What do we need face expressions for?

I just came back from pizza dinner with the Meet Up group. I thought it’s going to be fun, like the events that I used to attend before lockdown, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure, why? Maybe because the guy who always entertains people with his stories wasn’t there? You see, in my mind, if I attend number of events organised through the same organisation, and they are all fun, I then think that they are fun because of the organisation, not the people who attended. That is an instictive reaction and I’m not even fully aware of it, I only realise it in hindsight, if my expectations are not met.

The lady who organised it was Polish as well, someone who I met in the past and we got on really well at first. She was very interested in my life and seemed like she wanted to protect me. I didn’t quite know why she came up with the idea that I needed to be protected, but it was nice. And then, one day I took her to an event in Polish school, where I used to volunteer, and afterwards she started an argument with me because I spoke with other people. It was really strange so I kept trying to calmly explain my position, thinking that maybe she has PMS or something, and if I talk to her in a calm and assertive way, she’ll come back to her senses and apologise. Instead she blocked me on Facebook. We never spoke after that. Did I tell you, BTW, that being assertive doesn’t work for me? Being nice doesn’t work either. It often feels like the only way I can get my needs met with other people is by being mean and screaming at them – they then suddenly start seeing my point and want to make necessary adjustments.

Anyway, when I signed up to that event, I didn’t know it’s organised by this person, I only realised after I paid my deposit, but still wasn’t sure as she looked differently on the photo. But when I went there today I recognised her instantly. Oh well… we were sitting at opposite side of the table so I didn’t need to talk with her.

Towards the end of the event someone asked me about my family and I started talking about my mum. I didn’t intend to, but I guess I just didn’t know what to say instead. They then started goving me attention so I continued. One lady, who was sat accross from me was saying all the supportive things but her face expression seemed to communicate something different, like if she was judging me? I’m not sure if I got this right though. Obviously, being autistic I’m not very good at reading face expressions but the problem is also that they seem to be affected by facial features. That lady’s lips were quite narrow, so that probably affected things. What I saw her doing was that she was saying kind words but pressing her lips together. But then, how do I know that she didn’t have indigestion? That’s what is so confusing about face expressions: there’s so many factors that can get in the way of reading them correctly. Even if I spend hours watching videos online about face expressions, I still wouldn’t be able to do that. I would probably get even more confused instead.

But the other thing is, that when people say that we, autistics have problems with reading face expressions, they never say what people need them for. Let’s say this lady was really judging me, for going out to dinner during bereavement. What I was supposed to do with that? The most prominent symptom of my bereavement is that it feels like nothing will ever happen in my life, I just need to survive till retirement. So going out is good for me because it reminds me that life will continue. Was I supposed to tell her that? Would she understand? And should I first comment on her face expression to get her to listen? But then, what if she had indigestion? Would that not upset her?

The most difficult thing about this is that I don’t like when the face expression doesn’t fit how I see the situation. What I think happens then is that I experience a form of selective mutism, one where I can still talk but I am unable to say what I really think, instead I use echolalia to fill in the silence and only say things that I’ve heard other people say ‘in similar situations’.

Is it possible that that lady was in fact judging me? She said that her mum died two years ago. Maybe she didn’t leave the house for weeks? Maybe she was sad a lot? Or maybe she didn’t mind that I went out but couldn’t read my face expression when I talked about mum and assumed I had no feelings?

Overall I didn’t enjoy this event and it didn’t bring me the feeling that life will continue. It probably will but for now I don’t feel it. I just want to go to sleep.

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