In Space, No One Can See You Stim

Warning: some slight spoilers for the movie “Life” ahead

Since my narcolepsy diagnosis (and the health disaster that ensued as a result of my bad reaction to the meds) and then, even more so, discovering that I’m on the Autism spectrum, I have steadily scaled back how much social interaction I have. Some of that is just “not enough spoons” and some of it is realizing that it’s actually OK to not enjoy some of the things I was forcing myself to do. 

But there’s a balancing act when you are in a relationship with someone who is significantly more social, especially when you have almost two decades of doing those social things alongside them. My partner has been very understanding but I know it must be hard on her, so I try to find a balance of making sure I take care of myself, but sometimes just sucking it up and getting out, even when I know it will drain me.

I’ll be honest, I know that even though she’s been very understanding, there has been frustration and hurt feelings. In the past month or so, I’ve excused myself from two family gatherings, celebrating the birthdays of two close friends, and a host of other social engagements. Earlier this week we had talked about going to see the movie “Life” – I knew she wanted to see it, it had been a while since we went to see a movie (I picked the last one) and space movies are never quite the same on a small screen. 

I had a hard week, and when Sunday came around, I was waffling… even after sleeping late and a nap on Saturday, I was pretty exhausted, and there were lots of things I’d been wanting to do around the house. That being said, it wasn’t as warm as it had been forecast to be, and I thought that maybe sitting in a theater wouldn’t be as taxing as any trouble I might get into at home, so at the last minute I said “let’s do it!” and off we went.

Our local theater was no longer playing the movie and the one place that had a matinee was a half hour away, and the movie also started in a half hour – yikes!

When we got there, we paid for the tickets and then the clerk swung the screen around and told us to pick which unsold seats we wanted. I froze up… when did movie theaters get assigned seating? And how was I supposed to translate this grid of little boxes into where I wanted to sit? Finally we just selected two and hoped for the best.

Next came food. There was the usual overpriced popcorn and soda but also real food: juices, fancy coffee, beer on tap, wine, and things like fries with truffle oil or roasted Brussels sprouts. Too many choices! Now I was worried about (a) getting into the theater on time (b) finding the assigned seats and (c) picking something from the huge menu with the cashier waiting and a line behind me so again I panicked… but managed to pick something – the Brussels sprouts, of course 😉

The theater seats were awesome – padded recliners with electronic controls and a swing-out food tray. I immediately started playing with the button, and reclined the seat, just in time to have someone need to get by to get to their seat, so after that I was paranoid if I reclined it again I’d be blocking people. Then came the barrage of commercials and previews… Have they always been that loud, that bright, that jarring? I don’t remember having that much trouble with it when I was younger but if I could have done it without making it awkward for my partner, then I would have put my fingers in my ears and closed my eyes.

I managed to grit my teeth through all the preliminaries by fiddling with my zipper bracelet and wiggling my feet. I also found myself trying to discretely wrap a napkin around a bleeding finger by the time the movie came on. No matter how many little stim toys I surround myself with, I still can’t seem to break myself of destroying my cuticles when I get stressed.

The movie was OK, though it felt like a badly made clone of the Alien franchise. The characters were clichéd and not really well developed, the plot was full of holes, and I saw the ending coming a mile away. By that point, I was rooting for the alien anyway, as ‘Calvin’ was the only character not prone to inexplicably stupid acts. As far as alien monsters go, it was more cute than scary; even with my super-exaggerated startle reflex, I don’t think there were any real jump scares. But it was fun; the movie wasn’t terrible, we paid matinee price, had comfy seats and tasty snacks – and my partner and I got to spend some time out together doing something other than running errands.

On the way back, though, I started crashing hard. I don’t know if it was sensory overload or just running out of spoons for the day, or the former causing the latter. For some inexplicable reason (I usually avoid dairy) I had a craving for ice cream, and we were stopping at the grocery store anyway, but when I looked at the wall of ice cream at the store I just shut down. I said “Never mind, I really should not be eating ice cream” but the truth was that I was just done with decision-making: my brain had shut down and my body wasn’t far behind.

Back at home, there was still plenty of daylight and the wind had finally died down – lots of time to garden or work on small projects – except that I was shambling around drunkenly in the throes of a bad sleep attack by then. I knew that if I fought it, there’d just be hours of misery and mayhem (I tend to drop, spill, or break things when I get like that) so I very reluctantly crawled into bed for a nap, instead. An hour or so later I awoke; I felt better, but it was chilly again and the sun was already going down. Another day, and another weekend, gone.

Because I am stubborn, I still spent an hour outside in the darkening evening sanding a woodworking project I’ve been working on – I didn’t accomplish much with it but at least I could tell myself I did something from the to-do list I’d made – even if it was just a small something. 🙂

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