How Playing Destiny Helped Me Build Social Skills

Destiny is a futuristic first person shooter in its third year. It may have had a rough start and disappointing first year, but things are looking up with the addition of extra content in Year 2, Year 3 and promises from game developer Bungie for more.

So what is Destiny about anyway? I’m expecting the audience for this blog being a mix of gamer and non-gamer alike so I will stick with the non-Grimoire* version. What is that? As I expect people will scratch their heads at a number of terms used in this post I will be adding Destiny terminology at the end of it. For now here is the story so far:

In the future humans find a planetoid entity known as The Traveler, who then gives them knowledge which launches them into another Golden Age for technological advancement. But The Traveler has some enemies who have chased it across the galaxies all the way to Earth. The main enemy in this game is known as The Darkness*, made up of different alien races including The Fallen who invade Earth. The Traveler protects the Earth and is crippled in this process, but in its last act of defense it created the Ghosts who contain its Light* and they bring the dead back to life, and give them some of this Light which makes them powerful. They become The Guardians, and that is who you play as. There are three different classes with different abilities; Titan, Warlock and Hunter.

Before I played Destiny I was relatively new to what was known as next gen gaming platforms. I bought an Xbox One because I wanted to be able to play the next Mass Effect game, and I got Forza Horizon 2 free with it. Let’s go back a few years though. As a kid I hated playing against people. I always thought this was because I wasn’t interested in competitive play but I later found out while playing multiplayer in Forza Horizon 2 that I was actually socially anxious.

Social anxiety isn’t something new to me. When I was young I had a severe form of social anxiety called selective mutism, and I’m autistic so social awkwardness and phobias have always followed me around. When my then boyfriend’s brother wanted to play a few Mario games with me I lost badly to him and then on I thought well if I can’t win then why bother?

But after playing Forza Horizon 2 competitive play was something I longed for. When I first heard about Destiny it was advertised as a shared world; other players would literally be there as you played story missions. I felt this would be a good way to introduce me to an online world. In those early days I was still nervous to perform actions in front of people. There’s this part of the game where you have to scan a crashed ship and I waited until another player had done it to do it myself. I would then have people around me to help fight enemies in story missions until I got to The Darkness Zone which is a limited respawn level. Then, I started to miss having them around. Often when I was unaware about what to do I would watch other players and even sometimes I would watch them just to learn how they would strategize their own method of facing powerful enemy AI. I copied that and I learned it and it soon became natural part of my own strategy.

By around level 12 I found myself visiting Bungie’s online community seeking help to make me finish story missions. It was the Grimoire that made me find their site at all. The people in the community were willing to offer help to noobs like me and were patient when they joined me for a mission and helped out when they knew I was too underpowered. Destiny is the type of game where you have to level up your strength and that’s usually by collecting higher Light weapons and gear.

When playing with these people I would be very nervous to talk and I couldn’t stand the sound of my own voice but overtime I began to relax and speak with more confidence. Then when I reached the endgame* I had to team up with people regularly. Now I was doing Nightfall Strikes, raids and harder story missions. I joined an Australian Destiny community and soon became friendly with all the regulars. To this day I still have over 100 people on my friendslist who I can invite to my Fireteam to help me with Nightfall strikes or a raid. Playing co-op in raids and Nightfall helped me learn about the different roles in a team and about how to listen, when to speak and to help others when they are literally (Guardian) down. It is valuable knowledge that I can take into the real world with me.

It’s not just playing Destiny helped me gain social skills and learn the importance of teamwork but I would find on days when I was so overcome with depression that I couldn’t move from my bed and my head was full of many unpleasant thoughts of self-doubt, self-hate and suicide all it took to make those feelings disappear was half an hour of playing Destiny. Perhaps it was because you can play with random people in match-made strikes and sometimes you would find a team that really worked well together, we were old friends. Or I might play co-op and just mess around with friends. And even on those days where just everything goes wrong and I’m extremely stressed and ready to blow – that’s when it’s a good time to run around The Plaguelands and practice shooting Fallen Dreg heads off and maybe pretend they were someone else.

Between year 1 and year 2 I would play Destiny for 9 hours a day. I’d start by collecting bounties* that went toward leveling up with a faction* that would give rewards like new weapons and armor, usually of higher Light. Then it was about completing Nightfall on all 3 classes and then getting raid specific weapons and armor by, yes, completing raids. Then I found my childhood friend was playing Destiny with her husband and I joined a clan that I could really communicate with and have an enjoyable time with.

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Warsat Warriors ready to raid…after we get the rest of the members to join our Fireteam.

Raiding was where my social skills were really put to the test. People had a problem with me being too quiet and not understanding directions, and I had problems with the self-made alpha of the group and just very cruel humor and people chit chatting so I couldn’t hear directions properly. But when I found a patient and understanding raid team we really clicked as a team. When somebody stumbled there would be a bit of giggling but we’d help each other out. Through raiding and the very intense and difficult Nightfall strikes I learned to listen to people and communicate more effectively, and even join in on the banter. And it was always so rewarding completing the raid. What did Bungie used to say about raiding? You’d go in as strangers, come out as brothers.

Unfortunately, after my friends quit Destiny for a while I gave up on raiding. It’s something I would like to try again, because 100%ing Destiny is like overcoming some of life’s hardest challenges for me, but for now it’s something that I avoid. Just trying to complete raids was really putting more stress on me and reminding me of how autistic I am. It put me into a low mood where I was constantly judging myself. On the bright side at least when I go back to raiding there will be something new for me to do in Destiny instead of waiting for Bungie to release more content.

