Thursday, 26 March 2015

Written Communication: why talking is diffcult for me

Written Communication: why talking is difficult for me

Written communication is my forte. It is how I communicate best. I realised this awhile ago after realising how difficult it is for me to speak in high stress or tense social situations. I have always prepared notes to refer to during a phone call, Doctor's appointments, interviews, and whatever else I need notes for. If there is an option to email a business or person I email them, rather than phone. Writing is far easier for me. I have time to form my ideas into words and articulate my words how I need to in a sentence. It can be chaos at my place, but at least my email will be well written and I will have clearly communicated what I need to whomever it is I am emailing. 

Every time I am in a situation where I have to interact verbally with people I can easily become stressed, flustered and find expressing myself verbally, difficult. It is worse with people I don't know well or at all. The more comfortable I am around a person, the easier it is for me to communicate verbally. I can very easily shut-down and not talk at all in social situations. When I am in a group of people I will barely speak. I am seen as shy, I am not shy though. I have trouble speaking and keeping up with the pace of group conversation. This is a form of selective mutism. If a situation is tense, stressful there is no way I am able to express myself verbally as I need to. My thoughts become jumbled. I feel frozen with anxiety. I struggle to breathe, let alone talk. It is so much easier for me to leave the tense situation and calm down. Then spend time processing my emotions, thoughts, then writing about it. It is how I have managed many times in the past when things got tense between myself and others. It did not always work out for the best, but it took the pressure off of me to perform socially and talk verbally. 

In a world where talking is the preferred form of communication, it is difficult for me to feel heard and to make myself heard. Writing can be powerful, but people have to read it and take notice of it. An email or piece of paper cannot yell to get attention on it's own. An email or letter can easily be ignored, thrown away or lost. This makes it very frustrating for me because writing is how I communicate best. I feel most at ease when I am able to put all my thoughts into written word. I control what I express, how and when. I don't have to be there to see the person's reaction, which adds to my stress in real-time verbal communication.

It takes me a lot of mental energy to form my thoughts into words and talk verbally. I get worn out easily. If I am not listened to, understood or respected when I am trying to communicate verbally, I shut-down. I feel deflated and worn out so give up trying to communicate verbally. I don't have the energy to try again.

The more overwhelmed, tired, overstimulated, stressed, upset, anxious or triggered I am, the harder it is for me to talk. It can be one, all or a combination of these which send me into shut-down.

When I am talking a lot, it is because I am either nervous in a social situation, unsure of what to say or I am trying to explain myself to someone or talking about something interest to me. Then I am focused on talking about my interest/passion to whomever is listening. I forget I am in a social situation because I am so passionate about whatever topic I am talking about. 

I am trying to talk less and take the pressure off myself to talk. To communicate through writing where possible or give myself time to think about what I really need to say, then say it once I feel more clear headed and have the energy to do so. It is difficult to do this when in conversation with someone as the other person is expecting a response within a certain time frame. I feel anxious about responding fast enough, so I say whatever I think of, which is relevant to the conversation. Later I feel frustrated that I did not say exactly what I needed to. It is difficult to articulate myself verbally in real time conversation due to how quickly the topic changes in conversation. I find it distracting from my train of thought from the previous topic which I am still trying to figure out how to say in words, to add to the conversation. Then the topic changes and I am distracted by that topic. I start thinking about what I can add relevant to the new topic and the whole process starts again. 

e.g. I will be thinking about I am going to say relevant to the current topic and translating my thoughts into words to say. The other person will say something which disrupts my translating thought process. I will process what they said, leaving my thought translating process waiting, attempt to respond with a default easy to say response relevant to the conversation. While they are talking I will continue to translating my thoughts relevant to the topic while listening as best as possible, trying to process what they are saying. If the pace of conversation is slow then I will be able to say what I need to. If the topic changes, the new topic distracts me from my current translating thought process and I will start thinking about what I have in my experience that is relevant to the new topic and the process starts again. This means I never really say what I really want to and instead use default surface communication. I feel really isolated a lot of the time due to this. It is frustrating.

I am trying to pace my talking so I don't talk reactively and just surface talk. It is very difficult for me not to talk reactively when I am trying to keep up with the pace of conversation, translate my thoughts into words, and explain myself as well as I need to, to others. 

In a group setting I do the same translating thought process as described above, but due to the amount of people, pace of conversation, numerous voices and topics which come up I end up too distracted and overstimulated to talk so I say nothing, usually. It is too difficult for me to talk, despite desperately wanting to say something and having something to say, I can't say it. Then I feel even more isolated and misunderstood. Groups are very difficult for me. Each topic that is discussed I will start thinking about the topic to figure out if I have any relevant to say, by the time I have thought of something relevant, translated it into words, the discussion has moved onto another topic and the whole process starts again. I say nothing, appearing shy, while my mind is so busy thinking and translating what I hope to say. I give up trying to talk after while as it takes too much energy to talk. I don't do group settings any more if I can help it, which has taken the pressure off me. I prefer one on one as it is less overstimulating and distracting.

