I usually read a lot of articles and blog posts about the positive traits of Asperger’s syndrome and autism, but the fact is that it’s not always that way. It’s called a disorder for a reason and if it wasn’t then the label would not exist and people who would have been diagnosed with it and have their own autistic pride groups would just be outcast members of society and have no idea why.
So, I’m going to go against popular opinion and start to discuss some of the more negative traits of autism.
Enter the Australian music scene. For many years I’ve felt alone and socially awkward when I go to see a live band on my own and often have hidden behind my camera just to be able to get some relief from the anxiety I feel. Some scenes aren’t as bad as others. I used to blend in well with the emo/punk crowd but as I got older I spent some time away from the scene to listen to a variety of different music and when I returned it was very hard to feel comfortable again. We are talking about a demographic of people where it’s hard to tell if they are 18 or 25 and so the whole dance floor feels more like a school playground and yet again I am the lone wanderer who gets looks from small groups of people all hunched in together, but instead of a canteen selling flavoured milk with a cartoon picture of a dinosaur on it they are selling us alcohol.
Let me just talk about my experience at the last two gigs I went to. My emotions from social awkwardness was actually 10 times worse because I was under quite a lot of stress, some related to the gigs and some wasn’t.
It was my first time going to a gig in 3 months and that includes not taking any photos of bands so I was feeling down about that. I was still looking forward to going out with a friend to see some bands I wasn’t a mad fan of but they seemed to me iconic names from the emo scene I used to be a part of. Now it’s simply called pop punk/punk. I had been listening to their full album catalogue all week and getting more and more excited.
Sometimes when you have bipolar you can get too excited especially when manic and it’s never a good thing to have very high expectations when manic because sooner or later you’ll hit disappointment and that can trigger a very agonising depression. You can never control it though. So everything is going super great awesome fun times (manic translation for ‘great’) until someone drops a bombshell and it completely flips you into another mood. For me it was my friend telling me she wanted to get to the gig early to get a place down front and maybe meet one of the bands. To any rational thinking person this makes sense, especially as the doors were to open at 7:30pm. But to me I was still in a state of mental preparedness like I am when I’m about to go to pub gigs or just 18+ local gigs: I rock up at 8pm, have a few drinks inside then go and watch/ photograph the band. There are hardly any lines or security checks or anything like that. So, I wasn’t really prepared to go to an all ages gig where three extremely popular international artists would play. I remember looking at how long the line got and thinking ‘surely all these people couldn’t fit into the Hi-Fi.’
All of my confusion above seems to be caused by my autism or ADHD or something else that makes me unable to see things any differently than what I usually experience.
My reaction to my friend’s words was immediate anxiety, but I held it together and said I would take the bus on my own, which I didn’t think I was capable of so I was feeling anxious about that too. At this moment I was getting angry that my friend couldn’t see that things like this cause me a lot of anxiety and I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to really grasp what was going through their own mind.
I was upset about us both being at the same gig yet not together and for some reason thought she would be meeting up with more of her friends. I was very angry and depressed but not at all anxious when I took the bus to the venue which was a much simpler journey to take than I thought, even if it took five of those buses coming to the bus stop that would take me to my destination before I decided to jump on one.
When I made it to the venue there was a small line but I really wanted to have another drink. Earlier I had nicked one of my housemate’s beers at home when I ate dinner. It seemed to make me more motivated to go to the gig as my depression was making me feel heavy and tired but still angry.
I was still fuming when I made it to the venue that I crossed the street quickly and walked passed all the people lining up, didn’t look at them, didn’t even text my friend that I was there and stormed through the doors of the nearest pub. At this moment I was starting to realize I was doing things without thinking. Earlier that day I had been running back and forth from my house to the grocery store, ATM, and post office without having much control of my body and feeling very anxious at the same time about it. I would feel anxious if I wasn’t doing it and anxious about doing it. This continued throughout the night and by the time I lined up outside the venue at the end of a very long line I was beginning to regret my decision to ignore my friend and drink at the bar alone. But I couldn’t really turn back time and I wasn’t ready to go looking for my friend and through escalating angry texts we were both digging ourselves deeper. She has bipolar disorder and I suspect I have it. In my mind I thought that just because she is on medication, has more friends than me, isn’t autistic and has a job that she should be doing better than me. I was angry that she didn’t seem to give a thought at all about my anxiety. And it took me a very long time to start to empathise more with her.