When The Taken King expansion pack was released Bungie introduced a quest system that made all the repetitive play worth it. It’s these quests, especially the record books that keep me coming back to Destiny. At first I was a bit annoyed that in order to complete some quests I would have to spend a great deal in The Crucible, the PVP* multiplayer mode. But then my skills in The Crucible increased and I learned to adjust with the changing meta* by changing the types of weapons I used.

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I enjoy my time in Destiny’s in-game universe too. I love science fiction so when I first heard of this game I was all for it. It’s an online world and I really see that world as an alternate reality. My class is Titan and I take their role as protectors of humanity seriously. When I play or read up about Destiny I put myself into a state of mind where I see that The Fall really did happen and we are at war with four enemy alien races. I choose my factions just as seriously; when I found out New Monarchy attacked the City I changed to Dead Orbit. I like to experience every moment of Destiny as though it’s real. I run through The Tower* like it’s Hogwarts. I used to play the Harry Potter games where I’d just run around and explore the school. I can ride my sparrow* through Old Russia* or Venus or Mars just for the sake of it. I love my fellow Guardians. There’s a real camaraderie between clan mates and regular players I’ve co-op’d with who have become my friends. We can dance at each other for hours or communicate through gestures. They can make me laugh without saying a word. When I’m not playing Destiny I’m missing making those gestures in other games.

I find the Lore inspires my own need to write science fiction. The way Bungie takes ideas from mythology and turns them into canon in their own made up universe is something that I strive to emulate. People who aren’t bothered to look into the deep lore are missing out.

Destiny is more than just increasing my skills as a gamer and making friends in a gaming world, it’s about making friends in the real world, learning to understand human behaviour and that the good guys outweigh the bad. There are some in the autistic community who give up on making friends because of a few bad experiences. I’ve had some seriously bad experiences in Destiny but I’ve also had great moments to treasure forever. Knowing that is enough to make me want to keep playing Destiny with others, and not reject friendship in the real world too.

I’m taking a break for Destiny while I play other games. I’ll be back when another live update* happens or when I’m over the other games and make an attempt to finally get Thorn* or my exotic sparrow.* Or private SRL matches* or another attempt to raid. Or try my luck and finally get Icebreaker.*  There’s always plenty to do in Destiny and it’s the type of world that I will always be happy to return to. It’s inviting, fun, challenging and extremely rewarding.

I may not play Destiny forever. Indeed, it only has a 10-year lifespan. But I will always remember how much it has helped me.

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Destiny Year 3, Christmastime. I’ve played since Year 1 and I’ve got nothing but hope for what Year 4 will bring.

Destiny/ Videogame terminology

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online. A game-type where you can play and interact with other players online. Usually you complete quests or raids and can trade items between each other and join guilds or clans.
People would argue that because of Destiny’s lack of verbal communication with all players (you can only talk to your Fireteam) that it rules out Destiny being a complete MMO. Destiny is basically built like an MMO; you level up, upgrade gear and play the game past story completion. It’s played online and has content added to it. However, its lack of trading between players takes some of that MMO feeling away from it.

Grimoire pron: grim-wahcards you can unlock by completing various achievements or collecting dead Ghosts in Destiny. Each card has a piece of Destiny Lore which gives vital insights to the story. Among the most committed players it’s imperative to read your Grimoire cards. The Grimoire is only accessible through Bungie.net or the Destiny app.

The Darkness – Through reading The Book of Sorrows Grimoire you will find out that The Darkness isn’t a being but rather a philosophy that encourages gaining power through destruction and killing. Kind of like capitalism.

Light – Is it magic? It’s a type of supernatural power the Traveler, The Ghosts and Guardians have to wield special abilities. As some types of light are Solar, Arc and Void you may have to look into Hinduism to find your answers. It’s a bit like The Force in Star Wars which is taken from Jungian theory of a life-force.

End Game – In MMOs the End Game are challenges to complete for upgraded weapons and armor or even added on story missions after you complete the main campaign (story missions with the original game).

Bounties – Quests you can complete to level up with your Faction. You collect these bounties from a Frame (AI with limited helping abilities) on Tower grounds.

Factions – The Factions are groups who have differing views of where humanity should go next. They used to be at war with each other but now Guardians can claim allegiance to them by fighting in their name and collecting rewards as they level up.

PVP – Player vs player. Competitive multiplayer.

Meta – Originally meta refers to a type of strategy that transcends the basic rules and uses external factors to affect the outcome of the game. In Destiny weapons are balanced regularly and as a result some weapons become more powerful than others in PVP, i.e “Matador 64 is so OP now.” Following the meta means you’re guaranteed to own modes like The Crucible, but it means to regularly change around your preference of weapon, or weapon loadout.

The Tower – The last safe haven on Earth. The rest of the world has either been destroyed or occupied by The Fallen and Hive.

Sparrow – A guardians only means of terrestrial transport. Literally The Speeder Bike from Star Wars.

Live Update – Free content added to the game that is smaller than DLC (downloaded content). Because of micro transactions (real money purchases made in-game) Bungie can add this free content. Live Updates do come with new quest steps and sometimes new weapons and armor. Most importantly, they come with new emotes; gestures and dancing.

Thorn –  an exotic (super powered) handgun. Can only be obtained through quests. It’s a favourite amongst  Guardians. It’s also hated by many for its poison perk (ability) which made it a killing machine in The Crucible.

Ice-breaker – the God of all sniper rifles. An exotic that used to have self-replenishing ammo every 6 seconds. Currently only able to be obtained through Nightfall strikes.

Exotic Sparrow – A quest only once obtainable through buying Redbull is the U.S. Now it’s added to a forever growing questline. The sparrow is supposed to be one of the best, particularly in SRL.

Old Russia – Currently the only place on Earth Guardians can go beside the Dead European Zone, that is under enemy control. Hundreds of years ago humans tried to flee The Fallen invasion and the results of that encounter can still be seen in burnt out rusted cars piled before The Wall and human skeletal remains.

