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I Discovered a New Personal Limitation

On a personal note, I've been feeling very fragile for about a week, now - to the point where I really thought I was over it, really thought I was feeling better by Saturday, only to get emotionally and physically exhausted by something I usually enjoy, the local Polymunch. I know why, too; I just don't know how long it's going to take me to get over it.

It would appear that there is an upper limit to how long I can room-pack for a convention, and that limit seems to somewhere between 60 and 70 hours. I can even tell why: that is how long I can go, apparently, without any privacy or any control over parts of my environment. At this year's Worldcon, by the morning of the 5th day without those things, the 5th day of sharing a hotel room with 3 other people, I was desperately wanting to gargle a shotgun. As soon as I got home from Worldcon, I locked myself in my apartment and slept for a nearly straight 36 hours, and refused to leave the house even for grocery shopping for another 36 hours after that no matter what I was out of.

I think I get it, too. Sensory equilibrium is hard for me to maintain; losing control over the lighting levels and the thermostat is rough on me. But there's more to it than that, something that hits me even harder. Attempting to read other people's facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, let alone attempting to modulate mine so that they can comprehend them, are very, very, very mentally demanding activities for me; on the best day of my life, I don't do any of those things especially well. To do those things even as poorly as I do them requires a fair amount of concentration, especially if even one of the people isn't somewhere on the autism spectrum; non-autistics have (what feel to me like) unreasonable expectations of proficiency at those things.

And for as long as I have memories, as far back as age 4, I have always dealt with this the same way: when I cannot do it any longer, when I will simply go mad if I can't have some time to relax and get some thinking and/or reading done without having to interact with other people, I go to whatever room is designated for me only, I turn all but one low-lumen light source off, and I close the door, and I take off every scrap of fabric that binds or chafes in any way, and I don't turn the lights back up or put on street clothes or open that door until I've recharged enough to do it some more. (If, as usually happens, I notice this need right away, it's seldom longer than a day, and sometimes as little time as a few hours.) It's not because I'm anti-social; most of that time, I'm bored to death and would really rather be around other people. I just know that I can't do it without freaking out, losing my mind, and choking on my rage that other people want more out of me than I can do.

That's how I was able to stay married for almost three years: I had a room in the basement, dedicated to my hobby, and right up until everything else went wrong with my marriage, she respected a closed door and respected my need to control the environment in that room. That's how I acquired a reputation for generous hospitality back at the old Brad Davidian Compound, where I always had at least one live-in houseguest and sometimes as many as three of them: that whole time, I also had one room with a door that could be closed that nobody came into without my invitation except (on tiptoe, whispering, terrified of doing so, I was later told) during an emergency. It's part of why I'm gods' own perfect secondary in poly relationships: I have a lot of love in me and a lot of need to give and no possessiveness whatsoever, but on the other hand I also really don't have it in me to be there 24 x 7 x 365* for anyone, no matter how much I love them or they love me.

I've room-packed for cons before, I've been dirt-poor at least a third of my years in fandom. Heck, I've been to cons during years when I was couch-surfing, borderline homeless. But none of those times were for cons longer than 60ish hours, so I never noticed that I had this limitation until now. Chicon 7 was the longest I've ever been at a convention, the whole five days and four nights. Apparently I can't do that without getting my own room. It's good to know that, so I don't do that again, although Eris knows what'll happen whichever year it is I get around to going to Dragoncon, given how expensive and hard to find solo hotel rooms are for an event that size. Possibly just "not go for all of it," make sure that I have solo transportation that gets me out before the 60 hour mark if I have to room-pack. A budgetary complication, but one I'll probably find some way to hack around. Part of why I'm so high-function is that I have the long-term attention span to keep nibbling at a problem, a little at a time, until I can engineer a work-around for my limitations.

But, yeah: for those of you who need to know, Brad can only socialize in very small-group contexts, and for short spans of time, until further notice. I'll let you know when I'm feeling more resilient. Trust me I'll let you know! By that time, I'll be lonely and bored to death.

P.S. 24 x 7 x 365 is a weird cliché now that I think about it. Shouldn't that read 24 by 7 by 52?

P.P.S. This is all just another reason to miss the Libertalia, my long-ago disintegrated Pace Arrow motorhome. When I had it, I could go to any event and always have not just all of my clothes and all of my books and all of my groceries with me, I always had my own bedroom.


( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2012 07:02 am (UTC)
As a possible tip: I good friend (strong introvert) and I (strong extrovert) went to a week-long conference together, and we got a suite. The suite was less than twice as expensive as a single room, but it had TWO SEPARATE ROOMS, a living room and a sleeping room. This meant that when I was being all talky and wanting to be with people, she could go into the other room and be Alone. Could be a less expensive way of making it more likely for you to get what you need, particularly if you split it with sensitive and caring people.
Sep. 9th, 2012 08:08 am (UTC)
My therapist says I'm not autistic but I identify with a lot of what you say here.

