Naturally Introverted

bluesyinroom
Recently I’ve come across a website called The Quiet Revolution, a site that has many helpful posts about how to live in this extroverted dominated world as an introverted person. It’s important to me to really embrace my introversion because for a long time I have been trying to really push it away and become a more outgoing person. I even have had it taken away by going on medication for my ADHD so now it’s important to me to really return to my more natural state of mind, who I was before all these medications started to interfere with my brain.

Firstly, let me start off by telling those of you who don’t know I’m also autistic and identify myself as a severe introvert because not do I only thrive in solitude but prefer it and can be very stubborn to come out of it. I seem to become more withdrawn around a group of people due to my sensory sensitivity and the fact that I often do not share the same interests as other people, and am rotten at small talk. Although, because of the dramatic change to my brain on Ritalin I was able to have time to really learn and practice social skills so these days I’m probably 30% better  than what I was before. I’ve become impulsive and use that impulsivity to help me start conversations with people. A conversation with an ADHD person does not last long though. It starts, derides, jumps to some other subject randomly and then wanders away. One autistic symptom I’ve managed to completely reduce is talking only about my interests and not notice when people weren’t interested. I wish I could have that back. My trick is now to surround myself around people who have the same interests as me.

Introversion is like my default programming and as I’ve mentioned I had it taken away when I went on Ritalin. I became extroverted and I still at times can become temporarily extroverted. I know what it’s like to want to seek anybody out to talk to or just be around them. Some nights at home alone were painful because I just wanted to hang out with people. For the most part though I can be alone for hours and not miss a single soul. In my current living arrangements I’m not always able to be alone so I really yearn for that moment when I am.

Lately though the extroverts have outnumbered the introverts in this house and I’ve kind of felt like I’ve got pressure on me to talk more and not just that – to change to what seems normal to them. Introverts may want people to change for the better but we can still be content if people just stay the same. If it’s really something that’s annoying us we can confront people about it but we really rather not. Remember, I am speaking from the perspective of an autistic introvert so not all will agree with my interpretation of an introvert.

Introverts and extroverts are almost like two different species and are each annoyed by each other’s differences, but we need to remember that extroverts can’t help being outgoing just like introverts can’t help being quiet and staying at home but that doesn’t mean that we should allow them to change us. Extroverts can seem like they’re trying to control you but you just need to let them know that you’re introverted and will stay that way. It’s who you are naturally and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Introverts can give just as much to society as extroverts can. We ought to tolerate each other’s differences more, because it those differences that make us interesting. If we were all outgoing and chatty I’m sure we’d get bored with nothing new happening and if we were all quiet and stayed at home then we’d never meet each other. And I’ve tried to make a quiet friend – it is very hard. The person did come off as disinterested to me and that’s how some people see shy and quiet people. I’ve probably been seen that way many times. Once a housemate’s son came over to the house and in greeting offered his hand but I didn’t shake it. I’m not used to such a thing so didn’t expect it and couldn’t just do it once I realised that was required of me.

These past three years I have been really pushing my social skills development and taking any opportunity to practice what I’ve learned on people, or just taken another opportunity to pick up some more tips from them. When I went out to see bands I would try and meet them after a show and spit out whatever words I could. There was one band member in particular that I was so desperate to meet and talk to but I never got the chance so I would always say ‘next time I will do it, I will push myself right out of my comfort zone just to do it.’ But now it doesn’t seem that important to me. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t – but who really cares? I’ve stopped obsessing about it and stopped trying to act as normal and social as him just so we could better get along. I hope no one is offended by my use of the word ‘normal’ – to me normal is average and average is boring, uninspired, unoriginal and other things I’m not. I still think that musician is pretty cool though.

For so long I have tried to go against the grain of who I naturally am. I’ve pushed this brain so hard to be good at maths, to play a musical instrument and other things that I just don’t have the skills for. But I do have other skills and so all my time will be spent on pursuing work in that area than in an area my brain really has no clue about or passion for. Even the social skills learning is starting to feel like a futile effort; for every new skill I learn there’s one other thing I’m confused by, or accidental offend people about or just had no idea of the existence of. Maybe I won’t push myself as hard and accept the fact that I am autistic and will always struggle in this way. As long as I try to be polite and helpful then people should understand I’m not using my autism as a crutch.

