Despite my anxiety and fear, I survived the fancy meal last night at my school. Although eating and self-harm proved a challenge, I managed fairly well. Am I happy that I went? Perhaps but I wish that I could have gone under my own terms when I was prepared.
However, one thing that shocked me during this dinner was the lack of emphasis on the food. Yes, we had to eat everything a certain way. But the speaker reiterated many times that the focus was on interactions rather than the dinner. You should be conscious of the others around you instead of thinking about yourself. Thus everything that you do is to make others feel more comfortable and engaged.
This both made the evening harder and simpler. Suddenly, I had to be likeable, charming, and selfless. Instead of worrying about myself and how to eat, I should be engaging others in conversation and leaving a good lasting impression. After all, the hostess made it clear that no one gets a second chance for a first impression. How frightening is that even though it is true!
So this philosophy made me think. Also it challenged my diagnosis and personality. Yes, I want to think of others before myself. This is something I strive for every day. However, I often fail at it like many people do. So when I speak about my struggles with this concept of making others comfortable, I am not trying to do so from a selfish standpoint. My reasoning comes from the weakness – or better stated, diseases – that I have.
First of all, there is the eating disorder. When you struggle to eat anything, being put in front of people and told to communicate with ease while having a meal is agonizing. Honestly, I wanted to be sweet and welcoming to everyone at my table. To put them at ease, I forced food into my mouth. Yet my actions still seemed selfish throughout because I could not manage to be likeable enough partly because of my overwhelming anxiety about the dinner.
That brings me to the next problem: mental disorders such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Someone who struggles with these illnesses (especially social anxiety) fears settings with high expectation and pressure. Yes, these skills taught at the dinner are needed in life but they can be too much for certain people. Just because I struggled to talk does not mean I am a unlikeable person, right? All night, my heart sunk lower because I realized how unappealing I must be as a future employee, wife, friend, co-worker, etc.
Aspergers also makes social situations difficult. Plus there is the rigidity of black and white thinking. Fork must be placed on the edge of the plate, not on the table. Thus, I set my dessert fork on the edge of my little plate. To my horror, it feel upon the floor. Nearly in tears, I sat confused until the girl seated next to me waved over a server. Then, of course, I made the same mistake but caught the fork this time. Now some people would say that I was not following the rules or was being careless. However, my Aspergian brain simply needed to do exactly what the speaker had said concerning our utensils.
These illnesses that I struggle with made this evening very difficult and almost unmanageable. Not due to my own strength alone, I did finish without breaking down. Some of my coping skills caused more harm than help but I still believe that last night was a triumph. Still I struggle with the concept of focusing on making others comfortable. This is part of what forced me to eat because I did not want to make others concerned. However, I think that there are times when you need to care for yourself as well. Finding the line between self-care and looking beyond yourself is difficult especially when you are struggling with mental health.