Do go read what Ballastexistenz wrote about it. Perhaps the most interesting thing I found in reading this piece was the amount of empathy I had for Ballastexistenz’s experience as an autistic person, struggling with her interactions with other people.
I am not autistic, but I believe that dealing with other people is, without a doubt, the most exhausting thing that all of us are obliged to do on a regular basis. A friend of mine is severely affected with my condition and at one point, was trying to build up her mental stamina. She did this by having a family member come into her bedroom, sit down and remain in the room, in silence, for fifteen minutes at a time. When I first heard this I was a little baffled. How can the mere presence of another human being - especially one you know well - test your stamina?
Fortunately, I have never been that sick. And it wasn't really until I read Ballastexistenz's post that it made complete sense. My friend (so far as I know) isn't autistic either, but as soon as another human being enters the room, there is mental activity taking place. For myself and most other people, this activity is too slight to pose any sort of challenge.
Please note, I'm not comparing one sort of condition with another, I'm not saying, when we're really exhausted, we're all a little bit autistic or any such nonsense, only that these particular issues can be similarly challenging to different people for very different reasons.
Another comment I heard recently from a person with my condition was, "I always know when someone has the Dreaded Lurgy - you can tell just by looking at them. You can tell if they have been misdiagnosed, as well. It's a certain expression, a glazed look; folks with the Dreaded Lurgy don't ever make eye-contact with you."
Now I had to disagree because I do make eye-contact with people. But I am conscious of this fact because it is often quite an effort. And it is very difficult to maintain eye contact at the same time as speaking or listening. For a long time, I thought this was just me, because I don't get a whole heap of practice; I haven't been required to make eye-contact with anyone other than [...] in the last ...four weeks, because I haven't seen anyone else.
But reading Ballexistenz's post and thinking of discussions I have had with other people who have conditions characterised by fatigue, I begin to think that perhaps a lot of problems that I have put down to inexperience, ineptitude and misanthropy may be more to do with the challenges of limited energy.
In psychometric tests, I usually land just left of the middle on the introversion-extroversion spectrum; I am quite happy in my own company, but I am really very interested in people. In truth, much of the time by myself I spend thinking about other people; the people I care about, social and political issues or else the characters in my book.
However, the more tired I am, the more introverted my behaviour, the more social niceties (for lack of a better phrase) become a tremendous effort.
For example, my parents have been decorating their living room. This has been a big task because they opened out the structural fireplace (they thought it was an inglenook; it wasn't, but it has that effect). There was also a long saga involving which particular shade of yellow they were going to paint the walls with - you know the sort of thing.
Now I know how to have these conversations. For my Mum, it is news and it is my job to receive this news with interest. When I am less tired, this is no problem whatsoever:
"We've changed our mind about the paint again," Mum says.
"Yes, we've decided to go for a sunshine yellow as opposed to a canary yellow."
"Oh right, because I did think that the canary yellow might turn out to be a bit too yellow."
"That's right, it was. We had opened one of the paint tins but they shop will exchange the others."
"Well that's good."
and so on. This is no problem; I'm not especially interested, but I don't find it boring or tedious or difficult in anyway. This is a normal 'healthy' conversation. Another person would be better at it than I; for example, my sister is quite interested in the subject of paint, so would probably have more insightful comments to offer.
When I am more tired, it is far more difficult. The conversation goes:
"We've changed our mind about the paint again."
Complete silence from my end. I really can't think what to say. What am I being asked to say? I am entirely indifferent to this news. What am I supposed to feel about this change of heart?
"Are you still there?" Mum asks.
"We've decided to go for a sunshine yellow as opposed to a canary yellow."
Complete silence again. I'm preoccupied by what difference there might possibly be between these two colours.
"Are you all right?" Mum asks. "I'm not boring you am I?"
And I'm never so tired to forget the Golden Rule; do not allow your mother to think you are bored. Apart from anything else, it's not boredom. It is the lack of an opinion combined with the fatigue-induced inability to... bullshit would be too strong a verb. I suppose it is a fatigue-induced inability to be nice.
All this can make me seem rather anti-social. I am not naturally good at small talk, but in this state I resent people talking to me about nothing because I am having to work so hard to process their nothingness. I become very discriminating about those individuals upon whom I choose to spend my energy.
This is something which is met with very little understanding, because it is universally acknowledged that social activity, spending time with other people, meeting new people is good for you. And it is, it really is - I often long to be around other people. Only, I think it would help to acknowledge the fact that it is also very costly; in far more ways that the practical effort of getting somewhere and staying upright for the duration.
Anyway, I am rambling a bit (and running out of spoons) but I wanted to post something on this while Ballastexistenz's post was still fresh.