8 Years of Autism Awareness – A Reflection

This Sunday will mark my 8th Autism Awareness Day and Month. Originally it was to bring awareness of the very broad spectrum of autism and to push for more services for both autistic children and adults. Previously, autism was thought as a condition that severely affected children and was often confused as an intellectual disability. Now a vast majority of people know that it can be either mild or severe, and that those mild symptoms can still be impairing. Doctors, parents, teachers, siblings and autistic individuals have all taken part to raise awareness. Doctors and scientists have shared their increasing knowledge through research which has helped show autism as a real neurological difference and has explained much of the behaviour through science. Teachers, parents and siblings have shared their experience with taking care of someone with autism, but autistic people have given real insight into their everyday experience.

Every year on Autism Awareness Day I’ve shared my own experiences and through this blog I talk about my day to day life with autism, my struggles with interpersonal relationships and a detailed breakdown of my other symptoms.
I started this blog as a way to explain my experiences to family and friends, as I was not able to tell them these things face to face. Then parents of autistic children told them I helped them better understand what their child goes through, so now it’s become a portal of self-advocacy with a strong emphasis on making neurotypical people understand the autism experience, as well as what it’s like to live with ADHD and mental illness.

Eight years ago I was a very different person to how I am now. People who have only known me for a few years would not even recognize me from back then. I could not have a conversation with anyone. I was not aware that some of my behaviour could have been considered rude and when confronted about it I just thought people were overreacting and if they interrupted my routine I would have lost it at them, and then blamed them for not knowing that’s how I would have reacted. I wouldn’t initiate conversation with anyone. I didn’t really want to. Just prior to my diagnosis I had very severe social anxiety. My mind would freeze up when I sat with a group and though I may wanted to reply my mind was completely blank.

Post-Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis my social anxiety dissipated because I had a reason to why I was so different and I was fine with it. I didn’t worry so much about fitting in and I stopped trying to be like everyone else. I no longer envied them. Even when people made fun of me for being a nerd, I felt good that I didn’t have to go with the flow, what I called ‘collective consciousness.’
It took a couple weeks on Ritalin to make me want to talk to people though. It enhanced my empathetic ability and at the same time an online forum full of people with ADHD were teaching me more about being empathetic. Some of those posts would originally start out really hostile but by the end the more higher functioning members would be able to explain why people reacted like they did and that we need to respect differences of opinion, and always keep in mind how our words might impact others. It’s something I always noted and now it’s my default reaction to any type of news article I read, the inevitable flame war in the comments section and even how I perceive the political opposition (mainly conservatives).

Being on Ritalin made my mind feel so clear and it slowed down the noise in my brain enough that I had time to work on my social skills. I learned everything from physics to advance math and worked on a science fiction novel. The energy and clarity of mind it gave me allowed me to learn something new every day.
But then the side effects came in so I had to stop taking them, and some autistic symptoms once again became hard to manage but the social skills I learned in that time stayed intact.

In the last 5-6 years I’ve made the most progress in my social skills. It was mostly through higher functioning autistics basically revealing to me social customs and social hierarchy, most of which I ignore. I decided to learn and put into practice social skills that were polite but not ego stroking. I skipped over any rule that felt unnecessary to me, particularly the amount of lies you have to tell people to make them feel good about themselves. If I like what you’re wearing I’ll tell you, but I’m not going to congratulate you for dressing yourself like you’re a 3 year old.

My social skills are now advanced enough to have conversations with people in my very jumbled way of talking. My brain often gets stuck so conversations I start do not last long. I don’t really like talking when I hear myself talk. When people go out of their way to prove me wrong and their better conversationalists than me I just feel humiliated and really never want to talk to those people again. I mean what is the point of trying to make a person who can’t even speak one fluent sentence or even organize a sentence in their brain feel bad? I’m not giving all that effort to just be looked down on. Those people are not worth my time or respect. People like that have in the past made me just want to stop talking to people but I know there are some decent folks out there.

I’ve had to go back to reevaluating my social skills lately. I’m finding I’m getting hurt by people when it might not be their fault. Although, people use so little tact these days that they hardly notice when they’ve been rude. At times I wonder why I still bother to perfect my social skills when the rest of the world is losing theirs. But this is about me and becoming the best person I can be, even if people are becoming like the old me. Not because they have a developmental disorder either, but because they live on social media the lack of face to face engagement have lost much of that inborn empathy, not to mention the ADHD symptoms they mimic from being dependent on digital technology.

