Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

I like my comfort zone. A lot.

I don’t want to break out of it or stretch it or push myself out of it. Mostly I’d like to build a blanket fort in my comfort zone and never leave. But I know that isn’t reasonable. As an adult with responsibilities, there are times when I have to step outside my comfort zone.

My approach to these times used to involve a lot of metaphorical pushing and breaking and stretching. I would power through, often with an angry determination to just get it over with. This made hard things harder, but I didn’t realize that I had a choice.

Recently–and entirely accidentally–The Scientist showed me that there’s a better way to go about getting out my comfort zone. After doing some post-game analysis of why what we did worked, here’s what I’ve come up as a framework for helping someone step out of their comfort zone in a gentle, supportive way: 

1. An invitation, not a push: As an adult, there aren’t many situations where I can truly be pushed out of my comfort zone but just the thought of someone trying to do this makes me panicky and resistant. I react much better to being invited to step out of my comfort zone. An invitation is something I can refuse while a push is something I’ll instinctively fight against.

What does an invitation look like? First, it has to be clear that the choice is mine to make. No ultimatums or guilt or manipulation. Second, I need facts. How will getting outside my comfort zone benefit me and/or others? I may already know, but my resistance to change will override logic. Being reminded in a factual way is helpful.

When I say being invited to step outside my comfort zone, I don’t always mean invited by someone else. I can invite myself. I can give myself a choice. I can gather the facts and make a convincing case to persuade myself. As so often happens, this sounds so simple when I write it here, but I’d never explicitly thought about it in this way before.

2. Avoid the Danger Zone: I used to think I had two zones: the comfort zone, where I’m chilling in my blanket fort, and the danger zone, where I’m completely out of my element. Surprisingly (probably only to me), it turns out there is an area between the comfort zone and the danger zone. Let’s call it the expansion zone.

Yes, my comfort zone really is shaped like that. In some areas, I still don't have much breathing room between the comfort zone and the danger zone. In others, I have a big margin of space where I can work on expanding my capabilities.
Yes, my comfort zone really is shaped like that. In some areas, I still don’t have much breathing room between the comfort zone and the danger zone. In others, I have a big margin of space where I can work on expanding my capabilities.

Things in the expansion zone are hard but doable. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I can visit occasionally. It’s where growth occurs and I’m willing to take some controlled risks to expand myself.

The thing is, sometimes the expansion zone and the danger zone look alike to me. It helps to have someone I trust reassure me that I’m capable of handling a situation or activity. And it’s important that they can make a truthful assessment. Simply saying I can do something isn’t helpful. In fact, it could be harmful because I might overestimate what I’m capable of and fail badly.

Failure in the expansion zone is scary. It opens a door to the danger zone, which is a lot like opening the door on an airplane at 30,000 feet.

3. Support is critical: A successful trip into the expansion zone can result in growth, but the growth isn’t instant. The act of stepping out of the comfort zone doesn’t automatically mean that I can survive out there. I need some help. This was a huge revelation to me. In the past, I thought I had to be strong and tough everything out on my own because I’m an adult. Not true!

Support makes growth possible. It can be practical support, like someone to help with choosing the right outfit, organizing a schedule, finding/buying supplies, providing transportation, or being available to answer questions. Of course, moral support helps too. It’s rewarding to be told you’re doing great when you make an effort to change or expand yourself. Sometimes what I need most in a difficult situation is an occasional gentle reminder of why I decided to step outside my comfort zone.

It’s important to think and talk about supports in advance. What does the person taking the risk need? What can the support person provide? Supports should be meaningful to be effective.

They should also be ongoing. I need a lot of support in the lead-up to stepping out of my comfort zone. Once I’m in the expansion zone, my need for support lessens because I’m so focused on doing, that my brain doesn’t have time to get panicky. When I return to my comfort zone, I need support to recover. That usually means giving me some extra time alone to recharge and, later, talking about how things went.

