We’ve all had those times when we committed ‘social mistakes.’ These are also called ‘faux paus’ and ‘social gaffes.’ It can be that moment when someone takes what we’ve said wrong. It can also be that moment when we said something without completely thinking through the consequences. It is also that moment when we fail to properly acknowledge our thanks and appreciation for what someone close to us means to us (think the spouse who forgets an anniversary or the boss who doesn’t always acknowledge the hard work his/her employees put in everyday). We often do these without thinking or intending any harm.
For those of us with mental health differences from the ‘norm’, socializing can be really tough and even daunting. This is often because we don’t always pick up on social ques such as body language, inflection and tone of voice, or are as aware of social situations as the ‘chronic normal’ or neurotypical people do with such seeming ease. I have committed numerous social mistakes over the years without even knowing what I was doing. I have lost friendships, alienated myself from coworkers and bosses, thought things about others that were not true, and made myself to look like a fool many times as I had no awareness of social rules and norms that I was breaking.
I never broke these norms or unspoken rules just to make life difficult for myself or others. I was simply unaware of the boundaries I was crossing. Maybe these boundaries are always known for most people, but I never picked up on them to a degree to make myself an extrovert. As the years went by and I was committing more and more social mistakes, with the price of such social mistakes going higher and higher as I became an adult, I had no idea why I was offending people that I had no intention of offending. I had no idea why I was reading people wrong. I had no idea why I wasn’t advancing in my former work or why I wasn’t making lots of friends. The reason was, because of my mental health issues, I simply was missing many unspoken and unconscious social signals that most people take for granted as being ingrained from birth. I didn’t understand how the social game was played by everyone else. I still don’t to a degree.
As I was losing ground socially, I gradually withdrew from most people and most social situations. That was a mistake. I thought that people simply didn’t me because I was different from everyone else. That was not only part of my natural paranoia, but also because I hadn’t sufficiently learned to socialize on a level where most people could. What resulted from me isolating with the exception of family and close friends was my not learning the social skills that are needed to adequately socialize as an adult. So I was falling even more behind than I normally would have had I ignored my paranoia and kept socializing.
I have now had an official diagnosis for over thirteen years. I have made many mistakes in my life with the diagnosis and being different than most people. I have, and continue to, pay for the mistakes I have made socially. Yet I am optimistic about right now and the future. I know the mistakes I have made as I have made them plenty of times. I can now advance in my life and see what’s next to be learned. If I, or anyone else, had everything learned and completely figured out, then there would be no point to keep going and striving.