time I got home and put groceries away I would have been ready for a long walk somewhere very quiet.

  8. Exactly. You’d think after a lifetime of having to deal these kinds of “nothing” questions, I’d be really good at answering. and sometimes I am. Sometimes it seems like a game, and if I’m in the right mood and not too preoccupied with other things (very rare), I can play along. But most of the time I react just like you. Inner monologue/self-inquisition. Sometimes I’m having a good day and I get into one of these situations and it sucks all the energy right out of me.

    My daughter and I were talking about this as I drove her to work this morning. She was sad she’d left her book at home…nothing to read at lunch. “Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to talk to people.” Surprised, I said, “Really?” She laughed and said, “No, just kidding.” Then we discussed the strange custom of “small talk.” She’s such a comfort! LOL.

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