I've come to realise recently just how isolated my life had become from what it used to be; I spend the whole working day with the same people, very rarely interacting with anyone new, before coming home to an empty flat where I spend my evenings alone with my TV and laptop for company, making the occasional phone calls to the same half dozen people. My weekends are often just me and my revision / housework / recovery processes, once in a whilst interspersed with a visit to/from a family member or a trip into London to do something Autism related.
Compare this to the almost manically busy life I used to have when I was a student - days filled with lectures, union meetings, social groups and endless nights out I barely remember (but know were good fun!) That life wasn't sustainable though and I often found myself suddenly having to spend periods retreating from my plans and hiding away in an almost hibernating state to restore some balance. Sometimes just coming down from an over-stimulation was a long slog on its own, the world didn't stop being noisy and bright and demanding just because I wanted a time-out and people weren't always very understanding when I tried to explain that it wasn't an alcohol hangover I had but a sensory or social one.
The tricky thing in life is finding the mid-way point between what's needed for recovery and isolation and then putting that on an even functioning keel with social activity (bearing in mind that work/going to the supermarket/filling the car with petrol all count as a form of social activity!)
I find now as I'm older and more knowledgeable about my own limitations and predictable reactions that I can start to formulate ways to 'have my cake and eat it' - by finding activities that fulfil my need for interactions whilst still allowing me enough down time to be ready to face whatever the next day may hold.
Throughout the Sunday-Thursday period I have to tread carefully to ensure that my working day the next day is not impacted upon by any lingering effects but come Friday/Saturday I have a lot more freedom to push my boundaries and go for the full-on 'social experience' and all the consequences that follow it. Its difficult to explain at times but even the smallest of things can add to a growing mountain of stimulation leading to overload; one too many announcements on a train, the overly strong perfume of the person in front at the cashpoint queue, multiple TV's showing different games/sports in pubs, too many new faces and names to remember at once, the list can be endless.
My latest excursion into London (and straight back out to Reading) for Saturday's Saracens vs Wasps semi-final was one of the more bizarre yet successful experiences I've had recently - a match I hadn't planned to attend yet found myself in possession of tickets for courtesy of a Twitter competition. All of a sudden not only did I now have plans for a previously free weekend but I had to work out a whole host of details, including who I was giving the other ticket to! Family and friends were all unavailable as due to the short notice (I found out I had tickets on the Tuesday) they were all booked up. Luckily social media came to my rescue and I was able to have a really wonderful time at the game with someone who not only appreciated the ticket but was able to give me a crash-course introduction to being a full-on member of the Sarries family!
I know not every experience I try will have such a happy ending (and most definitely wont involve that much wine being consumed afterwards!) and some will have potentially catastrophically bad results should my coping strategies fail me at the worst times, but I do know for sure that if I don't keep trying new things and pushing myself out there in the big wide world that the isolation I will be faced with will be horrible.
I don't like being on my own too long, I am, at heart, a people person who loves watching others enjoy life. I just have to weigh the balance of my need to indulge that side of my personality with what it will cost me without retreating into a fear-dominated mind-set of not doing anything 'in case' I can't cope.