2016 In Review

Most people looking back on 2016 only seems to have negative things to say about it, but for me 2016 was a year of getting out of a bad situation and a shitty job. I changed my new address and moved into a completely new neighbourhood, which was scary and I could have starved to death had I not accepted that change and adapted to it. I may have fallen into a deep and aimless depression, in which I thought all the skills that I built up over 11 years were now gone, but I fought it and I came out even stronger on the other side. My chronic fatigue may mean I get tired over doing 2-3 basic tasks and my likelihood of being employed even in a part time 8 hour per week job is pretty slim, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an employer out there who is accommodating of my issues.

Sometimes I think those who complain the most about things are people who don’t have enough to complain about. I still have the same atypical brain, the same energy limitations and I’m in the same hopeless situation but I have a loving family who I will always get to see at the end of the year. Sure, things could be better in certain parts but I have to accept it and wait for things to get better.

This year I made new friends who understand my mental health issues and give me hope in times when I feel there is none, and in turn I support and offer them hope and practical advice, because after all I can’t help being myself. I’ve connected to two people in subjects that I struggled to find anyone to connect to. I made a promise and a plan to a higher power and have followed through with it quite nicely. And most importantly, the passion of storytelling that runs through every fiber of my being is no longer just another abandoned dream because it just felt too hard to do with all my problems that stood in the way of me pursuing my dream of being a published and well known author and screenwriter.

This year I had to face some hard truths about situations that I couldn’t change, and I had to accept that and move on from them. To not get into too many details I will say it involves a serious mental illness with such strong delusions that they had to be medicated away, and even after coming off medication certain things in my life have to be viewed in another perspective and avoided altogether just because some place my mind took me 3 years ago.

Life is hard. Life can be frustrating and seems to be unfair at times, but the year is not to blame; it’s your attitude towards the world. Social media breeds a culture that encourages pessimism and petty arguments. It’s no wonder we’re always so negative when we should really be grateful for all we have. Most of us have more positive things going for us than some people in truly dire situations, and despite all they struggle with they don’t complain – they just get on with it.

I can’t close this blog without mentioning yet again that one big change for me was getting back into political activism and that wouldn’t have happened without meeting members of Socialist Equality Party, Socialist Alternative and a much delayed interest in the band Anti-Flag. The U.S Election results may have helped some but the real seeds were planted from an encounter from the leader of the SEP on Election Day. Australia has been under right-wing leadership for two years so there’s been plenty of reasons for me to get active again. It’s not just about saving the Great Barrier Reef, Same Sex Marriage or closing Nauru anymore. Or those countless petitions I’ve signed against Bayer and Monsanto.

Now I feel like 2017 will be a year of war, a class war because if forcing people on disability to work wasn’t enough they’re going to cut the pension. 2016 for me was just a shake-up. It roused me up from my leftist coma and made me aware that the government really doesn’t care about its people and complacency will just endure our suffering.

Wow. That got kind of serious. This was meant to be a feelgood post even though I don’t really feel that positive about work or about pursuing my dreams lately. Hope can come from many places though; sometimes dreaming big, sometimes anger. I know these last few paragraphs sound contradictory to my ‘just be thankful with what you got’ theme but there’s a line to it. No one should allow themselves to be treated unfairly by those who rule over them. Everyday annoyances should be easy to shake off though.

For the last couple of years this blog has mainly been about my mental health issues and sometimes video games, but as this blog is basically a database of my thoughts, especially the troubling ones, things are going to have to change as I change. I might get political from time to time. This is the new (old) me and you’re just going to have to put up with it.

With ❤ Spycraft 

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Why Adults Play Videogames

It’s not very common to come across people who don’t understand why adults play videogames but just in case there are I compiled a list of reasons why adults do and why it’s a good thing.

NOSTALGIA

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons adults game at all is that they grew up playing videogames. I’m certainly still very nostalgic about Sonic the Hedgehog, even if he has changed a lot since the days I used to play those games. I know quite a lot of people who are nostalgic about Super Mario and you can’t say a negative word about those games to them. Gamers are very protective over their favourite IPs, so when someone like Anita Sarkeesian comes around and says their favourite childhood game is sexist they’re not just going to take it. Nostalgia is longing for the days of old and when you can relive that experience it’s like trying to savor a really amazing meal. You don’t want it to end. You’re very passionate about that topic, and any criticism to it is taken as a personal insult.