I decided my personal limit for being away from home is 3 days. I have managed to stretch it with one friend who is very supportive of my need to retreat and recharge when I'm getting overwhelmed.

Being around other people is very stressful.
Sep. 9th, 2012 09:00 am (UTC)
Yeah, thats weird. My friends do this thing where we all go up to a lake house for 3 days. Even though its the safest, most comfortable setting in the world, i get random panic attacks and cant wait to get back to the city by the 3rd day.
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:24 am (UTC)
Dragon con is only a four day con. You could conceivably come in Saturday morning and leave Monday morning/afternoon. From my memory there was not a lot of significant programing going on Friday night. You could try one of the spill-over hotels which might be less expensive than the con hotels which might allow you to split the room fewer ways. You could also ask your roommates for blocks of time to be in the room alone if that helps you decompress any.
Sep. 9th, 2012 12:50 pm (UTC)
The difficulty is that D*C makes WorldCon look small and provincial. We went for two days in 2009, and were pretty much overloaded by then end of day 2. And this from a pair of people who do cons regularly all over the country.

My advice would be : take the train, get a berth, and if you want to lock yourself in for the ride home, you are free to do so. The only times you'd need to come out are when you change trains and when you need to eat. That would probably help a LOT by the time you got home - it won't be a full recharge, but it may be enough to keep you functional until you can GET a full recharge.
Sep. 9th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
It's not the number of people; au contraire, I love crowds, I don't have to interact with them personally. It's the number of consecutive hours I have to spend pretending to be able to instinctively read non-verbal cues and consciously broadcasting the appropriate responses. 48 hours, easy. 60 hours, problematic, I get perceptibly frayed around the edges. 72 hours, fight/flight reflex fully engaged. 96 hours, volcanic rage.

Edited at 2012-09-09 07:31 pm (UTC)
Sep. 9th, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
At least you KNOW the settings on your People Timer. Some of us have variable settings. Sometimes I can do 4 or 5 days with no problem. Sometimes 2 days is too many.

Hope you're feeling better soon.
Sep. 9th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
If you had another motor home, would you live in it again?
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Probably. I think about this from time to time. But the problem is that motorhomes are harder to finance than houses are, the interest rates are higher, and a motorhome new enough to survive being lived in full time costs twice what a decent house costs around here, the Libby taught me not to try to live in a used motorhome. There's also reason to worry about the long-term cost of gasoline. So it's almost certainly not affordable without at least doubling my income.

I keep nibbling at it, thinking there ought to be some way to make it work, like a really small 5th wheel behind an elderly but still sturdy pickup truck. But I haven't found a way to make the numbers work, at least not yet.
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:32 pm (UTC)
You would also have to get a driver's license.
Sep. 10th, 2012 12:03 am (UTC)
I can fix that problem as soon as I'm confident of my fixed address and have any reason to do so, reason enough to justify the several days of catatonia it will cost me.
Sep. 10th, 2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
I agree, after a variety of new and old cars, I'd say get something with either a warranty, or a cult. 1989 Volvo 240 vs 1995 Honda Oddessy, Honda's a nicer car, but only one (bad brand) service manual, 4 of them for the Volvo, plus an active cult that will point you straight at your problem with vague problem reports.

For motorhomes, you cannot beat the GMC Motorhome cult. Built 1973-1978, using an Oldsmobile Toronado drive train. Used it looks like you can get a decent one for $6-10k. And there is a huge cult keeping the 8000+ remaining of the 12,000 built on the road. I'm thinking about going that route myself very soon. Mind you, a nice one might go for over $50k, or people ask that much. I can provide you with some links, or so can google.
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
The difficulty with D*C compared to any other fandom con (outside SDCC) is that it's 5x the size, and so we found that our normal limits were being reached that much faster by the sheer volume of people involved. I can do 5 days at AnthroCon (almost 6000 people this last year) for five days, and was ready to claw my eyes out after 48 hours at D*C.

Edited at 2012-09-09 11:34 pm (UTC)
Sep. 9th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
P.S. That's because Worldcon is small and provincial, to the point of having become completely irrelevant to the science fiction industry. That this kept coming up in conversations at Worldcon is one of the things that's high on my list of things to write about in the next couple of days.
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:33 pm (UTC)
I look forward to your analysis, although we did enjoy ourselves and are considering going back next year (and possibly to London, because, hey, and excuse to go to London!).
Sep. 9th, 2012 11:38 am (UTC)
From your description, you sound similar to me.