SRL – Sparrow Racing League. A PVP sparrow race that is super fun and just offers something different than the usually shooting modes in Destiny.

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The Conversation Conundrum

Engaging in conversation comes easy to most because of the way the human brain develops throughout childhood. We have an innate ability to pick up on social behaviour which helps us build up our social skills that by around the age of 10 we have a basic ability to talk to other children about the common things children talk about. However, for some of us this innate ability is missing, especially in those with autism, other neurological disorders or people with delayed social development.

I’m in the latter category. For me personally I never really had the desire to socialise and due to a severe social anxiety disorder known as selective mutism I rarely talked outside the family home. I saw some progress in my teens but I didn’t see much dramatic change until my mid 20s. By this time I was already diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD, and I can’t deny that being prescribed Ritalin not only helped me talk more but have the desire to talk to people at all. I finally had the patience and clear headedness to be able to pick up on social behaviour and put it into practice.

Learning new social skills was a matter of listening to two other people sit beside me and have a conversation and to carefully watch their body language; anything from the length of eye contact made to subtle hand movements. I often got some pretty confused looks from the people I was secretly learning from. I didn’t just pick up social skills from people talking to each other or from my own feeble attempts at having a conversation with someone but from watching actors on TV and in film. I’m a longtime fan of children’s films in the 80s and 90s and I’ve always mimicked the words, mannerisms and even dress sense of those young protagonists.

Some TV shows have been central to my social development or just made me understand confusing neurotypical (someone without a neurological disorder) behaviour. That wasn’t something I wanted to mimic but just be aware of because it was so illogical, things like lying and keeping secrets and the eventual confrontation that surfaced after being caught out. It was mostly science fiction shows that taught me the importance of teamwork and how to think about others. Recently, a TV show on Netflix called Granite Flats showed me how to apologize to people. These sound like very simple things to know but I’m not just taught these things by the characters on a show or film, but the way they say these things helps me actually get the words out at all otherwise it’s very difficult for me to say things such as ‘sorry.’ I don’t just mimic actors but become their characters. I actually sound exactly like the characters, anyone from Data on Star Trek to Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. I rather enjoy sounding like a space cowboy too. But I can also mimic people I know if I look up to them enough.

I’ve come far in the 5 or so years that I’ve been training up my social skills. I’ve also lost them and had to build them up over again which is what happens to autistic adults when they are under extreme stress. I can even lose these skills if I go a long time without talking to anyone. So, it’s important for me to get out there not just for emotional reasons but so I can retain the skills I’ve learned and continue to build them up. There are differences between what an autistic person wants to get out of a conversation verses an NT. An NT, or non-autistic person doesn’t care so much about what words are said but just the time spent with another person, whereas an autistic person really wants to share information and hopes that the other person will learn something new and remember it. That’s not always the case though. In my experience people don’t remember much of what was said at all.

I do enjoy the time I get to spend with people. I’m trying to focus less on the information I give and more on the time spent, especially when building a new relationship with someone. Talking though is still very hard for me to do. I have the usual problems that anyone with social awkwardness or delayed social skills goes through like not knowing what to say at all or worrying about whether the topic is relevant or socially acceptable, and then I have to work out whether what I say will come across as offensive before even saying it. But the actual act of speaking and making thoughts formed in my mind come out of my mouth in the order that I thought them is often a task I fail at. They don’t come out in the right order. I think this is because I think of two ways to say something and combine the two ways together in one sentence. I also get a blank half way through a sentence that I often spend a lot of time quickly trying to remember what I thought of a few seconds ago and grabbing any bunch of words that come to mind and make my best attempt to form a sentence out of them.

However, my friend Patrick seems to be the complete opposite of that. He’s a musician, a bass player that I’ve recently met after years of taking photos of bands he’s been in. I was in awe of his ability to keep a conversation going but staying relevant to the subject. I wanted to emulate that but at the same time it’s my impulsive mouth that makes me say anything at all. Sure, those words can often embarrass me or unknowingly offend others and often make me feel stupid, but it’s my thing. However, I’ve been noticing that I am holding my tongue more in an attempt to stay relevant. Pat though is a really nice guy and despite my social awkwardness which can lead to a lot of impatience by people or have them making fun of me for stumbling, he remains patient and tries to help me get around my little handicap.

Even though I’m still developing my social skills I’ve learned a lot and have a high amount of empathy for an autistic person and even find myself mentally telling non-autistic people to think about how others feel or will respond to the way they’ve said something. It seems these days with social media being such a huge part of people’s lives that they’ve forgotten the very first thing I learned in my social skills training: not everyone will agree with you or have the same interests. Psychologists call it having a poor theory of mind or mind blindness when you fail to understand this. I remember when I struggled to keep thinking of others as separate individuals from me with their own likes, hates and wants, and their own experiences which help shape their personalities.

Still, most people seem to have adequate enough social skills to think they don’t need any further help and still they look at those who struggle socially with impatience. The best thing you can do for someone who is struggling to speak is be patient, not assume you know what they are going to say or finish their sentences for them. We don’t all have the same social ability and the person struggling is often very frustrated at themselves. It’s not uncommon for the more introverted person to hold something against an extrovert who replies before they’ve even finished talking or repeats their words to other people. To them it’s very rude. As for rudeness, sometimes those with poor social skills can say something that might be interpreted as rude but often they’ve just failed to realize it would come across this way. If you keep this in mind and not respond with anger you can probably avoid confrontation and the person will not become depressed over their mistake. Having poor social skills leads to a lot of anxiety and depression and these two disorders really interfere with developing new social skills.