As for the extroverted part of me, yeah, I’ll embrace it when it comes as long as I remember who I am the majority of the time: a quiet but deep reflector who seems to accept things as they come but is not afraid to stand up for herself once in a while, especially when it comes to people trying to push me out of my shell. No, I quite like my shell. Leave me be.

Stigma? What Stigma?

Hey peeps! Look who’s back writing another blog post. I told you I would. So, I’ve been following the ABC’s coverage of mental health awareness on TV and on social media and I’ve been impressed with the many forms of awareness they are using. After all, we all experience it differently. They’ve taken a ‘mental illness is an everybody thing’ approach to it, which I do understand – we all like to relate to each other – but for some of us mental illness can be genetic and our type of mental illness does not affect everyone. Some of us – ok me – believe that this type of mental illness is non-recoverable and it’s there for life and we’ve just got to deal with it the best we can. Of course, recovering from any mental illness is a difficult road to go down. I’ve had various forms and severities of social anxiety for most of my life. It took my voice away in childhood. And I still have some non-inherited forms of mental illness to overcome like PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder.

So, what is this inherited form of mental illness, I hear you say? Well, it’s a mood disorder, most likely bipolar 2. It triggered in my early 20s after I took any type of prescription med. I’m not here to criticize the Pharmaceutical industry. The medication worked for what it was designed for, it’s just that it did something else, which doesn’t happen to all people, just people with a family history of mood disorders. So kids: always look at your family medical history before taking drugs, especially the ones your teacher says you should be on.

Bipolar is my newest constant companion, together with autism and ADHD I really don’t know what each day will be like. I can wake up one morning and have little energy and at some part of the day or night be unable to contain my energy. I randomly go on spending sprees, say things to people I forget and commit to things without giving it much thought. Then at some point in an extreme exhausted state I may crash into a deep dark depression. Even writing about it changes my mood state so I’ve got to be careful.

First, negative thoughts seep in after days of over confidence. I go from thinking everything is possible and everyone loves me to doubts about my abilities to questioning who my friends really are. Then comes the pessimism and a cynical view of the world and the cruelest sarcasm towards people you could ever think I was capable of. And then I just keep sliding down, down, down. To the point I become incapable of making myself meals or can even get out of bed. My mind turns on a loop of very vivid thoughts of suicide; the moment before, the act and me gazing down at the world following my suicide. Then after a couple of hours I cycle out of it. I become hypomanic again. It’s an all-round positive mood, energetic and ready to give the world a big giant bear hug.

I know a few people who have actually had their friends commit suicide and it made me feel very uncomfortable and guilty to be around them and hear them going through that mourning process. I never used to empathise with people when thinking suicidal thoughts and people’s poor choice of words to comfort or encourage a deeply depressed person to rethink their decision didn’t help either. I couldn’t see things from the point of view of a suicide survivor and copped a lot of abuse for that. But I’m used to it. My old blog was trolled so much I had to delete it but I’m back and expecting it now so whatevs.

Then, when I became deeply depressed again, despite being on anti-depressants, I started to think about one friend in particular who had lost a friend who I didn’t want to upset again if I did kill myself. And I certainly didn’t want my friends and family to develop a mental illness because of the shock of my own suicide. Before I didn’t think they’d be a shock because I talked about it so much – I even think I wrote a status update that was an equivalent to a suicide note. Luckily, a few friends got behind me and started to encourage me and I felt better.

Now when deeply depressed, if I can’t avoid falling into it through constant gigging, playing video games, watching comedy and sci-fi, I will just experience it and focus more on the physical pain than emotional. Once I get control over my mind I can push my emotions in any direction. So, I will deny my depressed thoughts and just try to focus on the next mood cycle. I wouldn’t do this if I had unipolar depression but because I’m also a rapid cycler telling myself the feelings are just temporary works for me. So far.