Games Are More Mature

Gamers have grown up playing video games, even today’s videogame developers played games in childhood and still do, and for the last 10-15 years games have been directed at a mature audience, as in content and storytelling that can rival some of the best Hollywood screenplays. Gaming is not just for kids and teens anymore but is for everyone because the themes in these games are so varied that’s there is something for everyone. Developers even include social commentary and adding LGBTI characters. The characters have layers; they’re like real people and have their own personality, needs and flaws.

FOR COMMUNITY

Like all hobbies we have there is a community for gamers. It can just be a place to find like minds and talk about your favourite games, but when each individual game franchise builds its own community it’s where the bond gets strong. The Destiny community is my family. Like your average family we sometimes fight and I go lengths of time avoiding them, but we also have our good times and help each other out. The Destiny community I’m a part of on Facebook is very supportive, open to differences and the more experienced players are willing to give out a helping hand to those who are still behind.
Sure, there is toxicity in many videogame communities but that’s why I stay with Destiny; you only get to talk to other people in your Fireteam. There still a lot of abuse being sent through messages, but that happens any time you get online. It’s not a good thing but it exists and no one is quite sure about how to stamp it out.
Game developers and the media are also quite open and available to players. They listen to their concerns and do modify their games to suit the needs of the majority of players, so in a way adult gamers can shape the outcome of the very videogames they play. I’ve seen this happen in Destiny and developers have had attempts at changing Call of Duty and have even taken a break from releasing Assassin’s Creed annually.
Gamers have little tolerance of something called Pay to Win, which is where a game will have the option of small purchases (microtransactions) to buy gear or packages that would help someone level up quickly or be more powerful. In PVP (multiplayer) they would be an unstoppable force to players who level up through skill. Developers like to stress that their microtransactions are cosmetic, meaning it won’t put a player at an advantage over other players in PVP.
Children couldn’t influence the development of games in this way because they wouldn’t even think to question it. Adult gamers understand a lot more about how games are developed, what they are capable of, what’s fair and what’s not and they demand a certain level of quality. Perhaps, a bit too much – it’s why I like to experience a game like a child. It’s about the overall experience and having fun rather than nitpicking every little thing. But I’m still an adult so can feel something much deeper from playing a videogame than a child.

TO DE-STRESS

Let’s face it, life is stressful. You’re denying a very important truth to ignore that fact. There really isn’t anything like having a shit day and going home and busting an alien’s head open with a shotgun at close range. You can say that’s encouraging violent behaviour but it’s better that someone does it in a videogame world than in the real world. I’ve played videogames to help me get through periods of depression and anxiety. When the former was so serious I couldn’t do much more than dwell on my troubling thoughts in bed, it was dragging myself to the front of a TV screen and putting on my favourite game that made those thoughts completely disappear. When I’ve had breakdowns I’ve had videogames to get me through it.
As someone with autism, playing Destiny helped me build more social skills and work better with a team and that’s probably the biggest breakthrough I’ve had when it comes to gaining social skills. Videogames have been more therapeutic to me than any psychologist. Also, when I first started to see my nephews a lot I didn’t know what to say to them until I started playing the games they played. I would always be willing to listen to them when they talked about a videogame like Mario, Minecraft or Skylanders but when I started to play those games it really helped me bond with my eldest nephew, Owen.

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Gamers: future and present.

BUILDING CAREERS

I hope that one day Owen can make something productive out of his love of gaming. He loves math so I think he’s most likely to become a programmer. But for those who don’t think that’s a suitable career path there are many others areas to pursue than programming. You can be a concept artist or storywriter, a game tester, or audio engineer. Then you have to whole social networking side of it; journalism and even live streaming. If you’re really good at games you get into E-Sports and win some competitions and lots of money. There’s far more to gaming than just having fun these days. Children who grow up playing games can one day work in the very industry that makes the games they loved so much, or they can give back by contributing to the gaming press.