My mood disorder gets in the way of me developing socially. Sometimes I get too hyper and impulsive and slightly delusional to apply what I learned when I was in a more euthymic state, and my depressed and anxious states lead to a lot of self-doubt and negative social scripting, which is thinking of worse possible outcomes in a social situation. Usually though, I use social scripting to help me come up with subjects to use in a conversation and it actually does work.

I still get surprised when I hit a brick wall in my social skills, which happens when people act in ways that I don’t understand or I realize that despite all the years I’ve put into developing new social skills I’m still not able to steer myself out of difficult situations. Usually, my answer to dealing with a heated dispute between me and a friend is to completely get them out of my life. Not everyone is happy with me using this approach but I’m at a loss to know how to work out a solution. So, much work is still left to do if I want to keep my friends. I applaud my friends for trying to keep our relationship intact, I just hope one day I can return the favour.

The Night I Lost Control of my Mind

Nobody wants to see a good mood end and they will not exactly want to keep enjoyable emotions under control. They want to experience it all and encourage the feelings to get even stronger. The problem is that during this time they will just think what they are experiencing is completely normal.

For some of us those good feelings need to be kept on a tight leash and you’ve just always got to be aware of the unnatural high, though it feels good, can also take your mind to wild places where fantasy and reality entwine and it gets harder to unravel the truth from fiction. When the ride finally ends it’s like having a really enjoyable meal taken from you while you’re still eating eat, still hungry for more.

I don’t really want to reveal too many details from the latest manic episode. I don’t want people to remember me as having a good time with them and suddenly have to think, ‘oh, well she was just ill.’ I had fun catching up with a lot of old friends and learned a whole lot in the day, about myself and how the usual organized, self-aware girl with control over most her behaviour – despite being impulsive – can suddenly lose control of it all.

I suppose it all started a couple of days ago, a week really. It’s hard to tell when another manic episode begins because sometimes I can’t tell the difference between a normal happy mood and, the milder hypomania and the more serious mania. All I really have to go on is the physical sensation of a sped up brain, hypersensitive senses and strange behaviour patterns.

I went through another depression from failing to meet up to my own expectations after a gig and I just had to get my thoughts in order to overcome it. Then on the day I was finally putting up my latest photo gallery I got a lot of positive feedback and just a lot of things happened that surprised and overjoyed me. Little bits of good news kept being revealed to me over the days. I was still dropping into depressive moods but nothing too serious.

Although I tend to open up a lot in this blog I still keep some thoughts hidden because of their delusional and obsessive nature. They make me really feel like a crazy person which is probably why sometimes I don’t mind seeing myself that way, because it’s at least truthful in some ways. Let’s just say I fantasize about another life and get so deep into these day dreams that I might one day do all I can to make them become a reality. I think subconsciously I’ve always made decisions that would slowly build up this fantasy world coming true for me, but then it can become so intense I want it now. I stop enjoying my regular life and would rather slip back into fantasy. I would ache with anxiety just to have this life come true for me.

It’s something that also scares me about myself. I would have never thought I could become someone that would get that obsessive about something. So, I usually try my best to avoid having the thoughts or do something that keeps me distracted from them. For a long time it worked until recently when I decided to risk pushing the fantasy a bit more.

So, I was getting some good news and feeling hopeful, which distracted me from the more anxious thoughts about my future in employment and independent living which also crossed over with this fantasy life – but I had made my mind up about it being time for me to get back to work and move out on my own, and move to the area I’d rather live in which would really help my photography out too.

Then an event happened, a day of celebration really. Looking back my anticipation mixed with my good feelings and rapidly growing euphoria, felt like the building up of an important movie scene. All the elements were being put in place so the audience could get as hyped up about the scene as the protagonist was and they will be going on an adventure together, and experience the crash that would soon come together as well.

One day I was strangely ill. I have epilepsy and get migraines quite a lot and sometimes if I don’t eat enough I get severe blood sugar crashes. So, I was just monitoring the symptoms while getting ready to go out and photograph another gig. But my symptoms increased; severe fatigue, motor clumsiness, having my eyes playing tricks on me and struggling to articulate my thoughts. It wasn’t that unusual for me to experience but there was no identifiable trigger. I was in a very silly mood too and it got in the way of me concentrating on tasks that needed to be completed.

I’ve had milder symptoms like that before starting another full manic episode, usually one that lasts for days and weeks. I’m not very good at picking up on the signs as they happen though.

My memory from the morning of the party is hazy. I just remember that I bought a six pack of beer and starting drinking as early as 11am. I got stuck with the arduous task of making decorations for the party so I grabbed another beer, turned on some music and had a surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable time.

I was pretty chatty that day and willing to take photos, even though yesterday my internet connection went dead and didn’t come back the next day. I did have a mini meltdown over it and I was pretty shocked with myself that I couldn’t just go off and do something else like I normally would. That eventually got fixed so it was a non-issue from there.

So, I’m drinking, I’m chatting and eating. I can’t remember much more than that. I think I was a super amount of impulsive too. It could have been the beer I was slowly getting through or it could have been the drinking while experiencing a manic episode.

Yeah. Looking back I can tell I wasn’t in control of myself. I know that now. On the bright side I was able to chat to different groups of people pretty much all throughout the day and night and not have too many negative feelings. My anxiety did kick in when I started on the red wine. At this time I was also told to take it easy so I reassured people by saying, ‘I’ve been drinking since midday’ – as if that was enough to say I could control myself.

Looking back I can’t understand what was going through my head to think it was a good idea to drink for 13 hours straight. I usually don’t drink much because I’m usually at a gig and need to be able to take photos and save some money for a cab. So, there’s this desire to drink a bit more and when I watch others drinking a whole damn lot I just feel like I’d like to do that to and be normal. I don’t have much of a strong body for drinking. I used to drink a lot in my early 20s but now more than 5 beers is risking having some sort of physical health problem. Since I developed bipolar my moods have been completely thrown around after more than an average night of drinking. It might happen immediately or might take a few days to kick in. Usually I become depressed first, recover and then slide into a mixed episode with a higher than usual anxiety (basically paranoia), and then another manic episode will start up.

