Socializing: Reboot

I had jury duty recently. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the US jury service system, US citizens are periodically required to fulfill our civic duty by reporting to a local courthouse and making ourselves available to sit on a jury panel for a criminal or civil trial. The processes vary quite a bit from place to place but often you show up for a day at the courthouse and get sent home without actually sitting on a jury.

Unless you’re really lucky. Like me. Then, somehow, you get put on a jury 2 out of the 3 times you’ve ever been called to serve.

Together with seven other people, I got assigned to a jury panel for a 3-day civil trial. The case was strange. The testimony was at times fascinating, at times mind-numbingly boring. None of that is especially what I want to talk about.

Like so much else in life these days, I approached jury duty as an experiment. A socializing experiment. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to reboot my approach to interacting with strangers. It was a relatively safe, time-limited interaction–if things went poorly, I knew that I would only have to spend three days with these people and then I’d never see them again.

In the past, I would have done my best to pass, hoping that my fellow jurors would like me and more importantly, not think I was too weird. This time around, I made a conscious decision not to worry about that. 

I gave myself permission to stim when I needed to, especially during the long blocks of testimony where we were required to sit silently, with only our notebooks and pencils for distraction. It turns out that a pencil makes a good stim toy. Flicking it up and down, running my fingers or nails over the surface, popping the eraser on and off, twirling a paper clip around it, doodling on my pad–all good ways to help me stay focused on the testimony.

That last one, the doodling, also had a practical function. As the trial progressed, I found myself sketching my notes more and making fewer text notes, which was a surprise. I’m only just realizing how visual my thinking is. Even today when I look at the sketches I remember exactly who was testifying and what they were saying. I also remember the intense discomfort I was feeling when I did this:

jd1

One of the attorneys–the one who eventually lost and probably had a sense of what was coming–got angry during his closing argument and started shouting at the jury. If you’ve read my post about how much trouble I have regulating my emotions when someone else is angry, you probably have a good idea of how strong my urge to flee the courtroom was at that point. Because that wasn’t an option, I used stimming to self-regulate.

I also completely obliterated the judge’s instructions that I’d written down on that page, but it didn’t matter because I was alternate and knew by that point that I wouldn’t be going in to deliberate with the others.

Other things I gave myself permission to actively do: frequently rearrange myself in my chair, not make eye contact with the witnesses or attorneys if it felt uncomfortable, be silent and even totally zone out if I needed to when sitting with the other jurors during breaks, not feel compelled to make small talk, go off on my own without explanation if I felt like it, dress for comfort rather than to make a good impression.

This strategy was surprisingly successful for the first 2.5 days.

I had interesting one-on-one conversations with some of the other women and mostly hung out on the fringes of the group conversations because I find them so hard navigate beyond the occasional random interjection. When people seemed uncomfortable, I offered simple explanations like “doing something with my hands helps me concentrate” or “if I don’t move around in my chair, I get physically uncomfortable.” People were quick to relate my explanations to something familiar, responding with things like “I always doodle when I’m on the ¬†phone” or “my back starts to act up if I don’t stand up every half hour to stretch.”

In addition to being myself, I made some proactive efforts to engage with others. I did my best to learn and use people’s names. I said hello and goodbye and tried to remember to ask about how the drive was or whether the person got their kid off to school okay or how their elderly relative was doing. You learn a surprising amount about people’s lives when you have to spend eight hours a day with them and can’t talk about the one thing you all have in common. I made a point of genuinely complimenting the other ladies’ taste–in clothing, bags, craft projects. These little things seem like the equivalent of social glue. Applying a little, especially early on, goes a long way.

On the whole, I was more relaxed that I usually am around strangers or semi-strangers. I felt less pressure to be social, which helped me feel less self-conscious about the amount of socializing I did. There were awkward moments, but I tried not to perseverate on them.

The best part was how little social anxiety I felt. There was no icky feeling in my stomach as I got ready for the day, no anxious thoughts the night before about what to do or say. It turns out that being myself is much less stressful than trying to be my imaginary version of a person that others will like or not find strange.

Why? Because I can’t do it wrong. There is no standard of comparison to hold myself up against. This sounds deceptively simple, but it’s truly never occurred to me before. And the good news is, when I let myself be who I really am and not the awkward facsimile of myself, I mostly come across as charmingly odd. Mostly.

You might have noticed that I said the first 2.5 days went well. The problem, of course, is that once it was over, some of the other jurors wanted to exchange email addresses to keep in touch. As much as I enjoyed getting to know everyone, I had no interest in socializing beyond our service time. My avoidance earned me some sour looks and I noticed that one person in particular was much cooler to me afterward.

