For lunch yesterday I went to a fast food burger place. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me any outing in public has a high degree of anxiety as I try and minimize my interactions. Because of this I am often very flat in the face. Emotions aren't typically shown and I usually have a very stern, serious look about me.
I walked to the counter to order and I ordered my usual which I have ordered it so much I do truly sound robotic in my ordering. The lady rang it up and as she was getting my lemonade she said, "Sir, what type of tea would you like?" I looked at it oddly and replied, "Lemonade?" To that she laughed but I remained flat and emotionless so she responded, "It's okay, you can smile."
There are several phrases I hear a lot. One being "Are you okay?" which I blogged about sometime last year and also the one I heard yesterday of, "You can smile." I've never understood why I'm being told that it is okay to smile. I am fully capable of smiling and it the right environment I often have a hard time not smiling. But there are times, such as being in public, that smiling isn't natural and can't be forced.
After the order I sat down to eat and I looked around and saw everyone acting so, well, naturally. Their movements weren't forced and their smiles just happened. My experiences in public like this are often forced, awkward, and usually taken the wrong way. Just as I have a hard time knowing if someone is happy, mad, sad so too does society seem to misinterpret my emotions. Even though I usually appear emotionless doesn't mean I am without emotions. Quite the contrary actually! However, since I am in a constant battle to keep my environment safe and without unexpected conversations I must appear flat so as to not give anything away.
Often times people take my flatness as a sign that I'm angry, or hurt, or that I'm furious at them. This is usually not the case. Another reason why I am usually flat is the amount of processing I'm doing. If you could be in my shows for just one hour out in public you would understand. I am constantly aware of everyone in my environment as I analyze what could happen. Since I do not function well when caught off guard I must be on guard at all times. This makes all my senses go into hyperdrive and I am hearing everything all at once. If you were processing all this you too would probably be flat in the face.
Another thing I try to do is I try and appear natural. I know, that may seem funny, but it's true as if I can appear "normal" I can avoid situations like yesterday. However, I can try all I want but often times what I think I am and how I actually am are usually very different and it's comments like, "It's okay, you can smile" are a reminder of just how different how I am.
It's in these times that I feel the darkest because, without these social issues, I don't feel different at all. As I said, in the right environment I have no problem smiling. When I get a comment like the one I had yesterday I now fear how different I am and will someone ask me that next time I go somewhere? I thought I was becoming rather apt at blending in with society, but once again I was wrong.
Of course, as I usually say, I'm okay with this happening because I am able to give the color commentary as to why the event happened and what it felt like. I'm sure I'm not the only one that encounters these struggles and with awareness and understanding, well, I hope the world will someday understand that, yes it is okay to smile but I'm in no position to smile because I'm doing everything I can to simply be there without wanting to go home and hide.