When I barely drink my episodes don’t get much more severe than hypomania; an all-round good feeling with a few creative ideas here and there. Lately I’ve pushed myself back into delusional thinking and paranoia. Besides the end of week consumption of alcohol I’ve also barely been sleeping, been eating poorly and not keeping up with my exercise routine.

Either I can once again get more control over my moods or I’m coming into another manic season. This is when moods become one extreme or the other at certain times of the year and stay that way for months. The start of the year I had high anxiety and occasional depression but not much mania. It’s kicked up a little bit since then and the PTSD related anxiety went back into the background of my troubled thoughts.

So anyway, back at the party, it’s night time and as I’ve mentioned I’ve been drinking all day and barely eating much at all. Finger food really. I’ve had my perfect fantasy world playing at the back of my mind for a few days now. I know I’m supposed to stay on top of it so I don’t slip back into my delusions but then something happens that blurs the line between reality and fantasy yet again, but I still think I’m fine, but I’m now focused on making that fantasy a reality again so I begin to turn every conversation over to or around that subject. I’m over the party. I don’t care anymore. I just want the chance to make my fantasy real because of how good it makes me feel. The problem is I convinced myself that it could happen.

But eventually the good times end and I think it happened around 5am. I was struggling with negative thoughts but trying to ignore them. My whole body was also on fire which is how I tend to experience hangovers. Even though it was a pretty bad one I couldn’t stay in my fantasy any longer so I had to get up and get on with life, but then everything happening around me kept pushing me back into it. The state of the house was making it hard for me to make my own food or wash my own clothes. I gave up after that. I had a huge anxiety attack and had one of the more severe suicidal ideations; the ones where I think it’s going to happen, even dreading that ‘I can’t believe I have to do this,’ instead of the usual hating myself so much I’ll just replay a few scenarios in my head and then I eventually get over it. It felt like I would never feel any better and I just wanted a quick end to my pain. But it did get better, though I did keep falling back into those thoughts. They didn’t get as serious as before but became more paranoid.

I’ve been in a pretty terrible state both emotionally and physically. At times it feels like my pain won’t end and then some light shines in, only to vanish after a short while, just long enough to calm me down.

I haven’t left the delusional woods yet but I’m more aware and can try and assume some control over my thoughts. It’s like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to keep me grounded in reality rather than replace negative thoughts with a more positive turnaround. The problem is I can become too positive and completely lose touch with reality.

Things are steadily getting better for me. I’m returning to routine and normal life. What is normal for me, at least. I’m unsure if I will ever lapse so far into a delusional manic fantasy world again. This is from the absence of drugs, even medication. It could serve as a warning to what I’ll be like on anti-anxiety or SSRI meds. It could be the result of having to manage the stress that came from being told I may have to start getting ready to go back to work, with the odd threat of having my pension cut and I’m getting closer to going overseas – there’s just a whole lot to be anxious about right now, especially for someone with a severe generalized anxiety disorder.

I’m unsure about what will happen next. I just have to go to my interview (after a panic attack about going to a place I haven’t been to in years, needing to ask for a lift) and tell them why I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to work yet. I’m not getting any treatment for my autism, ADHD, bipolar, anxiety and even seizures. My fear of change just stops me from getting help when I desperately need it. I do want to get ready to go back to work but it needs to be done properly. I need a therapist who will listen to me and a psychiatrist who will not brush off my concerns about having a mood disorder and believe me when I tell them the meds they prescribed me gave me serious side effects.

On the plus side, my photography is really picking up. One well known band in particular seems to really like my photos.

But life goes on. The comic books and sci-fi shows keep flowing and still more preparations for this overseas trip need to be taken care of, and then I can return and see/photograph more bands again.

On Being A Selfish Person

I’m a selfish person. I must be – people tell me I am all the time. “You’re so self-centered,” “you need to think about people more.” My own mother said that. I mean the person who raised me thinks I’m a selfish person. She thinks I have a choice in the matter.

Fact is sometimes I’m not even aware about how much I should think about a person. I try my hardest, often after I realise I’ve upset them or insulted them beyond all forgiveness. I’m an honest person and don’t agree that people should hold things in or lie just so we can all better get along. I try my best to not be rude and if I’m actually aware about what I’m thinking about saying could be misinterpreted I’d rather say nothing at all. I’d rather just ignore the whole damn situation.

Most people respond more emotionally to me. I react with heightened and unregulated moods, but I’m for the most part able to analyze my own emotions, re-direct my thinking and choose my words carefully so I don’t hurt people too much. Or I just ignore the situation.

If people still get hurt by my somewhat Vulcanesque response then it’s their problem. I went to a whole lot of effort to not just vent my frustrations at them and I can do no more. I’d like them to completely detach their emotions using kolinahr and come up with the most logical solution to this little dispute that’s only happening because people are letting their emotions get the better of them.

Another thing is that I can get so absorbed in what we in autistic community call a special interest that we can completely be blind to what is happening in the world outside of it. It becomes our whole world and completely takes over our personality. Not in the same way a personality disorder does. It just changes a few characteristics around, like for example I might be playing my Batman video game for hours a day for a week and my hometown might just start looking like Arkham City. Or all I’m capable talking about are Marvel comic books and will relate almost every subject no matter how disconnected it is to it. I’m not even making this up. My whole voice, dress and mannerisms can mimic that of one of my favourite sci-fi characters without any conscious effort on my part.

Those interests become the center of our world and everything else is in the background or puts up a barrier between us getting to spend time on them. They become less important.