I think in order for people to really grasp what bipolar is about I need to talk about my manic symptoms. First, I’ll explain the differences between hypomania and mania. Hypomania is the milder state but it’s a higher than usual ‘happy’ state to be in. You’re very motivated to do things, you might get a few creative ideas you’d like to try out and you want to be around people more. Together with the motivation and creative ideas you’ve got the energy to get everything done and you don’t even require that much rest or sleep.

Mania is the more serious state. I can only tell I’m manic by the wired-like stimulated state of my brain. I have non-stop racing thoughts, overflowing with 10 to 200 creative ideas I must accomplish NOW! I’m restless and anxious and my skin tingles in discomfort. Sounds are louder, lights are brighter- every sense is turned up way loud. This is the state you become delusional and psychotic in. You have higher ideas. You feel like you are enlightened and that everyone else is intellectually inferior to you. They can’t see what you can see. They’re stuck in this stiff collared world of facts and reason, and not into the Jungian dream-like utopia that you slipped in through the smallest crack in the universe. You have more energy than you’ve ever dreamed of and your legs don’t stop moving for days. You’ll pay for it later. You know depression will come but you tell yourself you’ll be like this forever, although, to be honest, you just want to go back to hypomania.

It’s not always so positive though. Mania and hypomania have an opposite evil twin. It’s sometimes called dysphoria or dark mania – it’s the ugly pessimistic and paranoid face of bipolar. Much of it is mixed with symptoms of anxiety and depression, though I’m still unsure if this is what constitutes a ‘mixed episode.’ You snap and yell and rant at people. At worst you have paranoid delusions about them. You’re impatient, anxious, losing confidence in yourself but still have a flair of arrogance about you. You still have all the energy of mania but all positivity is gone. This is actually the most dangerous state to be in because if feeling suicidal you’re impulsive enough to do it. You’re definitely ‘not in your own mind.’ People can become violent when like this.

Above I said mania was like a drug and indeed it is but no one goes on a constant high for days or months without making some mistakes. Those can be overspending, sharing your delusional ‘enlightened’ ideas with people, just ranting and raving and ending up in places you can’t remember how you got to. There’s a trail of destruction you’ve either got to clear up or run away from. You interact with a lot of people during this time, people who you may have to see again when you return to normal, unless you’re rapid cycling – if that’s the case then you’re probably going to repeat the same mistakes again.

In my first year of taking Ritalin for ADHD every dose made me manic, from at least day two of taking the drug. So I spent a whole year basically manic. Depression never came because I’d just take another dose. Eventually it did hit at the end of the year where I was also experiencing clusters of seizures. I was just waiting to die basically. I’d come up with some wild themes for my science fiction stories and books on Jung or Synchronicity took my mind into a new and exciting realm. It was incredible but it wasn’t real. Some of my delusions were very damaging to my mental health. I became obsessed with people, people I acted like I knew well and was destined to be with. That is one place I do not want to go to again. I thought I would never recover but my medication for anxiety has helped make that world disappear. I finally feel sane again.

The title of this post is kind of confusing but what I mean by that is before I was even aware there was such a stigma around mental illness, well, I sort of always talked about it as though I was talking about a hobby. I find psychology and neuroscience to be fascinating subjects and my underdeveloped social skills could not pick up that I may have been making people feel uncomfortable. I actually had to be told by someone that people might not want to be around me if I kept talking about it. Then after I was trolled severely after writing many manic fueled blog posts before I even realised that I could even be bipolar, I decided maybe I’ll just cut back on posting about mental illness and ADHD and autism. But lately I’ve been thinking censoring myself and giving in to the stigma just makes the stigma of mental illness even stronger and I felt better being open and honest about all my mental health issues and atypical neurological wirings. So, while I still may be aware that I’m making people uncomfortable I can just ignore it and keep on talking, or writing. It’s not like anyone will tell me when I make them feel uncomfortable.

October is even ADHD Awareness Month and because I’ve been unable to write my blog about inattentive ADHD, I’ve just been posting a few things on social media. I will eventually write that post though.

