Social Anxiety vs. Crowd Patience

crowdsThere’s an odd little interplay that results when I go out somewhere.  If we’re going to a social situation where we’ll be expected to converse with people I don’t know, then I’ll get nervous and want to leave.  If, however, we’ll be packed in somewhere with a bunch of strangers who we aren’t expected to talk to but whom we have to put up with while waiting in line or while going from point A to point B, then I tend to be fine.  I call it social anxiety versus crowd patience.

When it comes to conversing with people, I have very little patience.  This has nothing to do with the people I’m talking to, mind you.  It’s just that talking to people makes me nervous.  I have to remember their name, past conversations we might have had, talk about topics I may or may not have an interest in, and keep in mind all of the social rules that come naturally to those who don’t lie on the autistic spectrum.  I might be sitting there talking, but mentally I’ve bolted for the door and am halfway down the stairs.

(Side note: I’m constantly amazed how B can recall conversations months or years later.  In general, I have a very short conversation-memory. Who I talk to about what tends to fade quickly most times.)

However, crowds don’t seem to present much of a problem to me.  This is actually quite odd as people with Asperger’s can find crowds an overwhelming sensory experience.  However, while there might be chaos all around me, I can usually filter it out and hyper-focus in on what I’m doing at the moment.  I just regard people as moving obstacles to avoid when walking or to wait behind if on line.  Social expectations are low.  So long as I don’t cut in front of anybody or knock anyone over, I’m fine.  I don’t need to know the name or interests of the person in front of me.  It’s perfectly fine for me to retreat into my own head and ignore everyone walking around me.

All my "crowd patience" goes out the window if the crowd is a party, however. Parties aren’t about impersonally navigating past people to get to a destination. They are social events and all of those conversational social rules apply. Furthermore, I can’t just treat the people around me as if they were faceless obstacles. Anyone near me is a potential conversation. The entire situation quickly moves from uncomfortable to overwhelming.

This doesn’t mean I *WANT* to leave, mind you.  In fact, I often *WANT* to join in but the more I join in, the more uncomfortable I feel until I *NEED* to leave.

The give-and-take between my social anxiety and crowd patience can make outings quite "interesting."  Will the activity tend towards the impersonal crowds enough that I will be able to put up with it?  Or will it be social enough that I’ll begin to get nervous?  Add in NHL’s social/sensory concerns and anxiety and it’s no wonder why our social calendar can be tough to manage.

NOTE: The crowd image above is by ainlondon and is available via