In fact, it was part of The Scientist’s post-expansion zone support that helped me identify this framework. These days we do a lot of post-game analysis, talking about what worked for me in a difficult situation and what didn’t. This particular time, we accidentally stumbled on a process that worked really well. It worked so well, in fact, that I’m planning to use as a model for future trips into the expansion zone.

56 thoughts on “Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone”

  1. This is so awesome! You immediately helped me analyse and identify the problems I had with the autism support group I attended this morning. The therapist handed all four of us (all women with adult diagnosis) a sheet with questions, and then challenged us to ask EACH OTHER those questions. It was fun once the conversation got started but so incredibly uncomfortable and stressful that I’m still reeling from it 4 hours later. And thanks to you, now I know why. There was no option to say no.

          1. Exactly! 😛

            I am making notes based on your observations about comfort zone and expansion zone and danger zone and pushing and inviting, though. I think all four of us need some acknowledgment that just SHOWING UP for a meeting with god knows how many strangers (didn’t know in advance how many would be in the group) is expansionist enough. Give us some time to adjust. I’m the only one there who’s even remotely comfortable with the diagnosis.

    1. I completely see your apprehension with being told to “ask each other questions”. That reminds me of a digital effects class I took and the teacher wanted us all to tell the class who we were and why we were there (but I don’t care why others are there and I don’t need them to know why I’m there). Same has happened when I accompanied my father and step mother to their church. All of a sudden, the minister tells everyone to turn around and greet the person behind (or to the side) of them. Nooooo! 🙂

      Since it was an autism support group you went to, I’m guessing you researched it and liked their approach, and felt a higher level of safety/security in a group that is geared to your needs and that they have/had your best interests at heart… though that doesn’t necessarily mitigate your natural reactions to such things.

  2. I often feel just as you described, and I have to agree that being pushed, as an adult, will not work with me. If I can play with meanings here, there are times that being “pushed” is best for me… but only when I am doing the pushing. For an example, just last week, I went to my first city council meeting. I’d never been inside the city hall, and had little idea of what to expect or the protocol. The whole day I knew I was going to go, yet I dreaded it all day long. I kept trying to talk myself out of going. That my presence wouldn’t matter one bit… Finally, I got ready to go and got in the car. I barely got out of my driveway when I started feeling the walls closing in on me. I wanted to turn back, but then a bully-esque part of my personality pushed me to continue, “telling me” to stop acting like a baby. That little “pep talk” I’d given myself calmed me, but the same thoughts tried to reassert themselves as I got nearer my destination (only 2 miles away). I just pushed through my innate fears, got out of my car, went into the building, found the meeting place, took a seat and survived. Afterward, I actually went up to the city manager and spoke of an issue that concerned me… all the while feeling like the room was somewhat swirling around me, and relieved once I got back in my car.

    I find that getting out of my comfort zone is almost always a good experience, and I use that to push myself to try and expand it when similar situations come up. In comparison, I know that if I don’t get out, and walk the dog or go to the store for a few days, that my “comfort zone” begins to shrink… to the point that what I consider “comfort” is actually a prison at times.

    1. Good job overcoming your reticence and speaking up on an issue that concerns you!

      I know that closing in feeling so well. I swear it’s what the person who coined “tunnel vision” had in mind because it literally feels like being in a tunnel or a tube. I find myself doing lots of cajoling and pep talking and just plain steeling myself in those situations and it (almost) always turns out fine.

      I’m curious whether you went to meeting intending to talk to the city manager? It sounds like you had a good motivation for going to the meeting to address the issue of concern, which can make a big difference in how willing we are to get out of our comfort zone, I think.

      And yes, comfort zones can shrink pretty rapidly if not kept properly inflated. 🙂

      1. Actually I didn’t intend to speak to him. I didn’t even know he’d be there… or what he looked like. 🙂
        As it happens to be, our parks have been closed for awhile, and they are set to be reopened soon… but some of the people that live next to it want the six foot tall chainlink fence to remain up… though it looks terrible. When the meeting adjourned, and I saw that people were going up to the council members I thought I’d mention my dislike of the fence, and that it shouldn’t remain after the park is reopened. It was odd when the city manager engaged me. He was very nice, understanding, cordial and asked if I had ideas of possible alternatives. Uh oh… I wasn’t prepared for such a thing. So I did my best, though it felt as if I was tripping all over myself.

        As it turns out, the protocol for public speaking is that you fill out a card before the meeting starts, and then when it’s public comment time, they call your name, and you make your points. Before I understood the protocol, I thought there was a chance I’d get up and speak. Even so, I had no remarks prepared, and knew I most likely wouldn’t. I’ve always feared public speaking, but having been a Little League manager, I’ve had to overcome it when having meetings with the parents. It’s always better once the ball gets rolling… but oh the anticipation that builds until it does… can be paralyzing.

        1. It sounds like the city manager paved the way for your input. I’m finding that it’s easier to do certain things if I try to see the other person’s viewpoint. For example, the city manager’s job is to be open to input from citizens so he’s probably eager or at least obligated 🙂 to foster open discussion with people who show up for the meetings. Thinking about it that way can make it a little less intimidating maybe?

    2. That sounds like how I handle getting needles! I used to be phobic of them. Now, I’m not phobic anymore, but I still really, really dislike needles because I have a hyperactive vaso-vagal reflex and so every needle comes with dizziness, nausea, blacked out vision and possible fainting as its price. It’s not terrifying anymore now that I know how to deal with it and how to avoid passing out and concussing myself on the doctor’s table and then needing more needles for freezing and stitches (it happened once) but it’s still physically very unpleasant and takes about 3 hours to fully recover from, not to mention if there’s a new nurse on who doesn’t know that I’m a fainter, I sometimes have to get into an argument about whether or not I need to lay down and put my feet up to keep from passing out. I have to alternately wheedle and bully myself into keeping any appointment where I know I have to get a needle because the best case scenario is that I feel lightheaded and nauseous for several hours.

  3. I hate getting pushed out of my comfort zone, in large part I think because usually when the well-meaning decide they know what’s best for me better than I do, it’s a disaster. If you think it’s best for me to do A, then what you should do is suggest A to me as an idea I should consider, but I need to have the final call. Not just want, need. And also, it’s my body and my life, so I have the right to have the final call, besides that.

    When people disregard my autonomy, not only are they infantilizing me by treating me like a child, but they’re also disregarding my potential needs in favor of their wants. Case in point: A relative I was staying with when I was a kid took me to a petting zoo, ignoring my protests of, “Mom and dad say fur bugs my asthma!” They carried me out of the car and forced me to pet the animals and go through a hay maze. I spent that night and the next two days in the hospital on oxygen from a severe asthma attack.

    They thought me petting the animals would be fun for me. They had no idea how bad my asthma was, and they intended no harm. But harm was done by disregarding my protests. If they’d listened and called my parents, we could’ve worked out a plan to prevent the asthma attack, but by disregarding my opinion, they hospitalized me.

    I would not be surprised if a lot of autistic people have similar, if less dramatic, stories from their pasts which explain their instinctive resistance to being pushed out of their comfort zones. I have hundreds, easily – some as dramatic as the above, others much less so, all wherein a well-intentioned push out of my comfort zone caused me harm. For others – maybe a parent pushed you to attend a noisy and sensory-overload-inducing dance in middle school, or a teacher pushed you to play with kids who bullied you, or what have you. Doesn’t take many experiences like that to develop an aversion to being pushed out of your comfort zone.

    1. That’s a good point about our history creating an aversion to being pushed out of our comfort zones. I’ve had those “this is a bad idea” experiences where no one listened and it really was a bad idea. That definitely creates resistance and trepidation, to say the least.

      1. Plus, “I’m going to ignore your trepidation and push you to do it anyway” is a very good predictor of “I’m going to ignore your discomfort and make you stay longer than you’re able to and blame you for the consequences,” I find. People who are willing to talk it over with me and figure out what I’m nervous about are usually willing to trust me when I say I’ve reached my limit.

    2. Very true I think. A history of being pushed or guilted (is that a word?) out of my comfort zone has led to me now being quite allergic to many ideas people have about me doing things, leaving my comfort zone. Even if that person does have my best interest in mind, and is aware of my issues. I have to really remind myself of the ‘invitation not push’ part, remind myself that it’s only an idea. I can consider it. Not everyone is out to push me to do things, they may mean well. And even if they do, I have the final call. My life.

      “When people disregard my autonomy, not only are they infantilizing me by treating me like a child, but they’re also disregarding my potential needs in favor of their wants”
      Yes. Some people just really don’t understand that what they want, or what they like, may be really bad news for me. Ugh, that petting zoo incident is a really nasty example. Curse them.

  4. You managed to put yet another thing into PERFECT WORDS! How?!?!?! xD

    If I have to do something scary, I often find myself “inviting myself” to leave my comfort zone using a combination of facts and generic “sssssh, it’s gonna be okay, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine” talk (which usually ends up being out loud!). These facts are usually just a re-statement of things I already know once I force myself to think logically: “Look,you’re in Britain, it’s not *that* warm and it won’t last longer than a few weeks anyway, and it might be one degree warmer today but in reality one degree doesn’t make a noticeable difference, and you’re way too careful (fearful? xD) about heatwaves for anything to happen, in fact you don’t actually have to go anywhere today apart from *insert thing here* and that’ll be fine because so-and-so will be there/it’s always been fine/etc”. In that case (and in many cases, coming to think of it), I end up getting really obsessed with *the thing* so I overanalyse everything and get really worked up over non-problems, so this rationalising really helps.

    If there’s uncertainty involved, though, I sometimes do a little bit of research for general facts, even if the facts aren’t directly related to the thing I’m worried about. Sticking with the weather theme, for this type of fact-based-reassurance I’m thinking about when we went to Turkey last year; it was absolutely brilliant, but in the weeks beforehand, my constant weather-checking produced some unnervingly high numbers and I was very much freaking out about *Turkey in August WHOSE IDEA WAS THAT* but I didn’t really want to say anything because “come on, you’re just being silly” and of course because I was also simultaneously massively excited about the whole thing! In that case, clearly the actual facts surrounding *the thing* were not in my favour so instead I focused on the surrounding uncertainty, did a bit of Googling, and found a load of facts on Turkey that I wouldn’t ever actually need, just because they were facts. I don’t understand how that worked, looking back, but somehow it did!

    For the scarier things, though, I sometimes need a bit of a push from somebody. With the break-up, for instance, it got dragged out for so long that I ended up with a really good support network of both family and friends offline, and uni friends through Facebook chat where I could actually explain the problems without totally messing up. I suppose using the terms used in this post, this “push” is more like an invitation, especially as I’d only do that with people who *understand* to some extent and won’t think I’m being silly for not wanting to do the thing. As well as the aforementioned fact-based comforting, this sort of invitation also tends to involve a fair bit of distracting-me-from-all-the-worrying-with-other-stuff. I think that’s more a case of the other person thinking “I don’t really know what to do here, so I’ll just make up some Doctor Who jokes and hope she laughs” but it’s something, I guess!

    I also love the mention of recovery towards the end of your post; honestly, I thought I was just being silly for always thinking about that stuff! In the lead-up to the scary thing, I often inadvertently spend a lot of time thinking about how to quickly get out if necessary, where to go afterwards (this is always “my room” unless that’s not possible) and just generally how to calm myself down again. On the plus side, this means I usually end up with a fairly detailed plan for dealing with the aftermath, so most of the time people can just “leave me to it” rather than having to help me out afterwards as well as beforehand!

    (I think I’ve just rambled about being rubbish at heat for most of this comment. Sorry. This is probably because it has been *actually quite chilly* here this week and I HEARTILY APPROVE OF THIS. :D)

    1. I really identify with much of what you just posted. It’s comforting to see that other people experience similar things… certainly no one in my day to day circles do, so it makes a person feel like an outcast for being different.

      1. Yeah, same here. Even though I got diagnosed at a fairly young age, discovering the autistic community online has taught me so much about autism and about myself. Mainly in the form of “nope, you’re not being silly, that’s because you’re autistic and other people need to accommodate that”. xD

    2. I guess I think of pushing as some sort of emotional manipulation. We’re too big to be physically pushed, the way that some small children can be, into doing something so what other sort of pushing is there, right? I guess threatening, but I’m not in any relationships where that happens. So yeah, it sounds like your break up situation falls into what I think of as invitation plus support in the form distraction, listening, etc.

      Support after the fact feels important. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting reassurance that it went fine or wanting to talk about how things went so I can process. Talking can be a good way of organizing my thoughts or deliberately “poking the bear” to see how I’m feeling about what’s happened and if there’s anything unresolved that’s going to come back and bite me later.

      1. I suppose metaphorically I was thinking of people who are about to dive or abseil for the first time and nerves kick in and they need the tiniest of pushes?

        “Poking the bear” is definitely something I do too. To be honest, like I said, a lot of my post-game analysis takes place in written formof some sort,, mainly because I can be completely honest that way.

  5. Oh, and “post-game analysis” is also brilliant. I’ve found that keeping some sort of written record of what happened, how I felt, what helped and what didn’t really helps me prepare myself for similar situations in future. Something else I did pre-Turkey was go through old diaries, Tumblr posts, general memories etc etc and came up with around 10-ish general main points (each with several sub-points) to remember in case of overloading; I know there’s no way I’d manage to think about that whole list if things get really bad, but if I can remember *one* coping skill I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, it helps. It doesn’t have to be that clear and concrete, though – I talk about things-not-in-my-comfort-zone in diaries, texts or online conversations with other people, Tumblr posts, secret boards on Pinterest…. Even writing this I know that at some point I’ll come back to these comments to re-read about things that worked for me in the past!!

    1. ^ Why I journal in a nutshell. Journaling helps me to process and and figure out what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I should try differently in the future. I can’t really get that without writing it out.

    2. You’ve mastered the art of post-game analysis! 🙂 Having written coping strategies is a great idea because it can be hard to think of what to do when the going gets rough. It seems like this would be a good way of increasing self-reliance too. I seem to depend a lot on someone else noticing that I’m overloading before I take action.

  6. I like what you said about inviting, not pushing, out of the comfort zone – no one likes to be told what to do. It feels like we have more control if stepping out is our choice. We know we can step out three steps and back up two if we need to. Feeling there is an escape option allows us to be braver because we don’t feel like we are being pushed off a cliff.

  7. I love the clarity of your analysis — so easy to picture what you’re explaining. I have to admit to being a comfort zone hermit — not least because of my anxiety problems — but definitely respond to invitation much better than being pushed. Feeling under pressure is one of the triggers for my anxiety which can lead to overload, but when I feel I have an exit should I need it I can remain relatively calm. Helps prevent that feeling of being trapped in a situation.

    1. Thank you! I’m all about analyzing things. 🙂 It seems like we all have very similar reactions to the idea of being pushed outside our comfort zones. This has me wondering if using this type of framework for autistic kids would be helpful. As adults we have a fair amount of choice in when we leave our comfort zones, but kids get pushed a whole lot more and have reactions that are quite similar–panic, resistance, anxiety, etc.

  8. I can go past my comfort zone at least sometimes: if I’ve decided to do so, I have an exit of some sort should I get over-stimulated, I have a pre-existing time limit, I know who or at least how many people will be involved (preferable none lol), and I am not hungry or thirsty.
    I wish I knew how not to get such a severe repercussion as happens for me though.

    1. All of the things you list are so helpful, especially the pre-existing time limit.

      It doesn’t seem like there’s much that can be done about the repercussions, except to plan for them? I try to schedule down time to recover if I know that I’m going to be stretching my limits. Thinking about it as recovery time helps because then it’s like any other recovery time–after exercise or work or some other strenuous activity. It’s a natural part of getting back on track.

  9. This is so helpful for me, both as a parent and a therapist for Autistic/Aspergers clients. And actually, when I think of it, it’s a helpful framework for any client I’m working with. I need to honor her strengths, and gently invite her to try new things, while providing a listening ear and discussing strategies that can help while living in the expansion zone.

  10. Yes, thank you for that analysis.
    “an invitation, not a push” is such an important one! Although a lot of times you are pushed, because life throws things at you, it’s important to remind yourself that you have a choice more often than you think. I say ‘you’, but I mean ‘I’, of course 😉

    “expansion zone” I also had this dichotomy for the longest time, also in contact with other people. (everything I do alone is ok, everything with other people is hard work and scary) I am slowly learning to negotiate this in-between that you call expansion zone. Just realizing this grey area makes it a lot less scary.

    “support” I didn’t realize how important that one is until recently. I am alone, and have practically always been (parents were never really parents). I have ok contact with my sister, but she lives far away (for my country) and has her own trouble. But now since a year I have a ‘home coach’ (specially for autistics), someone who comes over just once a week, 1 hour. And the difference that makes! My goodness. Just talking it through, hearing it’s a good thing what I’m trying to do, hearing it’s ok to need more time, repeating the reasons I’m doing this.

    I love the way you put words to my (and other’s) experiences. I makes it that much clearer.

    1. Yes, just knowing that there’s a grey area makes everything better! It makes me feel more competent or something.

      A home coach sounds like a fantastic type of support. It must be good to have someone who is trained to help and can provide some objective input and support. My husband is very good at support, but sometimes we’re both so close to a situation that it can be hard for him to be as objective as an uninvolved third party might be.

      Glad you found this helpful!

      1. Yes, I definitely think a home coach can be better help than a partner in some situations. More objective, trained, plus it doesn’t put a strain on the relationship. I know of a couple, both autistic, who happen to have the same home coach (from before the relationship started). Their coach also sometimes helps them clear up things that could otherwise destroy their relationship.

        Of course the fact she is an ‘uninvolved third party’ is also a downside. She cares, but like a doctor cares for his patients. She’s paid to listen to me, and it’s always a limited number of hours. When I had a hyperventilation attack in the evening, she’s not paid to come over and help me.
        But I am fortunate that in my country I can get this. I complain (with reason) about a lot of changes and budget cuts, and about how little therapists seem to know about autism, practically, but at least I have this. I am eligible for this support at relatively little cost, based on my diagnosis and some argumentation about the necessity. It is necessary, I think, because otherwise I would go downhill and need much more care really quickly.

        1. It sounds like a similar relationship as one would have with a therapist but perhaps with a more practical side. It’s great that you have the option to receive this kind of service. I don’t think there’s really anything comparable here in the US for adults who are mostly independent and would benefit from a weekly check in. I think we’re expected to get that type of support via therapy if we feel it’s needed.

          1. Hm, never considered it like that. It could be part of therapy, I suppose, if the therapist is ok with that. I suppose in the US you pay the therapist so you can talk about whatever you want, if that’s what you want to pay for. Am I seeing that correctly?
            In the Netherlands, they make a division between therapy and support / coaching, I suppose because health care here is much more a government regulated & subsidized thing. Therapy is done by people with a psychology degree, who are more expensive. It’s a treatment and you’re supposed to get ‘better’ in some form of another. My current therapist is actually telling me now that she can’t do much for me anymore, and it might be better to try and increase my coaching hours to have someone to talk certain things through with.
            The coach has more practical education, specialized in really practically supporting people with a certain disability. It’s long term care, and I suspect cheaper.

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on about the Dutch health care system 🙂 But it’s interesting (although sad) to hear that in the US this is not available, but could be seen as part of therapy. I think that’s a more expensive way, especially for the autistics, who generally don’t have that much money.

            1. There is a division between therapy and support in the US as well. I don’t think the division is necessarily as clearcut as in the Netherlands, but generally psychologists would be more likely to do therapy and social workers or trained counselors to do support/coaching. However, coaching is mostly aimed at those most in need, so people who need assistance in learning to live independently, in gaining/keeping a first job, etc. For people (like me and many others) who are more independent, there aren’t really any specific services. It’s up to me to seek out what I need, most likely in the form of a therapist trained in helping autistic adults or perhaps a support group for autistic adults. But I think no matter how “high-functioning” anyone might appear to be, the benefits of that type of regular coaching by someone trained in ASD would be very beneficial.

              I enjoyed learning more about how your system works, so thank you for sharing!

              1. “But I think no matter how “high-functioning” anyone might appear to be, the benefits of that type of regular coaching by someone trained in ASD would be very beneficial. ”
                Definitely. It can at least make sure that the ‘little’ problems you have don’t get so way out of hand, leading you to lose your job and your house, for instance.
                There’s increased pressure on the funding for the ‘low level’ support, because of budget cuts (crisis). Fortunately the benefits are being made clear all the time (mostly phrased as ‘saves money on the long run’, less people on unemployment benefit, less ‘heavier’ care, less interventions), and the govt does seem to see it.

                1. THIS! I’m from the Netherlands too, and while I keep saying I don’t NEED the heavier care, I just need a diagnosis so I can find some low-level assistance so I can keep my house clean(ish), pay my bills on time, and keep my job and pay lots and lots of taxes that will help people who need more assistance than me, the GGZ (government funded mental health clinic) simply doesn’t listen. I don’t know what a certified psychologist/psychiatrist costs per hour, but I’ve already had 6.5 hours of “diagnostic interviews” and there’s another 5 coming up. That is not very efficient. And seriously. I don’t NEED therapy. I’m doing pretty well. But they still treat me as if this is just the introductory phase for at least a year of government funded therapy. What a waste of money.

                2. Crazy. GGZ are the crazy ones sometimes. Govt is right about them not being very inefficient. (though let’s not start about how they try to tackle it)
                  I happened to have stumbled upon a therapist (for ‘borderline’, which was my previous diagnosis), who recognized me as autistic. Asked me to write down life story, chatted with my parents, had me fill in a list of questions and that was it. Diagnosis.
                  Mind you, from what I heard from other people it’s not a ‘real’ diagnosis, but hey, I have a letter from him saying Aspergers, and once I gave that to one institution (MEE), everyone just takes it over from one another. It opened a lot of doors, though it still doesn’t do any magic.
                  Strange btw, once I had the diagnosis, I was sent away, exactly because then I wouldn’t need ‘therapy’ anymore, cause ASD isn’t fixable. (I disagreed about needing more therapy, but that’s a different story entirely) Interesting that they see it as a start of a programme. There was no programme where I was diagnosed, it was just “goodbye and good luck”.
                  I hope the diagnosis works out, and that you get the support! It really helped for me. I was just out of a job, without support (also from MEE) I might have ended out on the street, simply for having trouble with the application for benefits.

  11. There is this notion among professionals that autistic people’s level of function (there, I used that word :-)) can only improve. Learn to do this, learn to cope with that. But as ischemgeek says, there is also the opposite. Myself, I was quite extroverted as a child… today, I am an extremely introverted person. Part of that is lost opportunities as a teen (the parental ‘you can’t do this, we won’t allow that, let us help you with that other thing instead of trying yourself – and completely failing to respect my own wishes), part is failure in various circumstances. I feel that the ‘expansion zone’ theory explains why this is so: If you are not allowed to test your expansion zone in (your own) time, it creates this feeling, very difficult to overcome, that your expansion zone really is empty. This can leave you with a very empty and difficult adult life.

    I am attending a talk later this month for people who have (or are planning to) abandon their family, as I have. Leaving them took a very long time, and I may finally have found an opportunity to get the support I need (there are systemic problems with getting help for family issues in my country, especially if you are autistic).

    Sorry if some of this comes across as ranting. I’ve been needing an outlet for a while.

    1. I completely understand what you’re saying about life making you an introvert. Things accumulate in ways that can completely change or even suffocate our natural inclinations and personality traits and that’s hard. I hope that you’re able to find the support you need. The family we’re born into isn’t always the best option for support and sometimes can make things much worse.

      I think there was a time in my life when my expansion zone was, as you put it, empty. That’s a tough place to be in but it also doesn’t have to be permanent. Functioning (yeah, I’m not crazy about the word either but what else to call it?) definitely varies throughout our lives, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not so much. Just recognizing that feels kind of freeing. Like we don’t always have to be “getting better” but the possibility for improvement is there.

  12. Apologies for being off topic, but I just wanted to say I think your blog is very insightful, and reading over posts the last few days, I have found a wealth of content that has really helped me and made me reflect. I have no idea if I have AS or not, but as I grow up and am forced into the adult world (I’m 24 now, eeks!) I find it increasingly difficult to deal with so many things that I find very stressful. I feel like I’m supposed to be ‘okay’ with doing things like moving to new places, moving away from family and familiar settings, getting over phobias, going out to new places/socializing more often, working with people in my job, physical relationships – I’ve been told that I’ll be an improved person for pursuing these things, but I find it all very, very stressful. And I have NO idea if other people feel as stressed about these situations as I do. I worry an awful lot that I’m just not being brave enough. But these posts have been really helpful. It seems kind of silly to me, but I feel like I need some kind of ‘permission’ to find all these things super scary, that everyone else appears to take in their stride. This detailed blog is really helping me figure out if it’s okay for me to just keep being the person I’ve been since 13, or if I need to be more ‘brave’. I dont know if I’m an Aspie or not, but the reflection I’ve taken from your posts is just…really, really good. Thank you so much! 🙂

    1. There’s no such thing as off topic in these parts. 🙂 I read quite a few stories similar to yours, where moving into the adult world with all of its change and responsibilities can cause a lot of difficulties for people on the spectrum whether they are diagnosed or not. I think its normal to find the transition to adulthood challenging and scary but it may be a matter of degree. If you’re feeling like things are much more challenging for you than for your peers that could be a sign that you have additional challenges with social interaction or executive function, etc. The good news is that adulting is a skill you can learn to a large degree. The parts I struggle most with I’ve ways to get some assistance with or work around for the most part. In any case, I’m glad the posts here are helpful.

      1. Yeah, I think you’re right. Whoever you are, it seems the best way to get through the awkward ‘starting out’ stage is to ask for advice from other people and learn through experiences 🙂

    2. ” I feel like I need some kind of ‘permission’ to find all these things super scary”
      I find it really helps to have this recognition and, as you say, kind of ‘permission’, to find things scary. I believe part of this is because more and more of our lives is dominated by media and superficial social media, where everyone seems to breeze through life, only struggling with certain ‘accepted’ problems, like terrible diseases and horrible breakups.
      It always makes me feel I shouldn’t have so much difficulty with things and should just be braver. I struggled for a very long time, thinking I was just wrong somehow, and if only I worked harder, was braver, did my best more, I would have it easy like other people (seem to sometimes).
      I definitely don’t think you’re the only one with this. More and more people are getting depressed and all that, exactly because they feel like we do. And everyone keeps pretending it’s all fine.
      Reading these kind of blogs helps me a great deal too, as does my AS diagnosis. We’re all just human beings, and life really is a struggle.

      1. Thank you, this actually really made me feel better about this kind of problem (I’m glad I’m not the only one hehe)! I think for me, my perception of how strong or brave I should be comes mostly from what my immediate family says makes a good person. I totally agree, we’re all just human beings and struggle… I think I need to learn to let myself take life at my own pace instead of other peoples (or the media’s!)

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