I also find educating myself about my illnesses, neurological disorders and other ailments makes me develop the best coping skills for dealing with them. I’m untreated bipolar only on anti-depressants for my severe anxiety, so the only treatment I can do is problem solving skills. Okay so I may have spent $300 or more in the last week and I’ve been mouthing off/ranting a lot and my upcoming gig list keeps growing because I’ve finally got the opportunity to photograph what bands I want, even the ones I need media access to, and not just photographing bands keeps me sane, but the preparation keeps me looking forward to something. Then there’s my recently reignited video game addiction which I really think helps keep my depression from triggering. I just get exhausted now which is ok. I’d rather have the tiredness and lack of motivation that comes with depression without any of the emotions.

So, this is me. A life of mental illness and unique brain structure. There’s no stigma here. It’s just my life. It’s wild, it’s messy, sometimes boring, other times exciting, scary, frustrating and then something unexpected happens.

What is Autism Acceptance Month? (Long Post)

This month my blog is going to play host to a wide range of posts focused solely on not just raising autism awareness for World Autism Awareness Month but also explaining why accepting autistic people is important too.

I’m a bit late to join the acceptance cause because I’ve been trying to rationalise my decision to be or not be that way. You see, I’m a person who has built the foundation of my whole world view solely out of facts, and I couldn’t get past the notion that seeing autism as something more positive meant that autism awareness would go backwards to the little awareness there was in the 90s and when many children, including myself, had their autistic symptoms overlooked. I kept repeating the same thing to people ‘if autism is not a disorder it would not even exist. You wouldn’t have a reason for why you are different and not be a part of a community of people who relate to your symptoms and you would not be able to share your similar experiences with them.’

I thought I was right in having this view because no one argued against it, but then I learned that autism acceptance doesn’t mean that we should stop treating autism. It’s all for that, but people who support acceptance don’t want autism separated from them, they don’t want it cured and they don’t want to be looked down at by society just because they have autism. They don’t want to be merely tolerated but accepted as a regular member of society, and they want people to keep in mind that autism is a real disability and needs to be taken seriously, even though people may seem on the outside to be functioning just as well as everyone else; it’s an internal struggle of anxiety over pressures put on them from other people who can’t understand they see and do things differently, confusion over what is required from them from those people, and heightened sensory processes (though they can also have under sensitivity to some senses). It’s not an excuse to be lazy or rude or for people to overlook inappropriate behaviours. It’s a neurological difference, a different way of processing and perceiving the environment and often a failure to connect to others in the same way two non-autistic individuals could connect with each other.

As for me I want to be allowed to be myself. I came into this world a child with no real desire to socialise and through pressures from parents, siblings and teachers I had decided to change because it seemed the normal thing to do. Though I’ve had some great experiences socialising I’ve also left a social encounter feeling stupid, angry, insulted and just confused, and even suicidal. It feels as though I was never meant to be social. I feel like I’m more of an inventor or author and people are my audience. I’m not meant to chit chat or come up with 1000 new compliments to tell a person so they will like me and in return give me at least half as many new compliments.

I’m meant to spend my days alone being inspired by my narrow special interests that I’m extremely passionate about that help me come up with ideas of my own for an art project, a new photographic gallery, another blog post, or more likely a science fiction story that helps to raise awareness about how society treats people who are different. I want to dedicate my time to books about science, or just a good escapist sci-fi story, philosophy or even just Marvel comic books. People think I can have all that and a social life but they are wrong – I cannot balance to the two. It will always be toward one extreme to the complete neglect of the other.

I don’t want people to call me a nerd as though it’s something I should be ashamed of. I don’t want my politeness to be seen as a weakness. I don’t want to be sucked into a world of memes, lolcats, and other forms of mediocrity you find on social networking sites. It took me a long time to realise that social networking websites are just like socialising. No one takes anything said seriously and it’s all for fun. Well, I don’t want to do that from the comfort of my own home. I want to discuss big ideas and be inspired by someone else’s ideas. I want to do that when I’m talking to someone face to face too but that’s not always possible, so I would rather talk about funny cat pictures offline rather than online.

