I was thinking about how nervous I was about the diagnostic process and her reading my letter. Trying to keep my breathing even. Looking at a painting on the wall. Trying not to fidget too much.

“Do you realise you’re smiling right now?” said the therapist as she looked up from my letter.

I looked at her, feeling confused. “What do you mean?”

She clarified, “Here in your letter it says you often smile at inappropriate moments. So I was wondering if that was what is happening now. You’re smiling. Are you aware of that?”
I started grinning and said I had no idea I was smiling. And then got completely confused about what I am saying because yes I know I am grinning now. But not smiling a minute ago, I didn’t know that. Was I really smiling?

She said she could see that the grinning was a nervous reaction. Those things are obvious to people who can read faces, I guess? And she said she understood what I was trying to say. So I could stop worrying about my words and what my face was doing without me having any control over it. When I had permission to stop doing words I could start feeling. I felt… at a loss for words. That’s how they call it when you can’t grasp a concept, when it doesn’t fit reality. When things simply don’t make sense. I don’t know how to describe my feeling.

I was smiling.

I didn’t know.

14 thoughts on “Smile

  1. I smile at inappropriate times, too. Especially if I’m nervous/scared/uncomfortable.

    Big part of why I don’t go to funerals. I went to my grandmother’s, and got yelled at on the way home for smiling at it by my father. I can’t not smile as a reaction to being around so many unhappy people that I have no idea how to comfort. It’s jut how my body responds to these things. Yet I get why them seeing me smile sends them the wrong message. So I just don’t go.

    Helps me do well in interviews, though. I smile nervously, and they think I’m smiling because I’m happy to be there.

    • Yep, generally speaking oversmiling has fewer negative consequences than overfrowning does. But on the rare occasions where smiling does have consequences, those tend to be far more punitive.

  2. I reflective smile. Meaning that if someone gives me a smile or face I usually reflect that back to them. As part of diagnosis I realized that I don’t much smile first. I also realized how much my face hurt by the end of the day. Like gum chewing, or smiling wore my muscles out.

    Now I try to smile “only when I want to.” This is harder than it seems. It takes a conscious decision do I want to smile at this person.

    • And figuring out what you want is a tricky thing already! I would love to hear your progress on this. Do you get feedback from a non-autistic person about your facial expressions? Because that was the thing that was the most shocking to me, I didn’t even *feel* myself smiling. If you had asked me what my face was doing, I would have said worried, or anxious, or frowning.

      • Same.

        I also don’t typically smile from contentment. My “contented” face looks like most people’s serious or unhappy face, or so I’m told. So I get a lot of “Is something the matter?” when I’m reading or something.

        My concentrating face looks like most people’s overwhelmed, irritated, or confused, as well, so when I’m concentrating, I get asked if I need help with something. During my brief stint as a fast-food worker, I was often chided to smile more because my smile disappeared and I looked overwhelmed/confused/irritated.

        • Me too! It’s why I had those two things listed underneath each other on my letter: “told to smile more”, “told to stop smiling because not appropriate”. I’m like what the hell do you WANT me to do? When I’m relaxed the corners of my mouth turn down and my eyes are half-closed. When I’m happy I have the biggest shit eating grin you can think of. To me, that’s not a problem. To others, it obviously is.

        • Yes! Especially to the “What do you want me to do?” thing.

          I don’t make eye contact – “Look me in the eye and say that! I can tell you’re lying because you won’t look me in the eye”
          I do make eye contact, ignoring my own discomfort – “Stop staring!”

          but-but you just told me to – ah, fuck it, I give up.

          … my life got a lot easier when I figured out that looking at someone’s mouth made them think I was making eye contact without causing me nearly as much discomfort, and then I can let my eyes glance around naturally and it just looks like I’m thinking.

  3. I would get slammed for not saying “hi” to people. or the what’s wrong why aren’t you smiling. so for years of trying to fit in, i added it as a “must” to the behavioral subroutine.
    nice this year to just learn to be me.

  4. I smile all he time at people. Admittedly, I had to be taught to smile (lots of practicing in the mirror…), but now it is plastered onto my face whenever I go out in public as part of my appropriate public behavior mode.

    • Lol, I did the lots of practicing in the mirror too! Including “so ok then, how do my muscles feel when I pull this face? This is an ok smile, can I replicate how that feels on my face?” 🙂

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  7. My husband points that out sometimes–he’ll ask what am I smiling about, and until he noticed i had no idea I was smiling and at what or why. It wasn’t always like this though. I was always told to smile more growing up. People often judged me because I have what they call “resting bitch face” :p I didn’t see the need to walk around smiling if I had no reason to. If I’m not particularly happy about something, entertained, or find something humorous, why should I smile? I also have a hard time smiling for pictures. My lips literally shake and tremble when I try. I really didn’t learn to smile until I started working retail. Working in customer service really improved my social skills. But now that I’ve learned to smile, I do it sometimes without meaning too!

    • I could relate to the “resting bitch face” thing so much! I seem to have a standard smile plastered to my face in any and all social situations, but as soon as I’m focused on a personal activity, people start asking me why I’m angry. 😛

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