Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Continuing Saga From the Produce Aisle

Maybe I need to start a 2nd blog that chronicles my daily trip to the grocery store because each trip seems to be giving me more than enough to write about. Once again, what should be a anxiety free experience turns into an event that leave me angry and hurt. Okay, so I'm not starting a 2nd blog, but here it is, another story of my morning carrot run.

Is it so much to ask for? All I want is to get in and out with the carrots without seeing a shoplifter get roughed up, or to be asked questions I can't process. I want eye contact to be at a minimum and to get out of the store rather unnoticed. Today was not one of those days.

My trip to the produce section was smooth. I could have hit a snag as there were about four people all at once converging on the door, but I sped up my walk and beat them all to the door. This was important because I never know the protocol for letting other people in. Whoa! Revelation! I have a fear, a pure fear of getting to the door at the same time as someone else. Why is this? Well, I now know (in case you are wondering, I had no plan to write about this nor did I know this before I wrote "whoa!")

When I was in elementary school in Indianapolis we had a field trip to Connor Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. The staff at Connor Prairie, if I remember correctly, all play the part of someone from the 19th century. Ask them what a television is and they will say, "what's that?".

Entering one of the houses, as our class was in a line, I walked in and the man in the room instantly threatened me with a stiff beating with a cane. I was shocked and scared and didn't know what had happened. To me, the threat was real. I know I froze and the man, in character, said, "Boy, you never walk into a room before a girl, ever! You deserve a beating disrespecting a girl like that!"

If you read my book you know about my concept of "Firsts" in that whatever happens first always has to happen. Using this concept, since this man threatened a stiff beating everyone may threaten, or follow through with the threat should I not follow the proper protocol on door entry. Perhaps other kids would know that this man was simply playing a part, but I took that, and many more things, literally so this was real and the fear has lingered on.

I'm glad I, once again, used writing as a therapist, but door entry protocol wasn't my story (although I'm sure that concept will overshadow what actually happened today).

I grabbed my carrots and walked from the produce area towards the checkout area. I turned the corner to head down aisle one and noticed a lot of managerial types stocking the liquor aisle. At the end of the aisle were three men all talking and the path was blocked.

I continued to walk, hoping with all my might, that the way would part and the path would clear. I struggle to make it known that I wanted through. Saying, "excuse me" is something I have rarely, if ever, done. To me, saying that is so rude because I am interrupting their life by saying it. At least that's the way I feel when people say it to me and, remember, I think therefore everyone else shares my thoughts.

I neared the men and the path stayed closed. There was a small gap between the single man on my left between him and the freezer, but the gap would be way to close to try to get through. I slowed my walk down and stopped and the man that was blocking me didn't take notice. The two men on the right saw me, but the man on the left didn't respond. This confused me because I could see his eyes, but perhaps not everyone has the peripheral vision I do.

I stood there, waiting, hoping I would be able to just sneak on by. Each time the man looked my direction I made a motion as if I were starting to walk, but the man didn't catch on to my prompt that I wanted by.

Yes, I do realize that all I had to do was to speak to get on by, but I was afraid. In events like this talking, or rather being the first one to talk, is hard if not impossible. Should someone talk to me I will be able to respond, but probably just enough to end the conversation. I "shell up" like a turtle and go into protection mode because my mind is doing so many processes on what is going on and the emotions that I feel that I need to protect myself from more thoughts, this is why I am unable to talk because if I do more processes will have to be made. And, I am afraid the person will get mad and if they do, well, then there's many more processes to be done and always the threat that the person will hit me (I am such a positive outlook on others, don't I?)

I was still a prisoner in the liquor aisle and I made the motion to try to get by at least half-a-dozen times. I could tell the 3rd man, the one on the far side, thought this to be funny. Imagine, a person wants by without saying anything and he keeps trying to but can't. He started laughing and he didn't inform the man that I wanted by.

Five seconds later the man who thought it was funny finally had compassion and he angrily tapped the man that was impeding my path to get out of the way. I was free from the blockade, but I am still not free from the emotions I felt. I now feel tired, sluggish, and sad from this and it will take me some time, maybe hours or perhaps the entire day, before I fully process and disperse the emotions of fear and anxiety from my system.

The solution is simple, but impossible. How do I train myself that it is okay to say, "excuse me?" Maybe in my life I made someone mad when I said excuse me and it could be a similar experience to that man who threatened me at Connor Prairie. Whatever the case maybe I don't know it as of now, all I know is that this grocery store has more drama than a soap opera and more excitement than a Hollywood summer blockbuster.


  1. Maybe you can train yourself in saying 'excuse me?' by thinking about the 'don't assume I know' rule.
    When someone wants to pass you and doesn't say anything, you might not understand what the person is trying to tell you. Then you'd probably like for them to say 'excuse me?' or 'may I pass please?' or something like that.
    Maybe the same rule applied for the person you were trying to pass. Now use the 'I think, therefore you know' rule. You would like for someone to tell you to do something, so others might want that too.

    I don't know if this works for you, but I use this 'logic' to convince myself I can say 'excuse me?' to someone. I still struggle with it, but it gets me to say it.

  2. Believe me when I say that no one would think it was rude at all for you to say "excuse me" unless your tone said "F you" :)

    I am not on the spectrum myself (son has asperger's) but I do struggle with intense social anxiety and I would be absolutely mortified if I noticed that I had been inadvertantly blocking someone's path. I usually turn red and apologize profusely. I think people would PREFER you say excuse me over being silent. Perhaps try some role play with loved ones until it becomes easier to say?

  3. Aaron,
    First I just want to say I read your blog often and enjoy hearing from an adult on the Spectrum. I am a therapist who works in home with kids on the spectrum and I also have an 8 year old son who was initially diagnosed with severe classic autism. They are considering changing his diagnosis because he no longer tests classic autism but more towards the Aspergers side of things.

    I think the role playing idea is great. Since you seem to be someone who is very literal, I think it would be beneficial for you to be as direct as possible about what you are seeking. So the "May I pass by you please?" question is probably more comfortable for you. I think it would be best for you to do the role play quite a few times. It will help your brain to get over the aversion you have of interrupting someone else's life, at least on a small level. I know there is still fear about speaking first, but maybe if you start with the role playing with someone you have no fear of speaking to and then gradually up the stakes until you are asking a stranger? Just a suggestion.

  4. To ensure there is carry over in public, one suggestion is to seek someone who has GREAT social skills to be your friend and is willing to teach you the nuances at least once every week. I benefitted from that when I was diagnosed- as I picked up nuances from my OT peers during my second year of OT school. The thing is- YOU have to initiate this relationship. YOU know your strengths and weaknesses better than anybody. So, YOU have to contribute in the plan of attack that solves this problem with the social skills mentor.