IT’S OK TO BE A KID

There’s nothing wrong with being child-like. An adult who doesn’t have an inner child is going to take life too seriously and not know how to relax. Childhood was a time of innocence and freedom. Everyday you got up with maximum energy and just wanted to play and pursue your hobbies. It was ok to be massively obsessed with something. As an adult that’s kind of frowned down on; they either call you a geek or a nerd.
In my childhood I was into film and I watched a lot of children’s films which today as a writer is why I like writing stories about children. Not so much about innocence – my young protagonists is always aware of what is going on – but more about freedom. As adults we have a lot of responsibilities and sometimes it’s just good for us to unwind and act childish.  Playing games with our friends is just another way to unwind and have fun. For many of us we don’t even think about it, it’s just what we do.

We Know Kids Aren’t Slaves to the Screen

My nephew Owen is a future hardcore gamer. I both long and worry for the day he joins the adult game community. We can either be cold hearted bastards or the most supportive and fun people to be around. So, when one of his uncles treats his love of gaming like an addiction so much he discourages it in his own children, I was hurt. He’s a gamer and you can’t take that away from him. He watches a junior version of Good Game, which is where I get the bulk of my gaming news in Australia. I treat the hosts like old friends and I usually trust their judgement to help me decide what games to buy.
Owen’s mum has put limits on his gaming and I support that. It’s her choice. He can only play on weekends and holidays and isn’t allowed to play first person shooters yet, and definitely no mature games. There will be a day where he joins us and I can’t wait. As an auntie, I’m going to have to protect him from all the bad stuff in the community and discourage him from turning into one of the most toxic people in our community.

Kids play on consoles or iPads or phones because it’s fun. It’s no different than me, my brother and sisters hooking up a SEGA and spending hours in front of it when we were little. It’s up to parents to decide how much time they should get. Kids like Owen have so much energy that once they put a game down they run around like a headless chicken. Not all children who play on screen will become gamers, but many will. Taking that away from them is taking away a piece of themselves.

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Introducing Cooper and Owen to Sonic CD.

It’s a Different Kind of Imagination

Some people with autism (like me) struggled to have an average childhood imagination. I know I was a very literal imaginator. Playing doctor or house to me, was, well it was just stupid. I’ve always been highly visual and would need props to play if I would play at all. Sometimes I’d offer myself as a prop to other children. But imaginative play without the use of props or toys just looked pretty weird to me. So, when I hear people talk about ‘what happened to imagination?’ I’m led back to those days long before the first mobile phone was ever released, when I barely had an imagination.
In a typical developing child there will always be imagination even when they have a lot of screen time and the graphics in video games become lifelike. It just produces a different kind of imagination. It creates story tellers and creative artists from children wanting to create their own mythological beings or aliens after playing or fighting one in a game. It turns pretending you’re in a Western with friends into Halo Wars or acting out scenes with Skylander figures. In fact, Activision like to share photos of children using Skylanders in every day life, from using them as chess pieces to create stories with them through imaginative play.
Since the introduction of social media people have gone more toward visual communication over verbal and you can’t escape pop culture references in everyday conversations. A child’s imagination is going to follow this path. Gone are the days of pretending couch cushions covered in a blanket is a terrible swamp creature, instead, children can design the terrible swamp creature and parents can send the drawing to someone online who can turn that into a plush toy. Technology has advanced so much that the way we imagine things is likely to change too. We’re no longer painting on caves anymore, we’re creating breathtaking art using a pen with no ink and an iPad. Of course, if you wanted to paint on a cave you could still do that. If you wanted your children to imagine something from scratch you can encourage that too. The majority of children just won’t though, and that’s perfectly fine.

In summary, next time you hear about adult gamers know that they are part of a wider community, many of whom might not have any community if they didn’t play videogames, and that it’s not just a simple hobby, but a way of life. And like it or not children are going to come into this world and parents should not discourage this. It’s a loving place of enthusiastic people who want to have fun gaming and talk to people just like them. Gaming has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. It’s no longer just a for kids, or for adults. It’s for everyone.

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I think BT agrees with me.