I find the whole social world to be full of a lot of deceit. I can do the social niceties but why must we hide when we aren’t feeling so great? Many times when someone asked how I was I could have said I was depressed, and sometimes I have. The only point to socialising with people is about getting a closer bond to them and sometimes I don’t want that bond, sometimes I just want answers to questions and to load off a whole lot facts on people. Yes, there are times when I do desire talking people for the same reasons they do and can do so comfortably but then there are times when I feel I’m hiding myself from people if I can’t be myself and just talk about those things I’m really passionate about.

Now just because I say this and feel this way doesn’t mean I’m not going to be social or even play the social game. Sometimes I think it’s needed so we don’t all end up at each other’s throats. I can balance being an honest yet polite person…most of the time. Occasionally I end up saying something offensive without even realising it. I can jump from being under empathic to over empathic, again depending on my moods and my environment. When around people I’m usually overwhelmed by the closeness off them, their voices, the light, background noise and the sudden changes in my emotions after every word they say, so I don’t always get a firm understanding of their feelings.

At times when socialising people have shut me down when I try to talk about my special interests which can be the only subject I’m capable of knowing a lot about and thus capable of talking about at length and with any passion at all. These days I’m better than most with an autism spectrum disorder at briefly talking about a wide range of subjects, but it leaves me feeling empty.

I’m perfectly fine being on my own and going days without talking to people and sometimes I want to be around people more, but on my own terms. And I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m doing something wrong when I choose to be quiet.

I do have a small group of friends who I love but I’m always saying, thinking or feeling things that will risk that friendship and it when it comes to drama I don’t know how to handle it so go into avoidance mode. I basically only have the basic set of social skills I have now because I memorised them and whenever something happens that requires more social awareness and experience of handling relationship issues I hit a brick wall. I’ve got nothing so I basically say ‘I can’t do this, I haven’t got the social skills required for this’ and leave.

But I still have had a lot of fun times with friends and I’ve got a lot of fond memories, so there is always that small group of people that I will always hang out with, depending on my current mental state – and it’s more than being autistic that gets in the way of having a good time with them. I always find that having similar interests to people makes me more capable of saying anything to them and the likelihood of us becoming friends more. Mostly we all like the same music, though only one has a 90% music compatibility rating with me. That same person is just as geeky as me too.

There are some other strong traits of autism too. I function better or at all when I have a plan put in place for the tasks I do in a day or when going to an event, like a family picnic or seeing a live band. I have a natural ability to organise which comes in handy to control symptoms of ADHD and bipolar. I feel like I have more control over my mind too. I can blow up emotionally about little annoyances but I can quickly talk my way out of them and into a more rational state of mind. Is it really important to make such a big deal over this thing? It’s not usually and I just need to calm myself down and distract my mind, usually by choosing to spend time on one of many interests.

I have a close attention to detail which helps me as an impatient artist and band photographer. My best shots are close-ups of the singer’s face and capturing an emotional moment in their eyes, focusing on finger movements of the guitar players and patiently waiting for those ‘rock moves’ that get me such high praise. Drummer photos, usually taken from back, are always a challenge which is why I feel really satisfied when a nail that perfect shot of them. And I like to use real close-up lenses for them too.

I can detach my emotions from a situation when I know they can get out of control. This kind of gives me a flat affect about being told most bad news and I’ll be at loss about how I should react, except when it comes to bad news about animals. I feel like I’m more emotionally connected to animals and I’ve differentiated how I see my pets verse how non-autistic people see their pets. To them their dog or cat is like their child, to me they are my pals. I tell people my dog Bear and I run in the same pack. Sometimes I talk about him as though he is my Lord and I his servant. I even gave him a ridiculous long royal name: Lord Bertrand Ernesto Augustus Roxonbury. Meanwhile my cat Bluesy is my ‘roomie,’ Jazz is a grandma and Lyra, well, OK she is my baby but only because of her perpetual kitten look. She also looks like a rare endangered Australian species: a bush tailed possum mixed with a sugar glider and a Persian cat.

I think this ability to put logical problem solving skills before emotions is a great and useful trait to have. I still have a severe and at time debilitating anxiety disorder but I am able to eventually overcome those symptoms and think of a solution to my predicament at the time.

