Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eye Freeze

Last Saturday my mom and I went to the Rumble in Fort Wayne. The Rumble is a two day indoor racing event and one of the traditions we have is eating lunch at the Olive Garden on the 2nd day. I went in protest once again this year as they still haven't brought back the manicotti, but this tradition supersedes my desire to avoid The Olive Garden. I will still say I haven't been back as this tradition doesn't count. Anyway, I experienced an odd event while there. Well, I've experienced many times, but never realized it until after the fact.

It was time to order and ordering, for me, is usually done in a robotic manner as whatever I am ordering I've usually ordered 1,000 times. However, my mom was also with me and she started a conversation with the waitress about the manicotti, if it had been brought back, and if anyone else has tried to order it. This line of conversation was highly unexpected and I had no idea how to react to it and whether or not I would have to say anything. The end result was this picture (I am always trying to find ways to show of my art "talent":

This is the perfect point of view photos, but after 20 minutes of searching it was the best one I could find, and for the record this isn't an Olive Garden. In the picture my mom would be he person in the center of the photo and the waitress would be the one to the right. During the conversation that the two of them had my eyes followed the trail of the red line and became fixated on the corner of the room. Try as I did there was no breaking away my eyes from the corner.

Why was I doing this? I quickly went into analyzing the situation and my first thought was that this conversation wasn't the normal progression of ordering. "That was the simple answer" I thought to myself and then I did some more mental digging and realized that I was looking at the least active point in space. If I were to have looked anywhere else I would've noticed cars driving by outside, other people eating, and the waiters/waitresses walking back and forth. In my environment I was looking at the most consistent, bland, and safe place in space.

But still, why was I doing this? With the unpredictability of the conversation going on I had a whirlwind of emotions and fear. Yes, I said fear because what is not known is feared and I had no ability to predict what was next. I needed to control my emotions as well as a way to drown out the environment. On top of that, from where I was looking, I had just enough peripheral vision to keep a bead on my mom and the waitress. And even still, by minimizing my input, I was better able to process what was going on. It's moments like this that I feel trapped the most. Most of the time it can happen and I won't realize it until after the fact like when it occurred before a presentation I had last night. 

The fixed gaze I have is one of my few defense mechanisms I have when my environment turns unpredictable. The odd thing I thought of on that last sentence is that we do live in an unpredictable world, but most of the time this is used to describe dangerous events like weather and other disasters. For me, I see unpredictable as those times when a conversation doesn't go the way I thought it would, or ordering lunch at the Olive Garden. Because of all that, by looking at that fixed point, is my way to bring order to myself and to minimize the input coming in because I am at my limit.

All in all I'd say I was looking up at the corner for about 30 seconds, but it seemed much longer. Talking to my mom that night on the way back to Indianapolis she said that she noticed that I didn't handle the situation well and noticed the eye paralysis, as she stated it, that I had.

Truly, in those situations, I can't deviate my eyes to any other point in space. Moving forward I hope to incorporate this story into my presentations because, if my mom didn't know me, she may of thought I was trying to be rude or perhaps I was trying to scoff at her conversation. Also, how did the waitress perceive my behavior? I wasn't trying to be rude, I wasn't trying to make a scene, I was simply trying to maintain control of the storm going on within me. This is where awareness and understanding is key. We should encourage eye contact, but if the timing is wrong you quite simply aren't going to get it. I think to situations in schools this might take place. In any event I'm glad I had the self-awareness at the time to look as to why I was doing this and the ability to translate all the meanings.


  1. Well i do that at least twice a day...i dont care if other people notice, if it helps me im good...although i would like to know (supposing that is very rude and whatever) what should i do instead, since i do it quite frequently after something like 5 secs i already notice what im doing (but i usually keep going until it brakes by its own), so what should i do? By the way thanks for the explanation over "what i am doing

  2. Real time conversations are NOT movie/play scripts. Changes happen all the time. You have to react the best you could when something unexpected happens in a conversation. Otherwise, you are just going to look socially awkward in the eyes of people who don't know you, which in turn will only decrease your social confidence.

    I will give you a real life example. Almost 2 years ago, I was in the waiting area of my OT clinic as I was waiting for my therapy session, as I was about 10-15 minutes early. Then, to my surprise, I saw a girl I met a couple times at OT conferences at the same waiting area. I was not expecting her there because she was supposedly doing her clinical internship at that hour.

    In this situation, I had two options. One, just to go about my business and wait for my therapy session. Two, go talk to her and see what was wrong.

    I chose option two for two reasons. First, I knew something was very wrong by the fact that she was at the waiting area at that time. Second, in building rapport with people, these are the moments I can show that I care about them.

    So, I talked to her for 10-15 minutes as I understood why she was at the waiting area. I then shared that I was in the same situation that she was 12 months before that. Then, before I went to my treatment session and gave her my well wishes, where she appreciated that.

    In this situation, I was completely unprepared. Yet, I knew exactly what to do in the social situation.

    How I was able to master that, you may ask? Well, I recalled what my classmates who did their clinical internships there when I was at the very waiting area 12 months before that when I was in the same situation that she was. That's another of transfer of learning piece that I talked about a lot.