Inspirations

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Inspiration can come from the strangest places and from the most unlikely people; be it an actor or a rock band. They help you get through a difficult time or set you on a new path. They can make you see yourself in new light or encourage you to think creatively.

Recently when I lost my job I at first thought I could get through this but the truth was I couldn’t. I fell into a different kind of depression. Usually my depressive episodes are short and very intense and I have some very upsetting and worrying thoughts, and then it’s over. This depression was so mild at first I didn’t see that it was depression.

Like many others I saw Prison Break and The Flash actor, Wentworth Miller’s reaction do someone making a hurtful and body shaming meme of him. We all know how it went: he revealed he had depression and seeing that meme really made him to want to end his life, but instead he came out and just explained how it made him felt and the situation he was in and was met with a lot of positivity from sufferers of depression or from people who have been body shamed or just all round decent folk.

Since then I always kept Wentworth in mind. I knew him from The Flash and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. When I saw him as Leonard Snart in Legends of Tomorrow I started to see him in another way. I saw his struggle, the pain in his face. Whether it was really there or not didn’t matter. I related to him. He was just like me, going through the same things and his job was something I wanted to be.

But I wasn’t inspired to be an actor. I’ll get to that soon.

After I lost my job I felt defeated. I couldn’t just continue the jobseeking. I really couldn’t continue much anymore except play videogames, read comic books and binge watch The Flash, Gotham and Arrow. At times I would think how would Wentworth get through this?

The next thing that happened was I lost my confidence as a band photographer and started to avoid going to shows that I could photograph without media access. I decided to look up Wentworth’s Facebook page. There I found that he was helping to raise awareness about depression and I got to learn his story. I followed his page and most days I would find posts about positivity and self-care. His personal posts were so gentle, non-judgmental and with an open mindedness I’ve not seen in a long time.

When I found out he was a screenwriter I wondered how could he write when he was so depressed, but then I decided to give it another go and even though I went with writing a novel before the screenplay, it made me feel better. Wentworth’s posts also helped me admit that I had depression at all, something that I would only admit to as a part of my cyclic moods. Then, after writing on his page that it wasn’t difficult to admit to people that I didn’t think I could do my band photography anymore, I started to tell people.

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I’m happy to say my confidence in my band photography has been restored since I photographed Anti-Flag, and because they share my political views I’ve been listening to them, following them online to keep me motivated. However, The Liberal National Party and One Nation have given me plenty of reasons to stay motivated; The Adani Coal Mine, cuts to welfare, lockout laws, climate change denying, etc. And because they’re an angry punk band they’ve also made me feel ok about not always being modest and inoffensive to people. In training myself to have adequate social skills I had to learn to see things from different perspectives, this turned me into the most polite and agonizing person to debate with, as I never said anything to get people angry and never reacted with anger. But as someone affiliated with socialist parties and fighting for change, this poker face persona I put up just doesn’t work. It’s ok to be angry, especially about the injustices happening in the world, insult people (as long as they’re from the LNP and voted Pauline Hanson) and use emotive phrasing.

I would not have these views if it wasn’t for a certain lead singer by the name of Dennis Lyxzén. First when he was in The (International) Conspiracy and then I went back to listen to his former band, Refused. Funny thing is Refused are now his current band and T.(I).N.C is his former band. Everything I believe in, the whole way I view the world, especially the blindness of society and the deception of the media, is because of him. I was inspired to read up about Marx, Guy Debord, and The Situationist International because of him.

It was guitarist of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Tom Morello that introduced me to Phil Ochs though and for that I am so very very grateful.

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It wouldn’t be right to not mention Phil Ochs on his birthday. Phil did not just sing folk songs that resonated with the far-left but the people he wrote about, he empathised with them deeply. It was almost like he was a storyteller and achieved what many authors try to accomplish: to go into the very psyche of the people you write about, that you become them. Some of his songs are real tear-jerkers for that reason, like The Spanish Civil War Song, There But For Fortune, What Are You Fighting For and Hands. Even his songs about J.F.K can make you feel something deeply for the slain President. It could be that folk music itself is very emotional with its soft guitar strumming and gentle-voiced singer, or it could be all the variables.