I believe I am the way I am because I am an Aspie. You ever look into that possibility?
Sep. 9th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
One of my doctors says "Asperger's Syndrome (high function)," the other says "Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified)" which is the one that's on my SSDI diagnosis. (The difference is in a quibble: according to the very latest diagnostic criteria, you can't call someone an Aspie if they want to make friends, if they want to be loved. Fuck Temple Grandin for having internalized her oppressors, this idea that autistic people don't experience the same emotions as neurotypicals is so much bullshit.)

So, long story short: yes, of course.
Sep. 9th, 2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
If any of those docs posted a comment like "you can't call someone an Aspie if they want to make friends" to the asperger community the entire community would be hopping up and down with rage.

The blind ignorance of so many shrinks is what keeps me away from them.
Sep. 10th, 2012 02:10 am (UTC)
I re-posted our comment thread into my LJ as well as in Asperger community without naming you.

I received back a question from the Asperger community which I am passing on to you, if you care to answer it.


> Do you have a source for that "latest diagnostic criteria" stuff?

Not really. I quoted a friend who is not in this community. I can ask him.
Sep. 10th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
Not handy, but I think it's in DSM4-TR.
Sep. 10th, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
Here is another question for you from Asperger community.

BTW, if this is getting to be too much of a chore, please let me know.


When did Temple Grandin say that autistic people don't experience the same emotions as neurotypicals?
Sep. 10th, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
I can't find it with a quick Google search, but I remember it coming up in multiple interviews. It was because of her prestige that the last revision to DSM4 changed so that if the person has normal emotions but can't read or express them, it's PDD-NOS, if they're missing some or all of the normal emotions and that's why they can't read them, it's Autism spectrum. Total bullshit, if you ask me.
Sep. 10th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
The DSM TR is available through my university library, and thus probably through most. I can message you the text of the relevant entry, if you like.
Sep. 10th, 2012 04:33 am (UTC)
Thanks a lot!
Sep. 10th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC)
Apparently I can't send you private messages. :(
Sep. 16th, 2012 05:36 am (UTC)
I'm a high functioning Aspie and my first thought was "sounds normal to me".
Sep. 9th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
Not aspy, just another introvert.
I discovered a similar drawback and now I build in workarounds for when I travel long times with groups. I schedule at least one day per week when I will leave the group and go be by myself. The last time I needed to do this was for a two week road trip to the Estrella War and about midway through the war, I just got in my car and went into Phoenix for the night by myself.

Of course, to do this I needed the privilege of several things: Understanding friends, money for a hotel room, transportation.

This also extends to when I go on trips to visit friends in other cities. I need to rent my own room, even though my friends often have the space for me to stay with them. It's worth it to me to spend the extra money, because they're still my friends when the trip is over.
Sep. 9th, 2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
Are you now able to go out to get supplies? Or do you need someone to make a run for you? I'm busy for the next few hours, but I could pick up some stuff for you later this evening.
Sep. 9th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
I've made a couple of runs to the closer stores; I plan on doing the longer hike for fresh food today some time. But thanks for offering.
Sep. 10th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome. I'm glad you were able to get what you needed.
Sep. 15th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
Rocky and I were the same way we were on a 5day stint for a wedding and by the fourth day we begged off a float trip just so we could have some down time to ourselves and not have to socialize. The ability to control room temperature and lighting or even to have quiet with out feeling the need to make conversation. By the 5th day I was begging to go home. Also scheduling we both hate the feeling of getting rushed and are slow movers in the morning. I am not the cram everything you can into a trip kind of vacationer. I am the do one activity a day and spend the rest of the time lazying around. I'm there to enjoy myself not be more tired and stressed then when I am working.
Sep. 16th, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
Hrm, interesting...
I'd never considered this sort of limited durability for social events/cons when room-packing being from the added social simulation processing before.

It seems to explain things on my end quite well, including providing a possible reason why I've suddenly shifted from focussing almost entirely on 2-3 day cons of triple-digits to the 4-5 day four-digit ones over the span of months: I got into complex meta-costuming.

So when I'm fully enclosed like that... well, I can turn off most if not all of the 'act neurotypical' code, especially the taxing fine body and all facial language faking since that gets devoured and hidden outright by the costumes.
Sep. 25th, 2012 01:44 pm (UTC)
unclear if you're saying you are on the autism spectrum or not, but i want to pipe up for those of us who are simply introverted and not on the autism spectrum. to me, it seems the autism spectrum can be sort of linked on to the continuum of the human experience. introverts - as a therapist of mine explained it - are those who gain energy in solitude; extroverts gain energy by sharing time with others. i'm an introvert. always been an introvert. i can have a lot of fun expending energy on a group of people - it isn't that i don't find that fun and rewarding. it's just that i can't keep that up forever.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )