Updated: Oct 26
"Hello", a word historically and typically used as an exclamation to call attention, an expression of surprise or a greeting. Or at least this is what the definition tells us. "Hi", a friendly, more informal version of hello.
Two words. That's all. They're short and rather easy to pronounce. Yet, at times I find myself simply unable to say either one of them. This isn't something that happens every time. Well, it doesn't over power me everytime at least. But both of these words don’t come naturally to me when someone walks in a room or when seeing someone I know or recognise. Be it at home, work, or by chance. It's as if an invisible silencing barrier goes up which I can't break down. It’s comparatively strange I suppose, in that I look toward or acknowledge the other person, but then I get caught up in this almost mystifying intrigue of how they look, their clothes, shoes, how they’ve styled their hair etc. If I continue with this then I focus hard on how they move, also with the same analytical intrigue. It’s much like being behind an observation mirror but then suddenly realising the mirror is glass, that you aren’t invisible at all and yet are getting more and more stuck in “analytical mode”. Then the sudden realisation that there isn’t even any glass to use as an excuse not to interact and that indeed, there is an expectation to say at least something. And of course, “Hi” is one thing, but then what comes next? Many people wouldn't guess that I struggle with people. It’s nothing against them, it’s a “me thing” and I suppose I mask too well for my own good sometimes. Well, maybe. I'm not so sure at times. I know that I can “hold my own”, which apparently means that I can manage when I really have to. But it tires me out a lot and at this point, everything, and I mean everything becomes much harder. Even a simple “hello”. Not to mention the “goodbye” part. I mean, when exactly do you say it? At which point and in which way? Some people seem to do a whole closing speech which makes it all even more confusing as they tend to do it as they are walking away. Then other people seem to say “bye” multiple times in a row, and it ends up as a “Bye, bye, bye, ba, ba, ba bye, bye....bye”. But this one is more so on the phone and I just hang up and hope that in the midst of the multitude of “byes” that I “passed” that interaction.
Lastly, there are people who say “bye” and then don’t actually leave. They keep talking or adding in something, then another something and then another…And in all of this remains the same question, when do I say it and in which way do I say it?
On this particular occasion, I had been in the midst of lots of people talking a lot beforehand. Unfortunate yes, but unavoidable at times. Nonetheless I suppose one might have expected such excitable chatter on a Friday perhaps, as the weekend drew near. Every so often I'd catch a glimpse of what seemed like someone asking questions, or commenting, but mostly seemingly making noises that could have been words in any language for all I knew at this point. The cloudy head fog was back and I suddenly realised that I felt heavy and tired. My head felt prickly and my body tense. But I had to last through it as I had no other option at this point. And then, at last everyone left the room and went home. Now alone, I composed myself, mindful that I had to now leave also. My thinking remained clouded as I navigated my way through what I needed to do to tidy up and remember everything I needed to take with me. I wasn't ever completely sure I had remembered everything, but I found myself too drained and disorientated to properly turn my now slow turning cogs. Nonetheless, I gathered my stuff and left the room, going to the main foyer area. Here, there were two people I had been rehearsing saying hello or hi to. In all the rehearsals I simply went straight up to them and seamlessly said hello or hi in the correct manner, at the correct time and all was well. The trouble now being that my cogs weren't turning properly and the multitude of overlapping voices had left me with little energy or focus for interacting. Let alone initiating an interaction. The wave of fog again swept over me again as I felt every thought disappear and my mind go blank. I knew they were there in the room with me and I knew they were perfectly kind and approachable. But yet, I felt the same paralysis take over me again, of which I could do little about, it seemed. This was just as I approached the point whereby I would have spoken, but it was if a weird joke was being played on me. I even felt my throat move to the point just before speaking occurs. Yes, a joke that brought me right up to the point of speaking and then saw to it that I became some kind of frozen mute very quickly after. That same wave of paralysing heaviness grew as I felt myself almost entirely lost within what should have surely been a rather simple endeavour. I couldn't talk. I couldn't think. But I know that I very much wanted to talk. I wanted to step over that invisible gap or barrier and just say the word “Hello”. Or at very least “Hi”. I felt my body become more tense as I tried to stop the paralysing heaviness taking over me even more, but nothing was working. I suppose it was much like looking back upon yourself and shouting loudly to try and provoke yourself to do something, or at least act like you aren't completely stunted altogether. Yet it was as if an invisible and paralysing sound proof glass box surrounded me and trapped me within. All the while in my head I shouted to myself to say or do at least something. I felt the heaviness get worse again until the cogs now hardly moved at all. I was certain now I couldn't swerve it all around. I knew that if I shut down where I was that I would draw a lot of attention, so I forced the cogs around and walked out of the room. The relief, even just for a moment. But then came the question, now what? There were more people outside and I didn't know what to do around them. So I waited, as the heaviness stuck with me, as I stood in the hallway. I took my bag off, as it was another thing to consider and indeed tolerate in all of everything. My coat felt tight, almost suffocating and the lighting, the talking, and the anticipation of being approached all seemed to pile up upon me. I wanted to tear my coat off and all my other clothes in fact, but then I’d just be an odd man with hardly any clothes, standing in the hallway. And that’s no good. Needless to say, I felt silly and inept, but with an underlying sense of failure. But I had to push this under as I had to hold it together. I wanted to go back into the room and try again, but I was overly mindful of going in and just standing there again. So I stayed in the overly bright, chatty hallway a while longer.
It's just two short words. Well, one if I could decide which one was best to say: “hi” or “hello”? Maybe that's half the problem, I'm not sure. After a short while, I put my bag back on and then checked my pockets. Not for anything in particular, but to look like I was occupied doing something. At least to buy myself some more time. I looked into the room which I had left and saw the two people there, on their phones. What do I do now? How do you approach someone who’s looking into their phone? Should I say excuse me first? I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions. I turned toward the exit and hesitated slightly, before walking through the door and onto the street. I felt drained and numb and now like a complete failure. I didn’t even have the energy to be annoyed at myself. But I now recognised the heaviness again. Maybe it was sadness: I wasn’t sure. I know it's something that's not necessarily a "fault" of mine. Or at least this is my attempt at being more forgiving of myself. But yet, there remains something that simply just doesn't happen for me when it comes to initiating interactions sometimes.
I try hard now not to let these things make me sad, but sometimes they still do. Mostly, it's through frustration due to the shutting down or my cogs slowing or stopping. But I know that sometimes, even the seemingly easiest of words I cannot say and the seemingly easiest of situations I cannot navigate through to the end. And this was one of those times. I suppose sometimes it’s about recognising this, walking away and being ok with it. If only it were that straight forward, of course. So maybe it's about considering that it doesn’t mean that every interaction will be this way, every time.
Indeed, there are places I still struggle to go to and there are the little things which whilst may seem somewhat trivial, still remain hugely challenging. Even if it's the little words like "hi" and "hello".
And as for the “bye” and “goodbye”? Well I didn’t manage these either this time. But maybe this is the topic of another blog entry, another time.
Thank you for reading and it's been a pleasure to have you.
Until next time. Liam Kelly
Founder & Director
Liam The Teacher Neurodiversity Services