Phil’s story is a sad one and one I relate to. His most personal songs cannot be listened to by me when I’m going through depression without keeping a dry eye. There will never be another Phil Ochs in my opinion. He was one of a kind and too good for a world that doesn’t care.

Inspiration for storytelling can come from just about anywhere. Damien Walter is a writer I look up to and consider a teacher. My dad held the title of an Archarya (teacher) as a yogi. Would I go as far to call Damien, Archarya? He inspires me to keep writing my stories. I watch a lot of science fiction, read a lot of it and read comic books and watch its inspired shows, and this helps inspire some ideas or themes in my writing. I first was inspired to be a writer during the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who. First, I was inspired to find out every inch of Doctor Who lore I could find. Second, I found Russell’s stories so emotionally heart-jerking that I wanted to become a writer myself.

I’ll give you a bit of explanation here: as an autistic person I don’t express a lot of emotion, I feel them very strongly but it’s a jumbled mess of sensations rather consciously understanding what they are (alexithymia), or rather this is how it was before. When around other people I got the same mess of sensations from them. I finally get to see how people use and respond to emotions because of the contained environment I’m in and my 100% engagement in the show. This is basically how I learn social skills.

The most inspirational of stories in TV and film are through science fiction. I’m often confused as to why Star Wars is so popular. I enjoy the movies, they are a fun sci-fi romp but they don’t inspire me to write. I get that from Star Trek, Stargate, Doctor Who, Ender’s Game and most science fiction stories that have more themes than just a fight against good and evil, and they need to have quite a lot of detailed scientific explanations in them. I call it nerd porn, ha. It’s more about the challenge of making these very complex ideas work in science fiction that excites me about them. Like time travel stories. I used to avoid writing about them because I got confused by them, but after playing Quantum Break and reading about how they explained it all it made so much more sense, so now it’s a challenge I take on.

However, while playing Star Wars: the Old Republic I did get somewhat inspired to create background lore.

Game developers Bungie also inspire my writing. Their lore for the video game Destiny comes from a lot of Greek mythology. The fact that they use this mythology and turn into a fantasy inspired science fiction world makes me want to create something like that on my own. The stories in video games are so cinematic these days many have inspired me to write stories.

There was actually a book that I was discouraged to read, the Book of Enoch and the Apocrypha in general. I was raised in a Christian home where Marxism, evolution and the Apocrypha was frowned upon. So naturally, the first chance I could find out about that stuff I did. And The Book of Enoch is especially inspiring to me because of its fantasy themes and it feels rebellious to make that the central focus for my first novel. It’s not your usual mythology used in science fiction so there’s an air of originality using it.

I could probably mention more people, books, films, issue #133 of Batman that inspired me but I won’t.

As an Autistic These are the Things I Dread the Most About Christmas

I dread the crowded streets as people rush to buy Christmas presents and having to hold my feelings of discomfort bordering on anger inside because people are too loud and too close, and are essentially tourists in the stores that are usually my safety zones, my escape from the world of chaos outside.

I dread people changing plans last minute. I really really don’t want that happen. If Christmas lunch is changed to the 26th, or not at 12 o’clock or the venue is changed.

I dread having a depressive episode during such a happy season.

I dread the last minute pre-Christmas family drama coming out of nowhere.

I dread the bendy roads that give me motion sickness on the way to Christmas lunch.

I dread that first few minutes of awkwardness when I arrive at Christmas lunch, not knowing whether to sit or stand, or where to sit.

I dread the loud and sometimes angry voices from the kitchen, but glad it has nothing to do with me.

I dread people asking me what I’ve been up to lately and trying to make it sound as interesting as possible.

I dread trying to use small talk to talk to people and the resulting very uncomfortable long gap of silence that always follows and makes me feel like this is hopeless.

I dread remembering to make eye contact, but not stare too long.

I dread when I go to talk and my words come out in a garbled mess and I try desperately to make the next sentence come out fluently and coherently.

I dread being hugged and made to feel like everyone likes to hug, and then feeling like a cold psychopath because I don’t like them. I like hugs when given a choice to make them.

I dread being depressed on such a happy day.