The funny and somewhat confusing thing is that one of the other women didn’t share her contact information either and I didn’t perceive the same reaction to her. In fact, she was one of the people that the others treated most warmly. I wish I could figure out how she managed to so gracefully decline while not offending. What I need is a socially acceptable script that says “I enjoyed doing this thing with you but I have no idea how to socialize in an unstructured way outside of this and, furthermore, no desire to.”

Because even Social Me 2.0 isn’t the kind of person who makes new friends at jury duty.

A page of  "notes" from the afternoon of day 2 (with the witness's name redacted).

A page of “notes” from the afternoon of day 2 (with the witness’s name redacted).

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it and Happy New Year to all of you. The next post I make will likely be dated 2014.

48 comments

  1. PK

    That is so awesome. So glad you were able to relax into yourself. I hope it carries through into as many places as you want :) I’m not sure how some people can do what the other woman did. Maybe she took info but didn’t give hers out? Too bad you couldn’t catch up with her to ask ;)

    I wonder if being somewhat “honest” about socializing would help. Like ” I hope you don’t mind, but I’m kind of a serious introvert and I’m REALLY bad at socializing after these things. I don’t really exchange emails because I don’t want to disappoint. It was very nice meeting you, etc. I hope you have a wonderful _______________ (insert whatever makes sense)”. Don’t know if this would work, but if you’re already “quirky”, they might understand. And maybe someone will REALLY get it, and you might want to exchange info – long shot, but you never know :)

    • musingsofanaspie

      Oh, thank you, that sounds like an excellent script. Honesty would have followed naturally from what I’d set out to do, but my instinct for so long has been to either go along with these things while hating it or lie. Neither of which is a good coping strategy. I’m getting better at saying no to stuff that just doesn’t appeal to me, so this would be a good script to add to that repertoire. I think if I’d had more time to prepare I could have come up with it, but when I was put on the spot, I just panicked.

      • PK

        :) People may still have the “confused-what does that mean?” look, but everybody has heard of introverted before, and heck, I think they might even get “social anxiety” and let it go as well, nod, smile, etc. And if they’re pushy and clueless, who cares what they think (LOL).

        • musingsofanaspie

          My concern is always that I’ll hurt the other person’s feelings but then I realize that I’m willing to not hurt their feelings at the expense of my own feelings, which is starting to make less and less sense. So, yeah, you’re right, if they don’t get it, that’s not really my fault. Where I’m probably goofing this up is in not giving them the chance to get it in the first place.

          • PK

            I’m an NT/Extrovert. But I also have an autistic kiddo, and my hubby (probably on the edge of the spectrum) is an introvert. So if someone said that to me, I MIGHT say “Oh, well, here’s my email, if you want to sometime”, but I wouldn’t take it personally, I’d just want to share it as part of my personality, but I also get that others don’t have MY personality. Giving them a broad, quick blurb that has somewhat commonly used “buzz words” that people might get more than specifically autism-related may give you the space you need :)

  2. askanaspergirl

    “It turns out that being myself is much less stressful than trying to be my imaginary version of a person that others will like or not find strange.” <– Sounds like a pretty liberating discovery. I'm slowly but surely getting to that place myself. I've been learning to "out" myself over these past few semesters: "So when I ________, I may _______. This is my normal. You might see it." I remember explaining to a professor, "Sometimes I get lost in my thoughts, so you might see me draw in my notebook to stay present [why you might see a forest and lists of ways to deal with present concerns]." I used the phrase "I have enough anxiety to power a small city" during the same conversation. It's mild self-effacing, while still conveying the needed message. He understood.

    • PK

      “I have enough anxiety to power a small city” – I’m so sorry that you have to deal with such anxiety – but – that is a seriously funny/awesome sentence to use as an ice-breaking explanation. :)

      • askanaspergirl

        It works. :) I think it helps people to conceptualize the idea of “clinically significant levels of anxiety that sometimes interfere with my ability to function” (I have GAD — tends to ebb and flow as stressors get worse, but my coping skills and help-seeking abilities are much better than they used to be). Metaphors are useful when I’m trying to explain what it’s like to have anxiety.

  3. Jinma

    Actually, you strike me as the normal one here. It’s very unusual these days for people to give out their personal email addresses to virtual strangers as a group. I’m guessing nobody will email one another, and if they do, the receivers won’t respond. (it sounds like it was more a pleasantry, and people didn’t want to seem rude by refusing. kind of the equivalent of we should have lunch sometime. Yes, let’s definitely do it)

    However if there was the genuine potential for friendship among a couple people, a real connection, then I could see it happening. But that would be a rarity.

    I usually set myself up as a listener during jury duty chit chat, and ask questions so as not to have to talk myself. And that can be mistaken for closeness. If someone asked for my email and I wasn’t interested in staying in touch, I might give them my business card, definitely not my personal email.

    I’ve seen a lot of cases where people say that they are private people and that they don’t give out their email addresses in general.