So, to me Autism Acceptance Month or Decade or Century is about accepting others who are different and allowing them to be that way. It shouldn’t matter if someone is introverted, not wanting to always be social or even wanting it at all. If someone is able to better function with routines and making repetitive movements with their hands, fingers, head, legs – then we should let them. As long as they are not putting anyone or themselves in danger and it’s not extremely annoying, then I can’t see why they should change. They shouldn’t be made to feel their behaviour is odd and therefore not normal. I’m a geek and proud. I also have what would seem immature interests and act far younger than my age. I’m not even talking about being 28 and acting like I’m 16. I’m talking about acting as young as 6 sometimes. It makes me take life less seriously without having to take a chemical to have such an experience.

Autism Acceptance Month is also for those individuals on the autism spectrum and their families who want to accept it. Not all can. Some people have children with severely debilitating autism who require around the clock care, and it’s up to those families to decide how they deal with them. I’m not even going to suggest anything. I have a lack of experience in that area and so this post isn’t directed at them. I do know people with severe autism who still don’t want to be cured and still don’t want to be seen as broken and inferior. I know one parent of a severely autistic boy in particular who has been very strong ever since he was diagnosed and didn’t blame anyone, didn’t try to take away his autism and just loved him for who he was. How someone chooses to raise their own autistic child is their own choice and I’m not going to get in the way of that or say they’re doing it wrong because I wouldn’t even know where to start with raising a child. All parents have a tough job but parents of autistic children have a real challenge on their hands. That’s a fact. And I’m sure even the parents who want to cure their kids are doing it out of love.

So, hopefully I’ve outlined what autism acceptance is all about and why it is important to see people with autism as not separate from their autism. They’ve had it since before birth or so early in age that it’s been with them for most of their lives. It has shaped who they are and every new experience is continually shaped by their differently developed brain. It has strengths along with weaknesses. Look at Jacob Barnett, teenage physicist or Temple Grandin; born severely autistic but through ABA therapy she has developed not just into an independent woman but as a spokesperson for the autism community teaching parents and other non-autistic people of the inner experience of the autistic mind, and she’s pretty spot on, although her visual mind is far more advanced than mine. And you know what she says? We are inventors and that the world needs us. Now, I’m one of the few autistic people that will still give credit to non-autistic ingenuity but there is definitely some truth in what she is saying. We with autism can get so passionate about an idea we become obsessed with it; we block out the world and all distractions and just get to work.

Asperger’s syndrome = Loneliness (Long Post)

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?

Why Does She Look Like A Boy?

When I watch my young nieces play with fairy toys and show off their latest little dresses I sometimes wonder whether they had a choice in liking fairies or dresses at all. Sure, the oldest one loves her princesses and unicorns and the younger one, well, I’m not quite sure. She reminds me most of me. I know she loves cats at least.

I wasn’t given the choice, not at first. I was put in dresses I hated wearing and by the time I was old enough to dress myself I stopped wearing them. During those years I still had the girly stereotype pushed upon me as though the way I chose to dress and style my hair was wrong.

These days I look around at people who watch me or talk to me and I don’t get the usual feelings I did when I was a kid, ones where I felt judged for wearing jeans, a t-shirt and had short black hair with a wispy little fringe. And the two dozen or so hats I owned. These days girls can dress how they want and people don’t give them as much grief as they did in the early 90s. At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned from my observations. I haven’t set foot in a school playground for a long time. I would begin to raise eyebrows if I did.

I’ve been told all my life to act more lady-like in some of the most ridiculous ways. It was hinted to me that I should want to have a small fluffy dog instead of the large wolf-like breeds I often wanted. I even got told that girls drink wine and guys drink beer. Not being one to back down to social conventions I stood my ground, called the person old fashioned which was received as an insult – because telling a young woman she’s acting more like a guy because she chooses to drink beer isn’t insulting enough – and then returned to the drinks cooler and picked up another beer.

I have heard snickers from strangers about me being gay but I’ve taken it upon myself to only be hurt by the truth. Just because I dress a certain way and keep my hair short doesn’t mean I’m gay or want to be male. They’re just clothes and a haircut. I come from a family of three girls and one boy and I looked up to my brother because he was the less bossy one but I was still intimidated by him a bit especially in his teen years. According to some I worshiped the ground he walked on and what he was into I also wanted to be into.

