One of the blessings of being diagnosed with Asperger’s is that it has caused me to read the reflections of others who are on the autistic spectrum online.  Sometimes a person will describe how they feel in words that make me look at my own life from a different perspective.

That was the case in a message board discussion I read a while ago about social anxiety.  Someone had asked what it felt like, and one poster responded that they could be walking on a sidewalk past people just going about their days, and it would feel like trying to walk across a stage with a huge audience watching their every move.

I suddenly realized that I felt that way nearly every day whenever I walked from building to building on a college campus.  If there was anyone around at all, I would need to concentrate on where I was going to step, where I was looking, the look on my face, whether to say anything as I passed them– that’s what made just walking around outside so draining.  I was so used to feeling like that, that it had never occurred to me to use those words to describe it, though.

It occurs to me that I have never really struggled much with “stage fright.”  I was in a lot of church and school plays when I was a kid, and I even sang a solo in one of them.  I don’t think the crowd made me nervous when it came time for the first performance, because I had practiced plenty of times, and I had a script to follow.  When the play was over, though, I found a dark, empty room and hid in it– it took my family a while to find me.  At the time, I didn’t even know why I did it– it just felt right– but I think it was because I didn’t want to face all of the people who were going to talk to me and tell me I did a good job.  That was not something I had a script for.

I’ve also heard that for a lot of people, one of their greatest fears is having to speak in front of a crowd, with some ranking it ahead of death on their list of fears.  Giving a speech in one of my classes can be stressful for me, but only because I am worried about the task of organizing and delivering the speech itself.  It’s similar to having to write an essay; it has nothing to do with the fact that an audience is watching.  I’m not a particularly good public speaker, because I don’t usually pay any attention to the audience; I just deliver my “lines.”

Could it be that I have not struggled much with stage fright because I feel like I am always on stage?  If I’m in a group of people and we are asked to introduce ourselves one by one as an icebreaker, I have trouble concentrating on what anyone before me says because I’m trying to improvise my “lines” on the spot and make sure I remember them when it’s my turn to speak.  Sometimes I have to plan out my “stage directions” before I get up and start to do something, or else I’ll get confused and end up turning around a couple of times.

I find these kinds of observations interesting, but they are almost never universally true of all people on the autism spectrum.  Some Aspies have posted that they struggled greatly with paralyzing stage fright when they were in a play as a child.  I’m sure there are also plenty of people who have never had trouble with stage fright but are not on the autistic spectrum.

But overall, I found this an interesting line of thought.  What is the solution to this problem?  It might be easy to say that this shows I put too much weight on what other people are thinking.  I ought to be chiefly concerned with God’s view of me.  I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t think that entirely explains why I feel self-conscious at times.  I may perceive the presence of other people in a different way than others do.  Perhaps I just need more practice, or more improvisational skills, and one day I’ll forget I’m acting?

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