I don’t socialise that much these days anyway. When the opportunity arises I’ll take it but I’m not actively looking for it, kind of like when I was a kid. My latest ‘friends’ have just seemed to want to get something out of me and most other people want more of a take and take relationship. I do all the giving but get nothing in return. I don’t stick around those people for long.
I don’t feel connected to a single person on the Earth. I never have. There’s always this invisible wall between me and people. Whatever feeling people get from being with someone else I don’t feel it. A lot of people in the autistic community feel the same way. I’m not really saying that as a downer, more stating a fact.

As for autism awareness, well it’s time we moved on from awareness into acceptance. What that means is autistic people should still get treatment and services but they need to be included more in society and not forced to change so people can be more comfortable around them.  Autistic people have such intense focus on their interests that they can learn expert knowledge about them in a short time, and their logical brains which seem to give them a better understanding of technology is why so many employers encourage them to join I.T. The artistic autistics like me though find it harder to have our skills appreciated. I’ve been able to go pretty far in my photography. I started out as a fan who wanted to take photos of his favourite bands and then I got free access to some big shows and got to hang out with the bands. Now I’m a protest photographer which means I feel less nervous about going to protests (I don’t really have to chant words while working). I’ve been focusing more on story writing and my ADHD and my lifetime love of film has led me toward script writing. So, I can also be of some use even if I need a calculator to do math.

There are other behaviours autistics need to do in order to be able to cope. Stimming is one such thing. It’s anything from hand flapping to pacing to making noises. It may make people feel uncomfortable so parents and teachers may want to discourage the behaviour but it’s actually a good way to calm anxiety. I even do a bit of hand flapping when I start to feel anxious.

Our intense focus on interests should be encouraged too. Many us of have turned our interests into a career. It’s also a good way to ward off feelings of depression and be less focused on the things we struggle with. When I’ve returned home after having a disastrous social experience it’s good to know I can soon forget about it by focusing on something that makes me happy or that I’m actually good at.

So, when you hear about autism awareness in April ignore all the charities talking about how terrible autism is for families just so they can get a few bucks out of you, and instead focus on articles that talk about inclusion of autistic people and accepting them into the wider community. Because we are people just like you.

Spy

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Autism, Distrust of Doctors, and Mental Health Awareness Campaigns

Trigger warning: mentions suicide, too many times.

Recently Canada held its latest Bell Let’s Talk Day where people tweeted about mental health awareness and for every time #bellletstalk was tagged 5c was donated towards mental health services. Celebrities were especially vocal in getting the word out. William Shatner had tweeted about it with that hashtag about 12 twelve times before I even caught on. When I got the gist I was reminded of R U OK? Day, which we have in Australia so I thought I’d like to join in. But as I read through the many tweets they seemed to be statements I’ve heard many times before.

Such things like:

“because mental health is real.”

“it’s ok to not be ok.”

“it gets better.”

“all it takes is asking someone ‘are you ok?’ to make them feel better.”

It made it hard to post anything because I didn’t want to post anything too graphic or disturbing.

Eventually I went with: “Had rampant suicidal thoughts earlier but got through it. As always. Keep moving on” #nostigma #bellletstalk

40 minutes earlier I had constant suicidal thoughts and was in such a deep state of depression I couldn’t move. So, can you imagine how I felt for someone to write “it’s ok to not be ok?” Sure, it’s ok to not be ok…until you want to commit self-harm. It’s very hard for me to tell the difference between sadness and clinical depression, just like it’s hard for me to tell the difference between happy and hypomanic, and all those emotions in between.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that people supported this and worked hard to end the stigma around mental illness, and drowned out the voices of the denialists and trolls, and I’m especially grateful for celebrities that helped get the word out to their millions of fans, but as someone who personally experiences mental health issues I felt like I wasn’t counted in the conversation. I’ve moved past the whole ‘mental illness is real’ thing and I just thought after all these years of mental health awareness we had reached the next step to actually talk about mental health; the symptoms, the heart ache and to actually engage with the suffering. That’s what was so important about #BellLetsActuallyTalk – it opened up the conversation to people with lived with mental health issues everyday. What started as people of colour having a say in a day they felt left out of, soon contributions from all ranges of minorities came in and real sufferers of mental health issues and I took the opportunity to spout all my frustrations with biased and incompetent doctors. I ended it with asking everyone whether disabled people with mental health issues were counted in #BellLetsActuallyTalk as well.

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All the Bell Let’s Talk stuff actually distracted me from what I planned to dedicate my entire Australia Day doing, and that was teaching people about Aboriginal Australians, especially their horrid history under English colonisation and their current situation in the communities but by the end of the day I actually didn’t want to change the date or even abolish Australia Day. But more on that later.

For years I have been dealing with doctors who wouldn’t take my concerns seriously. It’s hard enough to have poor communication skills from autism and difficulty even getting words out in a clear concise way because of chronic illness, but then having a doctor disregard it because they don’t think you’re even self-aware enough to know what’s going on, is frustrating and discourages me to keep going to the doctor when I even have physical health issues.