If you think this makes me a selfish person then fine, think that. I’ve worked very hard to build my empathic skills and there are still a few gaps. I do eventually get a basic idea of what someone must have been feeling and I learn from that and I try my best to adjust my responses based on that understanding. That’s also called emotional intelligence.

Theory of mind is when a person has a basic idea of what people will be collectively thinking about. All humans follow a pattern of behaviour and I think learning this pattern made it easier for me to gain a better theory of mind. People without autism or social development issues will have this inherit ability from a young age and be able to pick up on the feelings of others more and more as they grow. I wonder if this is where the whole ‘you know what I mean’ statement comes from. Because I have never understood what a person meant when they said it. However, I could tell they got impatient with me if I said I didn’t so I just said yes. Then when my mother said it to me it was more like, ‘come on, YOU know WHAT I MEANNNN!!’

I apologise to my mother for keep using her in examples but I must tell the truth. The truth was I was a very confused child who never quite understood why people got angry with me, and I was mostly scared into changing my behaviour. I may have been responding to what she said with exaggerated emotions when any other child might have not even blinked at her disapproving tone of voice. Bringing this up may help other parents with autistic children properly respond to them. We can’t just be brought up the same way as non-autistic children and there was hardly any education for this twenty years ago. It’s now known that certain words always make us feel threatened; saying ‘no’ is like a slap in the face. You might have well said ‘no, you little retarded monkey. My God, are you so dense. As if I would have said yes. Now go chain yourself back in the attic, you’re an embarrassment to be called my spawn.”

That might have been a slight exaggeration but I just mean we can feel threatened by fairly innocuous responses. When I say ‘no’ myself I utter it under my breath as though it’s a forbidden cursed word to use. I anticipate a challenge and when someone just accepts it I return my sword to its sheath. I still look on like a guard dog lowly growling to give a warning to not come any closer.

Socialising is an agonising business for me. I can’t usually say much after the greeting and if I do it’s an impulsive jumble of the latest subjects that has excited me. I find it difficult to make eye contact and talk at the same time or even at all. It really depends on my mood. If I’m a lot more hyper than usual I’ll probably make too much eye contact and bounce up and down on my heels, and won’t be capable of zipping my lip. My thoughts are even more randomised and it becomes excruciatingly painful to allow pauses in between talking.

I’m usually fine to just chat to people about my interests, or the news, if I’m actually going out and doing something, or my cats, but when someone says something unexpected which my oppositional brain just pegs as a good opportunity to show that I’m an individual with my own opinions, I might end up in the middle of an argument and the other person either gets exasperated and gives up or launches an offensive of their own in which in this passionate moment I will refuse to back down. Sometimes I will be impossibly to convince, even if my opinion is completely ludicrous. And yes, it has been. Basically, when someone is manic they feel like they are in a higher state of enlightenment and everyone else is just too stupid to get it. They’re just being unreasonable and deliberately disagreeing with you, refusing to open their minds up to greater ideas that challenge our conventional ways of thinking, and the laws of physics sometimes. There’s a whole lot more to it but I won’t go into it, and yes, I do become manic. I possibly have been while writing this post.

I can live with the arguments, even though they throw me off what I was going to talk about because I must be prepared for everything. I don’t do well with change. Yes, even such a small change as someone bringing up a topic or responding in such a way I didn’t expect. How dare they!

The social drama is where I really get stuck. It’s when people are angry enough to stop talking to me or having lasting negative feelings toward me. I might have personally insulted them, at least in their mind or I may have just…pissed them off. The only way I know how to get out of it is to explain the situation rationally. “Oh you thought I…no, that’s not what I meant at all,” or “I was acting that way because…” It doesn’t have the desired effect which befuddles me because I’m putting out factual information, without any feelings involved. I think the correct way to do it is say something like ‘man, you’ve been so good at putting up with me. Wow, you are strong to just ignore me and then be a complete passive aggressive bastard. Yes I was wrong and you were right. I suppose if I want things to work out I should just grovel on hand and knee for your forgiveness and essentially lie and say that none of it was your fault and it was all down to me – you know, the one with a goddamned social communication delay. How could I just miss those cues. I mean, it’s not like I’m autistic, or anything.” Woops.

Some sarcasm may have been used in the above paragraph. Oh my God, I can actually do sarcasm! Does this mean I no longer have the autisms?

Sorry. I’m venting.

I’m basically saying that I don’t agree with many social conventions, especially the one where I have to continually stroke a person’s ego just so they like me. I’d rather just go through friendships in a trial and error way. As a child I had no interest to be social, I was pressured into wanting it because people thought it would make me happy. It’s made me see that people are bullies, not willing to listen to reason, you must always agree with them even if you are smarter and think they can control you. That’s not all from one person. I’ve had good times with friends too. Early in my social development my skills were so poor I didn’t want to be more than a drinking buddy with people. But now I operate from a strict ‘Kiss and Make Up’ policy i.e I want to be able to maturely discuss our disagreements and not just go back to pretending everything is normal between us. I grew up having none of that until I moved out and lived with my sister. We apologised to each other and explained why we got so mad in the first place. Now I won’t take anything less. And if people aren’t willing to talk through our problems then I’ll completely close myself to them by not discussing any personal matters. I’ve been hurt so many times before and I’m just not going to risk getting hurt again.

For now, I’m happy to be the lone wolf. My interests keep me occupied and my strong will helps me be a rational person even when deep down my emotions are screaming out to be heard. The whole ‘willpower’ thing I actually borrowed from The Green Lantern film and is not based on any peer reviewed science studies. It basically helps me deal with my emotional responses.

I like having friends. I like having a good time with them but I think for now I’ll just have what I call a superficial relationship with them. The drinking buddy is back. I don’t really want to know someone enough to discover how much they irritate me because almost everyone does.