I was able to just ignore the situation helped by my frequent trips to the bar and I just enjoyed the bands. I enjoyed hearing Alkaline Trio play the songs I had been listening to all week and some days later think I became more of a fan. My thoughts really had become manic when Panic! At the Disco took the stage. I don’t think I’m ready to divulge the content of such thoughts yet. Then Jimmy Eat World were on and I only really enjoyed the songs I could recognize. I had listened to the most recent releases and wasn’t really into them but I think with time I could grow to like them more.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the bands but was glad to be able to see people like Matt Skiba, Brendan Urie and Jim Adkins perform live – people I had heard a lot about in my early adult years, which in autistic speak is like being a teenager. To me at least. I felt pretty damn immature back then.
Unfortunately my friend wasn’t able to ignore her anger at me and didn’t have a good time. She took to Facebook and blamed me and a security guard at the venue for ruining her night. I really wish she could not let people get to her so much. I know how hard it is to put people that have hurt you out of your mind but sometimes it’s the only option I have. So now she is not talking to me even after I apologised when I started to see things much clearer and began to empathise with her more.
Some of the things she said hurt me deeply but when you know people with bipolar disorder it’s very hard to know what to take seriously and what to take as just being related to a manic or depressive or combined mood. You have to learn to not take everything they say so personally and tell the difference between manic and being generally angry. You also must forgive them as you must forgive yourself when you notice you have said and done the same things. And it is not always easy to forgive yourself.
I felt bad for ruining her night but there was nothing I could do and I had a hangover to recover from so I could go to another gig the following night. The second gig did not go well for me and this is where the loneliness I feel at a gig was made 100 times worse.
The band was AFI and the main support act was Crosses and the singer, Chino Moreno, was my hero from when I was 14 years when he fronted a band called Deftones. This time I felt immense anxiety about having to take the bus to Marrickville. The venue was The Factory Theatre and I’ve been there a few times before but I just don’t feel safe there especially given a few crimes I’ve heard happen there on the news. My PTSD had got to such a severe point that night that I left the main room of the venue and went into the toilets to calm down, but there were lines of people everywhere so it was hard to relax.
Before that though I had to line up outside. I was better prepared for it after realising I had to do it yesterday evening. Still, I started to feel socially awkward and that awkwardness turned to anxiety and that anxiety a type of indignation of the people around me. At one time they would have been my friends but now they were strangers, and were really starting to get on my nerves.
I continued the tradition from last night of drinking beer to feel better, but it never happened. It just triggered depression and made me feel worse. I was trying hard to control my thoughts but struggled. I began thinking about my friend and about dangers that could happen to me. When Crosses started to play I relaxed a bit, even laughed at some of the mannerisms Chino made. At one point it looked like he was walking backwards on a conveyor belt. He was the same Chino I admired in my youth and even dressed like, though back then his pants were so baggy they would be falling down to his thighs and he would have a utility belt on and be so skinny that one part of the belt would hang down low. And his hair, God, was it ever brilliant. Crosses played different music than Deftones but they still sounded great and Chino now had a beautiful singing voice, and could still scream like when he was 26. I really wanted to take his photo. It wasn’t fair that I had to miss out because my editor chose someone else. If I had responded to the e-mail asking for photographers to cover the gig I would have doubled my chances at being chosen. They have sent me to City and Colour and gigs like that so I know they trust me enough to put my name down for these types of shows.
I have taken photos of AFI before so at the time I was ok to not take photos of them. Davey Havok wasn’t wearing that white jacket like he did in 2010. I was still taking the occasional trip to the bar but really having a lot of space between each drink I had so I didn’t end up with another awful hangover the next day, but I left my spot close to the stage and so during AFI was much further back. I could still see the whole band and it was good to just stand back and watch them and note how they moved so I was better prepared to photograph them next time. Their set list was brilliant. This band has so many albums that all sound very different but they managed to include some very old material in between the most recent releases. It was so very well done.
But there were times where I looked around at small groups of friends chatting to each other, some being extremely loud and animated which might have had something to do with how much they drunk, that I started to feel so lonely. This wasn’t just the regular loneliness I felt. As I overheard someone talk about bands like Brand New I thought that these people could be my friends. They are talking about the bands I love yet never get a chance to talk about. Even now I feel the tugs at my heartstrings over it. Here we all were massive fans of the same band yet we were strangers and I think I felt that more strongly than most people. People even commented on my facial expression which in bipolar depression just sags low. You’ve got this flat effect and can’t much feel much of anything, though at times I felt immense sadness and then anger.