Sometimes I don't talk in social interactions because I don't know what to say or ask the other person to break the ice and start interacting. I get more and more anxious as time goes on the longer I want to say something but can't. I now know this as selective mutism. I experienced this a lot as a child and teenager, particularly at school and church. My selective mutism improved as I have grown in confidence in myself. I will be writing a blog post about my experiences with selective mutism sometime in the future.

I feel out of my element when I talk, a lot of the time. I need to have scripts for talking. If I am put on the spot unprepared with a question or regarding a topic I know nothing about. I will feel anxious, stressed and awkward. I will attempt to respond but I will not respond very well. I will stutter and stumble over my words awkwardly as I try to think about what to respond with and translate that into words. I stumble through it and manage to get some words out, usually. Sometimes I shut-down and words will not come out at all, no matter how much I want them to. It is an awful feeling. I feel so embarrassed. Afterwards I will feel I failed socially and that others perceive me as unintelligent which is untrue. I have noticed that people tend not to give me a chance or opportunity to explain myself due to how I present socially or when I struggle with words. It is upsetting. I feel cut off and disconnected from people as a result. It hurts. It is difficult to connect with people due to my difficulties with talking. I want to connect with people but in a way and at a pace which suits me. Online FB groups have really helped me as to connect with like-minded people and to socialise. I prefer to socialise using written communication. I thrive in this setting. I am in the process of writing a blog post about on-line socialising. 

While talking verbally I notice my many thoughts relevant to the conversation coming up but because of the pace of the conversation I am not able to express myself as fully as I need or want to.
I find the pace of conversation difficult to keep up with, by the time I have figured out what I need to say in words and how to say it, the moment has passed, so I don't say it. Trying to keep up with the pace of verbal conversation is stressful and exhausting for me. I find processing what the other person is say, trying to think of what I need to say and keeping up with the pace of conversation very stressful. It takes a lot of mental energy for me to interact with someone I don't know well and articulate myself verbally as I need to. If I am not prepared for it, then I will not communicate as efficiently as I need to. Afterwards when I am alone and processing the social interaction I remember what I needed to say to the other person. I will feel very frustrated because I know I needed to say whatever it was but the opportunity was lost due to not being about to get my words out verbally in time. When I write to communicate my needs this does not happen because I have plenty of time to think of what I need to write before sending it to the person. I do not miss out anything I need to communicate to others when I write it down.

I have default phrases and ways I communicate verbally and can manage fairly well in most social interactions as needed. I manage to pass socially when I need to but the toll it takes on me is exhausting. I can only manage so much verbal interaction with others, than I am done for the day.
When I am nervous and anxious in social situations I tend to talk a lot more. If there is an awkward silence in a conversation I will start talking and will end up rambling about whatever I am thinking about in my on the surface thinking that is translated and easy to speak. I think it is because I am not in a situation where I can write to communicate, that and the pressure to keep up with the pace of verbal conversations is overwhelming, so I talk, usually too much. After wards I worry I shared too much, monopolised the conversation and was oblivious to the other person's body language. Now that I am older and aware of this anxiety induced talking I try to curb my need to talk by distracting myself somehow or I ask the other person questions so I don't have to talk as much.

I find it difficult to be assertive in stressful situations. In particular with a person I don't know well or am not comfortable with. I avoid confrontations and arguments, if possible. I don't have the energy for it. I have tried to be assertive in the past, ended up not being heard or taken seriously, triggered and in shut-down. I realise I do not have the energy to engage with a person, I only have enough energy to be assertive once, then what? I don't know how the other person will react, it's an unknown and I am unprepared. I don't want to end up selectively mute and paralysed to the spot due to trying to stand up for myself once, then not knowing how to respond to the person's response and behaviour. It is not worth wasting my time and energy only to end up triggered and in shut-down. People shouting at me and acting aggressively is a trigger for me, due to how I was treated by my Dad. I prefer to use written communication for confrontational and tense situations, it is so much easier for me to communicate this way and more effective too. 

