I'm going to let you in on a secret that only a couple people know.
Or should I say did know...
I have a fear of people coming into my home.
Not very hospitable is it?
It's not that I'm a bad housekeeper. (Umm... okay, maybe that's partly it. Hooray for Molly Maids.)
It's not that I don't (in theory at least) want to entertain others. When John and I first moved to Washington, we purchased a formal dining table with the thought that it would actually kind of be neat to entertain... to have adult friends over... to light up the BBQ and have our kids play with other neighborhood kids.
That really hasn't happened here in the past 4 1/2, gosh almost 5 years. We're not exactly social butterflies of the neighborhood. We're not on bad terms with anyone but we're not getting party invites either. Of course, I could attribute it to a variety of different reasons, all of which have some validity to them... but a lot of it points back to two little letters, m and e. Me. Me, myself and I. Karen. Yeah, that person in the mirror who I look at in the morning...
If I were pinpoint my anxiety and try to describe why I am scared of having people in my home, it's that my home is my safe domain. It's my refuge. It's one of the only places in the world that I can feel comfortable to be just me, no pretenses, no pretending to be "normal" (whatever that is), no exhausting social scripts to follow. I can just be me, mom, wife, Aspie extraordinaire...
The thought of not being able to be myself in my very own home just terrifies me. So much so that when we do have maid service come every couple weeks or so, I need to leave the home while they're here. (Also because cleaning products make me retch... Yes fellas, I'm quite a catch!)
Having people come into the home throws me out of my element. Now I have to interact... and unless I know that person very well (which is unlikely, given how small my true social circle is), I just go right into adaptable chameleon mode.
Up until Thanksgiving of 2011, we had maybe had 8 other adults in our house over a 4 year period. My parents had visited once from California. John's mom had been here a few times from Florida. My aunt and uncle once stopped by for a brief day visit. John's sister and her family from Alaska stayed a couple days. That's it.
Well, I take that back. After Ryan was diagnosed with autism, we had a lot of women from the Birth to 3 program in and out of our front play room / sensory room to work with us and work with Ryan. That was different. They were here for my son, my baby... Any uncomfortable feelings I had to endure regarding home invasion were perfectly acceptable.
Of course we also had a couple of Justin's friends in the house over the years. We tried very much to make sure he would have those social opportunities. It wasn't particularly often but his friends were always welcome.
So really, that's it. No dinners with friends. No regular visits from family (although my parents were invited, they weren't in a position to travel), no parties with neighbors. There was an occasional (r-a-r-e) babysitter but they were in my home and I was out, so that doesn't really count.
Having very little social contact outside the home was actually pretty isolating. I felt bad for John as he is much more of a social creature than I am. Sure, I can put on a good front and when I'm doing it, I am really trying to be as genuine as I can. Trust me, I do LIKE other people and want to have friendships and relationships but it is not natural to me... reading faces... looking for cues, trying not to gab too much, making eye contact, using active listening, showing empathy... these are things I focus on doing when I believe it comes so much more naturally to others.
So anyway, things changed on Thanksgiving of last year. I had an email from a bowling friend who I used to be close with back in my junior and young adult bowling days. He and his family were going to be in Vancouver for a hockey tournament for their youngest son and wanted to get together. I had never met his wife, never met his kids; it had been years since we had seen each other. He did know John and John was fond of him. Could I really invite him into my home?
As it turns out, God had been doing some transformation work inside of me, more than I was even aware of at the time. I had been attending a women's Bible study on Wednesday nights (first one in my life, first TIME in an adult group of women... but that's for another blog) and each week I attended, I felt a little braver. Not much but a little...
So this voice inside of me said, "invite them over to your house for Thanksgiving dinner." To many of you, this would seem like a no-brainer. To me, with two kids on the spectrum, one who is often the Energizer bunny on steroids and one who liked to be on the computer all the time and one (ME) who didn't want people in my safe zone, this little thought permeating my brain was quite a foreign one.
And yet... it stuck and to make a long story short (well, shorter), the family did end up coming to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. This was the FIRST time in our 19 years of marriage that John and I had ever entertained on Thanksgiving. My birthday is always around that time and we really do enjoy keeping things small and with our own family unit.
It was a BIG deal... and one that sparked something else.
After having two adults and two kids into our house for a meal to share a special day of thanks... I ended up realizing that I could have people in my home after all.
In the 4 months since Thanksgiving, we have had at least 12 different adults in our home for varying reasons, some multiple times. Most had to do with Autism Empowerment or the Sensory Friendly Cub Scout Pack we helped to found and volunteer with. We've also had a few new kids visit and in each case, the visit has been a success.
It still isn't easy... but it is getting easier and I write this blog tonight to anyone who has fear with social anxiety or leaving your home or having people in your home that you do not know, that there is hope. Have faith!
There are a lot of things about being a woman with Asperger's that I have been a bit reserved about sharing but in a month of autism awareness and acceptance, I have come to realize in order for our community to have more acceptance, they need to have more awareness.
I will be sharing more personal stories throughout the month.
Such as my dislike of talking on the phone....
Until next time,