Tuesday, 21 June 2016

It May be June - Conferencing While Aspie

Just a quick check in to keep the ball rolling on posting at least semi-regularly, since I missed May completely.

So, what have I done?

Mostly, have a bad mood crash, two big meltdowns, and recover from two conferences.

I love going to conferences, but they really wreck my mental health because I'm having to process so much social interaction. Borderlines was fantastic, for example, but I broke on the third day because my Aspie brain couldn't function any more. I don't think that there is any way in which conference organisers could reduce that for me, it's on me to manage this and I did so poorly that time. So, how do I manage conferences?

  1. Make sure my accommodation is as close as possible to the venue is important.
    This isn't always possible - using Borderlines as an example, TCD is smack bang in the centre of Dublin and right on almost all the tourist hotspots, so affordable accommodation was not anywhere near. We stayed with a friend a short way out instead, which was lovely, but meant each day was very long.
  2. Don't always go for coffee breaks.
    Skipping that small amount of social interaction is against the idea of conference socialisation but it gives me a much needed brain break. Taking time with no interaction for 10 minutes in the quiet of an empty conference room is very valuable. Plus if I'm getting brain tired, I'm more likely to make a prat of myself!
  3. Make sure I get sufficient sleep.
    The more interaction I need to have (and I do enjoy it!), the more sleep I need to recuperate. Acknowledging that fact took a while as I used to just push until I fell over. Now I know sleep is an essential part of the day for me. This means that I can't afford to go out for the evening with other delegates, although I "budget" in the conference dinner to ensure that I don't waste the gift of networking and geeking all at once.
  4. Drink lots of water
    Seriously, staying hydrated makes a fantastic difference. Drinking water also allows me to pause before communicating - important when stressed to get my brain in the socially acceptable mode. In addition, toilets are quiet places where I can legitimately recoup some brain space.
  5. Eat carefully
    Stress does a number on my digestion, and any social interaction is stressful, so trying to eat plainly can help because I'm not upsetting an already stressed digestive system. Stopping the cycle of stressed - bad tummy - stressed over bad tummy is essential too!
  6. Don't go straight back to work!
    Sounds strange, but wherever possible I take an extra day of leave from work when going to conferences so that I have a day or two to 'ground' myself. If I can't do that, I try to at least work from home. Fairly simple but long journeys can work for that too - travelling back from Dublin involves 3-4 hours on a single train back from Holyhead to London, which was great for just being allowed to zone out.
  7. Lastly - Plan travel carefully
    Planning travel is always sensible when you have an event to go to, but planning carefully is slightly different. Planning carefully means
    • Travel up the night before - no stressing over "will I get there in time" on the first day
    • Consider staying overnight afterwards so no stress about packing and getting to the conference, nor worries over where to store baggage during the day.
    • Pick trains without tight connections - while I can usually get between most London terminals in 10-20 minutes, take the longer connections and arrive unsweaty and (more) relaxed.
    • For IrelandBook onto the ferry before the one you need. I learned this the hard way going to Belfast! If there is any problem with a ferry sailing, you don't want to be stuck in the wrong country when you are supposed to be giving your paper, so try to book one to get there the night or day before if at all possible. If getting the overnight ferry again, I'll give myself a whole day before the conference, not a few hours.
Do I still have meltdowns and wobbles even following the above? Of course, but for me the ideas on the above list help me to manage myself more sensibly. Conferencing while autistic, for me, is all about reducing risks and stressors, and appreciating that the fun thing (the conference) is also one of the major stressors in itself.


What's coming up?

Main task is cracking on with my transcriptions for my thesis rewrite as I want to have all three done and dusted by the end of September (or even August). This is where I miss working term-time only and having all of August off work!
Attached to that is chasing for my feedback as I've still not received it, which means I'm a bit in the dark as to how they want Chapters 4/5 fixing. Chapter 1 I'm somewhat clearer on, but I'd prefer the feedback before I go too far down the wrong rabbit hole...

No IMC Leeds this year :( I'm not giving a paper and I couldn't justify the expense. I'm still rather sad about that as there are, as always, a number of really useful papers being given which I'd love to hear... Hopefully some will be shared on Academia afterwards. In fact, I may use any spare time (ha!) to do something I had an idea of before - creating a list linking paper titles with papers shared online. With things as they are now, storifys of twitter hashtags would be good BUT takes some of the control away from the author which I know some dislike. Perhaps hashtags/storifies* for roundtables unless curated by the speaker(s).

End of this month (June), I'm going to a Portfolio Building Workshop, to start preparing my Chartership portfolio.


* Storify, storifys, storifies? Not sure...

** Why do I keep stressing "for me" in my list? Because all people on the autistic spectrum are different, and while my techniques may help others, we're not all going to respond to the same things.