I know I’m not being willfully selfish. I have autism which means I have a bit of a wonky theory of mind ability and don’t always empathise when I should, but I’m not incapable of it. I feel guilty when I realise when I should have been thinking about another person more and I keep trying to do better. But in order for friendships to work both people have to do their part to let the other know that they care about them at all. You’d think finding someone with the equal amount of mental health problems would make this an almost symbiotic relationship but as it turns out it’s like arguing with yourself. It’s like that evil voice in your head that tells you you’re no good that you try your best to ignore, but when it’s from another person you just feel like giving into it. You’re right, I am selfish. I’m horrible. I care only for myself. So, why do you even like me?

Is there any point for me to keep trying to make friends when I keep being reminded time and time again that I don’t always care about them? Seems pretty unfair to keep putting myself out there when I can’t reciprocate enough emotional understanding they require to actually feel loved.

On Autism and Empathy

For many generations there has been a terrible notion that people with autism lack empathy. I think this comes from the old way of thinking that people with autism couldn’t feel emotions. Fortunately, that is no longer the most common held belief but still people and even some scientists hold onto the belief that people with autism can’t empathise.

When it comes to a human brain things are just never so straightforward. When we are infants we all do lack the knowledge that children, adolescents and adults all share at the appropriate times. For those of us with a developmental disorder like autism we may lack some but not all of the information. Throughout the years we may have picked up a tidbit here and there and gained further understanding of other people. This is often not picked up intuitively but had to be told to us by another.

So it’s true that people with autism lack empathy in a way but not completely. They are not incapable of it or learning it but may need to be told gently when they seem to disregard a person’s issue why it’s important to feel sorry or some reciprocal emotion towards this person.

Think of it like them having an ability to empathize that is like an incomplete cross word puzzle, even with half of the answers written in. You need to be there to fill in the gaps for them, and usually when you help people answer questions they don’t know it’s not screamed at them or delivered coldly.

The mainstream perception of empathy is a very superficial one too. It’s mainly about caring for others, understanding when and why they are hurting and expressing this verbally and through such loving acts as hugging. Anyone who is seen to do less than this is immediately thought to be a very self-absorbed person and by choice is not thinking about others at all.

There are really three types of empathy: cognitive empathy, affective empathy and expressed empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to read non-verbal body language to get an idea about what is going on in the mind of another person. This is an area people with autism are most deficient in. Research has shown that when a non-autistic person makes eye contact with another person the ‘social area’ of their brain lights up but this does not happen in autistic people, meaning that something different is happening in the brains of autistic people compared to the general population.

People with autism have difficulty reading facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice as well as more subtle hints of a person’s emotional state expressed verbally. Not everyone with autism will have the same level of impairment but there will be some impairment to warrant a diagnosis. They’re also not incapable of eventually learning to read body language and intuitively gouge what a person may be feeling through being told by more socially aware friends or through trial and error.

The second type of empathy is affective empathy which has to do with understanding when someone else is in pain and feeling their pain emotionally. This is probably the type that autistic people have the least trouble in but like I said before each autistic person is at a different level of how much they can empathise.

I can recall being a child and hardly feeling any affective empathy towards anyone, even with my few friends and family members. I barely made any change until my early 20s when I started to work on my own social skills and through the use of ADHD medication. At times I did pick up that I wasn’t thinking about people when others were. I’m a very practical person who has a sometimes irritating way of making connections out of two very unconnected subjects and making it seem like an incredible epiphany every time. Often when overcome with the joy of these ideas I can neglect to think about how my words will affect other people and they will surprise me by either calling me selfish or giving me the impression that what I said was very insulting. If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory TV show then think back to when Sheldon Cooper revealed to Penny what ‘just fine’ meant; basically he revealed to Penny that her boyfriend Leonard told his friends about their sexual encounter last night, which both parties reacted to rather negatively and Sheldon was left there with the sudden realization that he may have overstepped a line. Sheldon is course an exaggerated character with Asperger’s syndrome.

This brings me to another good point. People with autism are often accused of being horrendously offensive yet will be confused as of why, and the person on the other end, still fuming, will hardly explain this to them. It leaves them confused and angry at the other person for being swept away by their emotions for days while trying to work out how what they said could have led to this type of oversensitive reaction. They are often more systematic practical thinkers rather than reacting with emotions. But it’s not hard for them to feel the emotions of other people – quite the opposite.

The Intense World Theory suggests that instead of feeling little emotion autistic people feel too much and this overloads their brain leading to a very emotionless exterior, while inside they are screaming. Although eventually all this extra stress will result in a brain going into a type of safe mode which stops all the negative feelings from being experienced. It’s like when in depression you end up feeling numb.

To better understand this I need to talk about my own personal reactions to other people’s emotions. Usually when my emotions don’t match a person’s own even if it’s a positive emotion like joy, I will be under distress. I might be annoyed or irritated just by the overload of the person’s loudness and their energy. When they are angry I feel either threatened or frightened even if they are not angry at me. If a voice is raised it is like I am being constantly targeted even if it’s not about me. It’s just the emotion coming out of the person and the way I experience it.

The whole experience makes me fairly poor in face to face confrontation unless I can be louder and more threatening than that person, otherwise I’d just avoid the situation as long as possible. Most of the time I can’t express any personal information about myself verbally, and I have difficulty getting any words out in the right order and not tripping over them.

The third type is expressive empathy which I’ve already sort of gone into. People think that people who will tell you they are concerned for you are the only people that care, but this is not always true especially when it comes to autism. We just have a difficult time knowing what to say even if we’re told what to say. Some of us might be able to do that more than others; it all really has to do with how much emotion we are experiencing from the other person.