Even earlier than that I was deeply absorbed in children’s films and related most of the young protagonist who was often male and when I like characters I tend to dress like them, mimic their accent and mannerisms and feel like I am them. Because of an isolated childhood of having my own voice stuck in my own mind because of a severe social anxiety disorder called selective mutism and autism that made me feel comfortable in this isolation, I spent many hours in front of the TV watching such films, from The Never Ending Story to the Home Alone films and The Three Ninjas and hell, even Small Soldiers in my teen years.

I really do believe that early in life we’re influenced about how to dress and act by the people around us and I ignored a lot of those people, had absolutely no interest in fitting in or sharing with them and was influenced most by the films and TV characters I watched.

Androgyny is a word that often has a negative connotation attached to it in Western society because if you don’t fit society’s view of what a girl or woman should be then you deserve a label such as tomboy, something I was called quite a lot in my childhood and teen years. It never really bothered me much being called that because I liked being different but at the same time knew there were others out there like me. To be honest I see nothing negative about being called androgynous.

I’m very comfortable with the way I am, the way I dress and my constant need for a messy mop of hair that tends to stick out. It must have first come from my desire to look just like an anime character. Then, in my early 20s I seemed to fit snuggly into the emo scene and now I both watch and photograph a lot of rock bands with unkempt hair. There’s also the whole writer thing; if I’m spending most days locked in my room in front of a PC I really have no need to keep my hair tidy. Seems a waste of time to me too as I seem to just end up running my hands through it in frustration over having absolutely no focus on the topic at hand be it writing a few new scenes or reading a physics or mental health article someone posted on Facebook.

There was a time where I tried to dress more ‘girly.’ It took a great deal of effort to do that and I was often tired by the time I had to go out. I couldn’t keep up with the changing fashion nor did I have much variety in my wardrobe, but what made me finally decide to stop dressing up was that it made me feel like a fraud. I was even uncomfortable in clothes. The thin material that seemed to stick to my skin often itched and I was just aware that I was wearing it. On every corner of my body I could feel the itchy suffocating material like my body was inside a vacuumed sucked bag.

I wasn’t even dressing up for myself but for other people and that didn’t feel right to me. It was just one night to dress up and hope males found me attractive and then it would be over. I saw no point in it and had better luck with guys who took me in all my emo garb.

The truth is I feel more comfortable in my variety of geeky $10 t-shirts with an opened buttoned down long sleeved check shirt (also, to avoid a skin allergy flare up) and cargo pants. Not to mention the Captain America belt. Even skinny black jeans become uncomfortable to wear, though I still force myself into them whenever I go see live bands. As for shoes you can’t beat a pair of Macbeth Elliots. I’ve been wearing them for over ten years. I tried another type but it just didn’t work out.

I’ve even made it quite clear that I will not wear a dress to my sister’s wedding later this year. Instead, I have put my hand up to be the official photographer. I just so happen to have some camera equipment worth a couple of grand and 10 years experience in photography behind me. And all it’s costing me is a couple hundred dollars worth of travel insurance to avoid wearing a wasps nest for a dress. No photographer that doesn’t usually shoot weddings would offer their services for free, especially a band photographer, but I’d rather not face the day itching, fixing up my clothes and walking like a zombie or robot for most of the day. My clothes should feel like an extension of my skin. Anyway, it’s no harm to my sister because I’ve already driven most of my family crazy with my little anxiety related freak outs over travelling overseas to go to this wedding.

I had to get through a childhood of being mocked for having air force (which is awesome, by the way) short hair, striped shirts and hoodies and classic 90s blue jeans. And the latter I still like to wear. These days I get less of that and I breathe a sigh of relief for the other girls who don’t have to be teased by their peers about looking like a boy or being gay or have people seriously tell them ‘you can’t do that – that’s what boys do.’

And I know my brother and my sister in law. They are intelligent and opened minded people and I’m sure if their girls decided one day to drop princesses for pirates they’d be met with a lot of support.

 Shanti