I dread having to bite my tongue when someone says something offensive.

I dread telling an extrovert something meant just for them and they go and tell it to everyone else in their bellowing voice.

I dread my nephews opening the presents I bought them that I carefully and thoughtfully selected, only to push them aside and look for more presents

I dread my nephews losing interest in me because I have no cool games they can play.

I dread trying to talk to my nieces.

I dread meeting strangers that are friends of the family.

I dread some older family members (especially relatives I barely see) for giving me a hard time about being quiet.

I dread not having a quiet space to retreat to when I feel overwhelmed or depressed.

I dread people interrupting me when I’m engaged in something important, even if I’m just talking to someone on social media.

I dread drinking too much and end up acting like a buffoon, just because I wanted to feel less nervous and be comfortable speaking.

I dread people acting like their opinions are facts.

I dread that one person who makes a racist comment and I dread not telling them what I really think of them.

I dread family drama.

I dread the food not being ready in time. I dread having to ask what dish has citrus in it.

I dread meeting strangers and seeing their disappointed looks when I barely talk to them.

I dread drunk people telling me not to be offended.

I dread it being over.

Remember to ask about what your autistic family member feels, worries about and needs on Christmas Day.

Note: This doesn’t mean I won’t try to talk to anyone or hell, even hug, but I think it’s important to show people how I struggle.

Why I Stopped Taking Photos

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I want you to think about that one special skill you have. Something that makes you you, something you can’t live without. Everyone has one. It could be you’re a natural and talented artist or a skilled athlete. You could be a math genius, a captivating storyteller or a gifted actor. Everybody has that one thing they’re good at but some people haven’t yet discovered what it is yet. Ok so, think about your job. You’re good at your job; otherwise you wouldn’t even have it. You could be a graphic designer, or maybe you’re just really really good with people so work in sales. Or maybe you just do something basic that isn’t really that demanding and is actually enjoyable. Now what if one day you couldn’t do your job or you lost that one skill that everyone knew you for. It made them look up to you. It was the one thing that made you get up in the morning, it was all you lived for and now it’s gone. That happened to me.

It just took one night of forced motivation to make myself do something I wasn’t feeling up to and I ended up screwing up so much that I can’t even stand to even try again. OK, I’m going to stop being vague. I’m a band photographer. I’ve been taking photos for 11 years. I’ve been capturing rock moves under the colourful and dancing stage lights. I captured emotional moments that are easily missed from standing back in the crowd. A missed moment that now exists forever in a million ordered pixels. So how could I one night mess that up on a monumental level? And why is it keeping me from ever trying again? Am I so scared of failing I’ll never try again? Well, yes. Failing hurts. But this isn’t just limited to my band photography, it pervades to every part of my life.

This all started when I lost my job after just working there one day. It was the most basic and menial job that they usually give to immigrants who can’t speak fluent English. Those are the only jobs I can get. The jobs no one else wants. And I can’t even do them. My communication is stunted by my autism. My energy is exhausted in a matter of hours because of chronic fatigue. I feel like my whole body is falling apart and I’m feverishly and hopelessly trying to hold it together. No doctor or scientist can restore it to what it used to be. Am I overreacting? Maybe, but sometimes it feels like no matter what I do to help it it won’t be enough.

So lately I’ve been in a state of apathy. I don’t care about getting another job, mainly because I don’t think I can take being fired again. I’m not talking of disappointment but something far deeper on a psychological level. I basically gave up on my goals. For years I’ve just been trying to reach both short and long term goals but now it all feels like it’s for nothing. I get moments of motivation and creativity but it doesn’t hang around long enough for me to really do anything with it. And I’m not a person who can exist without creating something or making something out of myself.

I’m still trying. I’m still planning to overcome this fear of never taking the same quality photos again. I mean, that seems like such a small thing but the thing is it’s my only skill – no, not only skill – it’s the only skill that I can actually do with the energy and motivational limits I have. I’ve started to think about working on screenwriting too but the same issues come up. It’s a project that relies on self-motivation and organization. It takes commitment. And the final pitch takes high level communication skills, and you have to accept failure over and over again.

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.