For me, I get more of an emotional reaction from the type of word used that people usually use when they are under a lot of stress already. And it’s not simply the meaning of the word but how I personally relate to that word, like if someone called me selfish. That word stretches across my whole spectrum of disorders but not as much as autism. I’ve been told during moments of great stress that I wasn’t thinking of others. I remember calmly explaining to someone that it would take me awhile to deal with this sudden change in plans because it takes me a longer time to adjust to change – and I was of course told I was selfish and need to think of other people more. You would think if I was capable of it on an intuitive level that I would. Another point that is going a bit off topic is that I can control reacting emotionally to people after being hurt by what they said and when communicating online I can take my time to respond calmly and rationally, yet the response I get it often a passive aggressive attitude ot just untethered hostility. I suppose if people think if there’s nothing wrong with their social skills and emotional regulation they wouldn’t have to just as much effort to choose their wording as delicately as I do.

And just because I can’t always express in words how much I care for people when I truly do it doesn’t mean I don’t try to show it in other ways. I will often be first to put my hand up to help people out, even when not asked for it. I give them gifts such as drawings and maybe if I see something in the shop I think they would like I may buy it for them.

I didn’t explain much about my affective empathy. Usually when I’m with one to two or more people (what I call ‘in the moment’) I will not be able to empathise as easily when the situation calls for it, even when everyone else in the group would. I would consciously know I should be but I’m not feeling anything. Eventually, when I‘m left alone and given many hours to days or weeks to think about it suddenly it hits me. Or I might be too preoccupied with my thoughts and interests or under a lot of stress because of symptoms of mental illness and I’ll just overlook people’s feelings and they will make me aware of the fact in a very harsh way, and still lost in self-reflection that I continue to fail to think about them I will erupt with as much anger, and only when I have time alone to rationally think over the situation will I realise my error.

I don’t always need to upset people to become empathetic though. Sometimes it just takes a shift in emotions from low constant thoughts of self-doubt to high states of over confidence and within this I find ways to better empathise, even over empathise with people and take it upon myself to make other people aware of their apparent lack of insight into another person’s situation. But this has nothing to do with autism and is more just a personal thing. Well, it could have something to do with it. It’s very hard to know sometimes.

If I’m in an environment that’s less chaotic and fast paced as most social situations are then I can take my time to see from another’s perception. I get most of my education from TV and film especially the over emotive ones because it’s shown in such an obvious way, sometimes it’s like they are explaining the emotional states of the characters to kindergarteners, or maybe I’m just better at picking up on it now compared to how I was before. But I seem to go for hysterically over emotive storylines in science fiction shows such as Caprica and the Stargate franchise, or TV drama such as Parenthood and even Wonderland, though to be honest some of the NT social issues in that show seem to grate me. I remember when I started to watch Parenthood and I just thought why do these people lie so much – you can plainly see that they want to tell the other person the truth and it’ll be better if they did – so why lie? It relieves me when Max’s parts come up in the show, but then of course his family seems to overreact to the socially inappropriate things he says. What I see is a teenage boy that is willing to share with people and excited to be given the chance to do so, yet he gets shut down because of the content of his subjects and the abrasive way he delivers it.

I do care and empathise with the people that I know really well although I don’t often show it through expressive empathy. I’ve gone out and hung out with people when the environment was particularly uncomfortable to me and the event in question wasn’t very interesting to me. I just wanted to be there for the people I loved. When I’m under too much stress or preoccupied in other ways then I’ll probably not be as willing to go out, but I’ve always done things to please people even when risking my own mental health.

To be honest I get the impression that I still have major impairments in my ability to empathise compared to other people with autism that I talk to online. I often do put my interests and wellbeing in front of people. I often see what I can get out of a social situation without giving the other person much thought, so I suppose I have a lot more training to go through before I can confidently say that I do have about as much affective empathy as most autistic people that are just as high functioning as me.

I think I have good cognitive empathy when it comes to reading facial expression and tone of voice. My ability to look for connections or patterns helps me out a lot when it comes to understanding human social behaviour. There are patterns everywhere and if you follow it you almost have a psychic ability to know what people will do next. I struggle to notice gestures and subtle hints in words though, and sometimes I think they are being used when they haven’t been. When it comes to understanding the mind of others I am pretty hit and miss, I think that means sometimes I guess correctly and other times I guess incorrectly or completely fail to notice that people are having a different opinion or reaction to me at all.

Expressive empathy is where I fail the most. When near people who are under great stress I have flat effect and a blank mind. I use avoidant behaviour to overcome the awkward and distressing feelings. But I do show people I care through doing something practical to help them or at least draw them a picture.

So, there you have it. People with autism do in some ways lack empathy but through life experience and self-training they can build upon their skills. And even when they think they have an average to high skill in it there might be times when they completely fail to empathise at all, and may never quite get the expressive part down. But at least you know now that they still do care.

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?

I Don’t Fit in Anywhere

It’s not that I don’t fit in a certain music scene. I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m too oppositional; even when people welcome me in I will always defy. I may not defy to the point of being a danger to society but it’s harming my own personal relationships.

I may have been drinking tonight but it’s clear to me that I don’t fit in anywhere. I’ll always try so hard to be different without realising it, so what’s the point?

I have been dealing with extreme anxiety with daily suicidal ideation. I just can’t adjust to a new situation and pretend everything is ok.

No one understands it. Everyone expects me to be able to chat and be merry. Well, I can’t always do that. I’ve been dealing with so much lately and I can’t even explain some things. I don’t even know how. The nature is so very personal and unusual I don’t know how people will take it.

So maybe tonight I risked yet again another friendship due to this illness. I just can’t keep fighting it and pretending everything is ok.

I just shouldn’t even have friends, I guess, if I keep ruining my relationships with them.