    NTs are good at finessing these things. My first instinct is to be honest and straightforward, and nobody wants that, except for people on the autism spectrum, lol.

    • musingsofanaspie

      You’re probably right about it being a pleasantry and people not giving it much thought afterwards. One woman was having a holiday open house that weekend and invited everyone to it. Two people seemed to definitely be going and the others politely took the information but who knows. The whole “saying one thing and meaning another” game is so confusing.

      My husband said he would have given out his business card but not his personal email and that in his experience he gives out dozens of business cards but rarely hears from anyone and doesn’t really think twice about it. So I think you’re right on most accounts here. :-)

      • PK

        OHHH – check out staples or vistaprint – make “musings of an aspie” blog business cards, set up a gmail account musings@gmail.com or something – then you have a “I don’t give out my private info, but here’s my card. Spreads autism awareness, blog awareness, and gets you out of the convo – and if you actually want to follow up with the person (if anyone actually contacts you), you’re good to go. I made an autism awareness business card with my favorite blogs/facebook pages, etc., to give to people – no contact info, but here’s the link to my blog that has a picture of it if you want to use it as a template :)
        http://walkinontheedge.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/easy-resource-sharing/

    • cynkingfeeling

      I agree with Jimna-I think it is a bit much to think that there will be some kind of lasting relationship from having jury duty together. I wouldn’t wanted to have shared my info, either. And I have no idea how I would have responded.
      But I also love PK’s suggestion of using blog business cards. That’s just brilliant!

  4. Sg

    I have two facebook accounts: one with my real name and my real picture; another that I actually use. I give the account with my name on it when people ask and old school mates can find me, but only the people I want to talk to get my other account.

    Most people whom I give the info to don’t follow up on it, therefore it must be socially acceptable to not follow up when people give me their information.

    • musingsofanaspie

      I know a few people who have multiple facebook accounts. I’d probably end up posting stuff on the wrong one and confusing everyone. :-)

      I think you’re right about it being fine not to follow up on contact info if you don’t want/need to.

      • Kasumicat

        As a newly discovered Aspie(female, mid 40s), I have delighted in reading your blogs. I have spent my life accepting that whilst I think I understand what people are saying, I rarely relate …and in the main I have little interest either. Today I read each of your blogs…I have laughed, cried and found myself saying, yes…yes…
        Thankyou for sharing your experiences; they are so insightful (and helpful). I am sure that my NT husband and daughter will thank you also :)

  5. fishgodeep

    I love the drawings/doodles, esp the circular one where it goes off the edge of the page, and the fact that the drawing was as much a reminder for you of what was going on as conventional notes!

    You reminded me of a similar thing I did recently – though just for the duration of a meeting (most of the people at it were new to me). I decided before it, like you did, that I was not going to TRY to be other than how I am, though it did help that I was supposed to be there as a sort of observer. I just listened, didn’t feel anxious for not contributing, and started to feel very grounded. At the end of the meeting I realised I’d taken in much more that I would have done otherwise. I haven’t done this since, or to the extent that you did – but it’s inspired me to try this more!

    Sorry – I’ve probably interrupted the flow of the comments again… so useful to read alternative ways of responding.

    • fishgodeep

      …another thought about the drawings – they convey so many layers of complex information – like a secret code that only the person who did them can understand…!?

    • musingsofanaspie

      I’m going to have to break out the apology jar for you if you don’t quit apologizing! :-D There’s no wrong way to comment here. Just have fun.

      I’ve never really been a visual note taker before so this was an interesting turn of events. Maybe “letting down my hair” in other ways opened the door to a more natural way of recording key information as well. And yes, it is a big like a secret code! The images evoke much stronger memories (and in bigger chunks) for me than the written bits of information.

      It sounds like you had a really good experience at that meeting and were more focused than if you’d been concerned about trying to put on a certain persona. I really do think it goes back to having a limited amount of resources that we can put to work at any given time.

  6. booksonaspergersyndrome

    i love stimming with a pen at work. and when someone asked me if i could stop, i said, “no.” she doesnt like it, she doesnt have to look.
    i’d never been on jury and never will. because i cant stay focused for too long, and i’m afraid because of that, an innocent person might go to jail or a dangerous person will walk free and keep preying on society, because i casted the wrong vote. stimming helps me stay focused, too.
    i probably won’t socialize, though. unless i found the one person that seems special to me, preferably someone who loves animals and fights for their rights. gotta love those.
    good for you for stimming and going on your own without explanation. i make a point of doing just that and not socializing unless i actually want to (almost never), because i dont want to be forced to do things against my will.
    maybe it wasnt that you declined to exchanged emails, but just didnt know how to do it the right way, whatever that means. i dont know, either.