I talk a lot when I am at home, I have come to realise that it is more for me to process my thoughts, feelings and ideas verbally. Atrus gets tired of me talking, repeating myself over and over about whatever it is I am processing and perseverating about. I have noticed this happens when I am not able to have time to sit down and write about whatever is bothering me. When I have time to write and express what I need to, I talk a lot less. Talking about whatever is bothering me is usually not enough for me to feel better about it. Atrus and I have since both agreed to use written communication more in our relationship. Once I have written about whatever is bothering me, I feel I have been relieved of whatever was building up inside me and I have space in my brain to think of other things that need dealing with. I need regular time to write to manage my emotions, thoughts and life. It makes a lot of sense actually, as I kept a diary from age 14 to 21, which really helped me cope the turbulent teenage years. I often had no one to talk to, so I wrote in my diary and always felt so much better after writing about whatever was going on for me. I felt renewed after writing. I wrote a lot of poems in my childhood and teenage years. I loved playing with words, creating interesting word pictures and expressing myself through short, succinct poetry. I liked to control how many words I used to express myself in a creative, unusual and succinct way. I was in my head a lot as a child and teenager. I still am, when I can. Being married and a parent, means I have to talk more, be present more and not always thinking, thinking, thinking, and processing, then creating, writing and expressing.

Writing is how I process my life experiences and emotions. It grounds me. I am able to let go of things easier, heal and move forward once I write about painful experiences.

Once I have written down and fully processed whatever experience I am writing about I am able to verbally talk about it much easier. My writing becomes a script for being able to express and explain myself. If I don't write about my experiences, particularly painful experiences, they float around in my head as pictures and concepts, I am not able to talk about whatever it is in verbal words. Sometimes too many painful and stressful events happen close together. I will shutdown for months afterwards. Locked in myself and unable to get the words out. I'll be able to do surface, default scripting for verbal talking, enough to get by and pass socially (just) but I will not be able to talk about what is really going on in the depth of my thoughts. It is really isolating. I will feel blocked up, stuck in that period of time until I finally have the energy to translate all my thoughts into written word. Then I can talk about it verbally, at length, if I need to.

Since becoming a parent I don't get the time I need to process my life through writing. This means stresses, emotions, anxiety build up quickly and overwhelm me. It is exhausting living my life with a head full of unprocessed & untranslated thoughts with no time to process and purge them through writing. 
I try to schedule in time to write when I need to.

There are no words for how much I love expressing myself through writing. It is relieving, calming and it makes me happy. When I talk I feel like I am talking from the surface of my thoughts, that my verbal words are the tip of my thought ice-berg. There are layers of thoughts in my mind and I long to express them in conversation. I often don't say what I really need to or want to because the words have not yet formed in my thoughts. The concepts, the ideas are there in my mind. I know exactly what I need to say, but it is not translated into words I can communicate to others in words they understand. It takes me time to process these thoughts into words, into a language which is different to that of my thoughts. Talking is a frustrating form of communication because I often cannot say all that I need to in verbal language, particularly in conversation.

I write to-do lists to remind myself of what I need to do for the day, week, month. Everything is visual and written down. I write a daily to-do list each night before I go to bed. Which means I don't have to think when I wake up. I wake up, refer to my list and start the day. I love ticking things off my list. It is a good feeling. I have a parking book where I write lists each week of things I need to do when I am able to so I don't forget. I tick those off when I have completed them. I don't give myself deadlines for those items to get done. My parking book is a place for me to write all the numerous things to-do filling up my head that I worry I will forget. If I don't write these things to-do that are filling up my head, down. I get more stressed because I am worried I will forget them and then I have less space in my brain to deal with real time unexpected events. Once I write these things to-do in my book, I have more space in my brain to focus on what needs doing in the present. I have three monthly calendars, one in the kitchen, one next to the phone and one in my room where I write my up-coming events in them. That way I can see how busy each week is going to be in the three places I am most likely to see them and I can post-pone appointments if I need to or not schedule anything else for that week if I already have enough planned. It makes planning so much easier. I used to muddle through my days, weeks and months appointments with no idea how busy my week looked overall. I had daily reminders set up on my phone so I knew what was happening that day. I had many times where I had too many things planned for the week or month because I could not imagine how busy it really was. Having monthly calenders to refer to visually has really helped prevent this as I can see a week or month in advance. 

Writing is my life force. It is my breath. When I don't write I feel I am living my life holding my breath, thoughts and pressure build up in my brain and body. Without time spent writing I would be lost and struggling to communicate as I need to. Talking is over-rated anyway.

A poem from my teenage years written when I was about 16-17.

Escaped Words

In my head
Is not lead
But sentences and words
Always trying to escape
From the depths
Of my soul

Up they come
Out they rush
A lot here
A little there
Finally making sense

Read aloud
They’re like
Little cloudbursts
In the rain
I always gain
The confidence
I need to
Write again

K. R., 2000

Relevant Blog posts from other autistic adults

Autistic Speaking

The one where I talk about why talking is hard

Echolia and scripting: straddling the border of functional language

Non-Speaking (at Times) Autistic Provides Insight Into Communication Differences, Part I

Non-speaking (at times) Autistic provides insight into communication differences, part II

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