The next day when other photographers were posting photos they took from both gigs I attended I felt these deep stabbing jabs of jealously. I knew it was just my depression because later on I looked at those photos and were happy my friends got to take them. I really wanted to have taken the photos myself but this time I missed out. I always knew I could go to both gigs if I took photos at just one of them. It exhausts me so much and my very precise editing takes a whole day’s worth of effort. I would never had made it to the second gig.
After I got through that very deep and long depression I thought back to when I went to gigs and knew most of the people there: for one I was taking photos of those bands and we all went to similar gigs so we knew each other. Then, there were bands I loved so much I joined their online community forums and met people through them. Most of my friends are You Am I fans and we do meet up at YAI gigs or bands with a similar sound. So, given my poor ability to make friends or even approach people I think I would need to put in extra effort to meet new people. I even think I should go to a comic convention and talk to more people online. I don’t need to feel so alone.
I did have one friend at the AFI gig but my depression was so intense and she was busy taking photos that night that I didn’t go and look for her, and given the situation with my current close friend I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in myself to keep talking to people and build on an already existing friendship.
I’ve now decided to be less desperate about going to more gigs and take photos of the bands. I probably won’t see bands like Jimmy Eat World or AFI unless I have some friends going with me that don’t appear to hate my guts or I’m just there to take photos officially. There’s probably four local bands that I’ll always go see as soon as they tell me they are coming to town. OK, they are Davey Lane and his magical band of mystery (or just the Davey Lane Band), The Ape, Dallas Crane and Darren Middleton. Possibly You Am I but I have seen them an awful lot so they’re kinda getting a bit repetitive. And now all my friends are gonna throw something at me. Hmm, funny how my writing style changes as soon as I mentioned You Am I. There are still international bands that I will always go to see, namely, Bayside, Anberlin, Funeral For a Friend and Brand New but I’d really love to photograph them. That isn’t always a possibility and I’ll still go see them even if I can’t take photos.
I’m not sure what will happen between me and my friend. When things like this happen I’m at a complete loss about what to do. My social skills are really bad when it comes to working out issues like this. It will be a real damn shame to lose such a great friend that I’ve had so many awesome memories with but I’ve had to give up on friends before, and it hurts but I move on. I’d like to think that people come into your life for a reason. They help shape you into a better person and then they sort of fade away and you take what you learned into the next relationship. It’ll still be a damn shame to see this one go so quickly though. My anxiety and other symptoms have given an abrupt end to a lot of relationships and they just claimed another victim.
I’ve been through quite a lot in just two weeks and it’s hard to not get down about it and still keeping going, but it’s what I must do. I think I’m lucky that I have a tremendous load of willpower even for someone with issues with impulsivity and depression. Even when I’m manic I have more control than other people who are manic. I’ surprised by myself sometimes. I suppress more emotion than I let out too and though it feels crippling there’s not much fallout left in the wake of it.
Next week I’m hoping I can see my GP and get a referral for a psychiatrist and psychologist. I plan to medicate the anxiety and depression first, and if it doesn’t throw me into mania then I’ll work on getting my ADHD better managed with medication. But if it does throw me into mania then I’ll need mood stabilisers as well which should control my mild seizures. I call them mild because I don’t lose consciousness. They can get as severe as a secondary generalized seizure, which is basically grand mal. I’m hoping I can get a thorough assessment down and I don’t care if it’s bipolar, borderline, PMDD or anything else. I just need to be treated. I’ll take all the recommendations my psychologist will throw at me: mindfulness meditation, CBT, DBT, EMT, etc. I’ll even eat a little bit healthier but I’m not going to completely give up on the food I love. I really hope I can find someone that knows about Pathological Demand Avoidance syndrome and will take my anti-social thoughts seriously, just not seriously enough to lock me up.
For now I’m getting back into my interests. I’ve been reading my Marvel Fact Files again and might decide to read another comic book. I’ve got my sci-fi to watch and other shows, or I can always read a few books. I’m thinking about getting into physics again, or learn about air force planes. And of course I’ll take some time to work on my screenplay. I think I should keep practicing my band photography so I’ll take my sister up on her offer of photographing her friend’s bands playing live. She should get that bass fixed so I can keep practicing on it too. Apparently I have the attitude of a bass player which might mean moody, depressed, embarrassed, socially anxious, avoidant and completely hiding the fact that I am, because that was my emotional state when I got that compliment.
I guess what I mentioned above is the more positive side to autism; getting absorbed into your interests so you can forget about your traumatic social experience and realise you can quickly pick up knowledge and experience in the arts and have a damn good memory for facts. Because I’m smart and curious and a really good artist – so why should I try to fit in with people who take my time away from doing that?