    • musingsofanaspie

      There’s actually a section on the jury duty form that asks about disabilities that would prevent you from serving or require accommodations and the judge asked again during voir dire (preliminary questioning of the jury) if there was anything that would prevent any of us from serving. So there is definitely the possibility of being exempted if you feel like you couldn’t perform the actions that would be required.

      And yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in saying that I probably didn’t decline in the right way, rather than actual declining being the problem.

  7. Mados

    “Social Me 2.0″… I love that expression. I remember being Social 1.0 and 1.1… that was terrifying. I like the hint that social development is continuous in nature. 2.0 is a major upgrade to a whole new level, but there is always the option for new patches and features in the future.

    Great article!

  8. MCS Gal

    Everyone is unique and we can appreciate that yet we feel the need to conform so we fit in. Your post is a great example of how, by being our unique selves, we truly fit in with the group. I can understand you hesitance to have continuing relationships with the other jurors. Most times in a setting like that, the only thing people have in common is the current setting and there is nothing to build a relationship on.

    • musingsofanaspie

      You’re right, while the others were interesting and fun to hang out with during our “captivity” I don’t think we had much in common. There was one other woman that I kind of clicked with, but she was very reserved and had good boundaries so ironically she was the one I would have been least likely to connect with once things were done.

    • Kashi

      …or, tell them you don’t really email but you can be found on your blog, then let them work the rest out when hey hear its name :)

      • musingsofanaspie

        Well, I was constantly on my phone checking work email during breaks, so I don’t think “the I don’t have a computer” reply would have worked. :-)

        Giving out the blog is a great idea and it would be a huge hint.

  9. Joseph Morabito

    About making friends from such sources. I had worked for this couple for 25 years. It was sad when she became too old to want to continue living in her home and so I helped her as she readied it for sale and then for her move. She had a handyman that I’d seen for nearly 20 years. It took me years to learn to like him, but it had been at least 10 years that I was happy to see his truck outside when I got there. So, after the house was empty, and it was just he and I there… he wanted my phone number so we could “keep in touch.” Mind you, we’d never needed to, “Keep in touch” before, and I knew it was an exercise in futility (we live about 30 miles, and 45 mins apart). Still, I gave him my number, knowing full well it would never get used. Just last week I was going through my phone, saw his name, and deleted the contact. Some people just don’t like the finality that most brief encounters bring with them.

    • musingsofanaspie

      Oh, that’s a terrific point about people not liking the finality of parting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, I could see it in being in part a sort of security in having that information “just in case” – like people who save every scrap of paper and receipt and packaging and old shoes that they’ll never wear again but “might need one day.”

  10. invisibleautistic/Robin

    That’s very different from the one jury duty experience I had. I served as a juror only once but at the end no one wanted to exchange email addresses. We just congratulated each other and said, “Maybe we’ll see each other again!”

  11. Bill Wong

    You did an awesome job. If I were in your shoes, I would have been OK to sit there during the whole 3 days listening to my music and play with my iPad or iPhone. After all, their lives don’t matter to me much. The only exception is if somebody is telling me about their (or their loved ones’) experiences with occupational therapy. My rationale is that I would have a slim chance to see these people again, especially in a city like LA.

    For me in my occupational therapy conferences, though, I have to flip the switch and be an outgoing person for 4-5 days. In my latest trip, I actually have to be for 8, since I am meeting up with my peers throughout those 8 days… even though the first half of those are one-on-one’s or a small groups for a lunch or dinner during those days. I choose 8 this time because I wanted to visit a good bit of places in Washington DC before going up to Baltimore for the main event. Unlike your situation, we do Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn connections all the time at these things… since we want to keep in touch with each other after the conferences are over, as we might very well see each other again in another year. I also have to be very careful about stimming because I have to be as professional as possible, even though a good bit of them understood that I am autistic, too. After each of these conferences are over, though, I would go back to my own little world and back to what I am more comfortable with- social media.

    Overall, I feel that the social situations we are in dictate what our acceptable behaviors are. This include why we are here for, people we are with, and the environment we are in, just to name a few. If we need to be on our A games socially, then we need to make sure we pace ourselves so that we don’t wear ourselves out.

    • musingsofanaspie

      I can definitely understand needing to take a different and more professional approach at conferences where you are interacting with colleagues in your industry. It’s good that you are able to arrange your mornings around small group activities. Those tend to be less demanding.

      I always need time to recover after social activities, even if they are casual or fun things. Oddly, after business interactions I’m sometimes less worn out because I have a lot of reliable scripts for that kind of interaction.

  12. theasdgamer

    Keep a junk email acct. that you can share with others and never check. Give that when you don’t want to keep in touch.

    Or you can say, “You’re very nice, but I’m terrible about communicating by email.” The last part is obviously true if you never plan to reply to someone’s email.

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