The very first time it happened was before I was even diagnosed with autism. It was along the way. I first thought I may have dyslexia and the psychologist I went to see was entirely dismissive and hit me with a severe depression and severe anxiety label – all from doing an IQ test. This was back in the day when dyslexia was only diagnosed to people with an IQ of 80 or under.  Another time was when I had a painful and constant tinnitus. The doctor looked in my ear and said I said some wax and left it at that. The same doctor was in complete denial when I thought I may have hypoglycemia and asked for a referral to see neurologist because I was having seizures. My psychiatrist didn’t believe me either and it took me a few years to realise that the reason was probably because I reported it as a side effect to Ritalin. The doctor who made me come to that realisation said that there wasn’t anything wrong with having extreme sensitivity to light, and said it’s better to wear sunglasses everywhere to protect my eyes from the sun. Medical professionals don’t like it when you say something nasty about those drugs they’re paid to prescribe you.

None of them were as dismissive as my psychiatrist though. I have cyclic moods, which is basically what I call undiagnosed symptoms of bipolar. My psychiatrist has refused to even asses me for it despite the fact that my symptoms were ruining my life. You can imagine what untreated bipolar looks like. For a long time I saw my mania as a positive too. I couldn’t really commit to a project unless I was manic because I had more energy and more ideas just popping into my brain. In those last days I took Ritalin I just take it to get manic. I could cut a pill in half and still become manic but 20mg (less than 10 year olds are dosed with) was what I’d take to have complete wild ride and often ended up with me going into psychosis and an intense teeth grinding session.

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This photograph is a trigger.

Being deprived of the treatment I needed, my mum not believing me as much as my psychiatrist put me into a deep depression and I even used to tell him when I felt suicidal, right at that moment. I’d tell my mum that I felt so suicidal that I’d run out onto the busy road just outside the medical centre, and I was just ignored.

So I gave up. I gave up asking for help, for anything. I embraced my mania and it took a long time to see it as a negative. I let a GP put me back on anti-depressants so I could actually leave my house without having PTSD triggering and kill the delusional thoughts. It worked but 3 weeks later they made me hypomanic. I stayed on them for a year or two then thought it was probably best to have less hypomanic episodes, so I stopped taking the meds and now have less hypomanic episodes but now deal with short but intense depressive episodes.

For the 6-7 years I’ve been aware of my mental health issues I’ve had to develop my own coping mechanisms to deal with them and stay positive about where my life is heading, and just keep getting through everyday. There were no social lessons after my autism diagnosis. I’ve been teaching myself how to read body language, mimic it and how to start and keep conversations going and everything about social customs, except hierarchies because fuck that shit. I can learn social skills, apply them but I’m not joining the collective consciousness that tells you what’s a suitable subject to like, or a suitable way to dress and to only surround yourself with suitable people. If you’ve ever made fun of someone for liking a subject you felt was too nerdy or strange, or laughed at the way they dressed, or thought yourself smarter than them then you are a part of that consciousness.

Likewise, I’ve had to learn similar ways about how to minimize my symptoms of mental illness. It’s been less about learning things from others – although everything I’ve learned from social behaviour can help me regulate my own emotions around them – but is more about employing self-therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy or using the only helpful advice a psychologist told me about anxiety: the thoughts are in no way based in reality.

My seizures and hypoglycemia are controlled through strict dieting; no caffeine, very little alcohol, nothing high in sugar or salt. Because of my often low blood sugar I have to eat small meals every 1-2 hours, sometimes I can get away with not eating until 4 hours later. But if I put off eating when I begin to feel weak and light headed I can end up fainting, but usually just experience a lot of pain, particularly in the stomach and arm muscles. And migraines.

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Getting back to mental health awareness campaigns, I think they’re helpful, needed but they need to expand. They need to work out a way to include everyone who suffers from mental health issues and let people tell their stories. Every R U OK? Day I tell people to share their experience with mental illness. At first it was something I just ranted about but it took off and I just thought this isn’t such a bad thing to do. R U OK Day? is usually a day when people are encouraged to ask people ‘are you ok?’ and it angers me because they’re just doing it because they got told to, and they’re just going around asking everyone that. The day is actually about opening up the conversation on mental health so I’ve hijacked the day to encourage everyone going through mental illness to share their story, current feelings and where they think mental health awareness should be heading.

There was another mental health awareness campaign launched in Australia called Mental As. The ABC showed a range of programmes centered on various mental health issues from all walks of life. It was a great way to spread mental health awareness by showing how it affects a variety of people, like comedians, actual residents in a mental institution and people who were living normal lives that were disrupted by suddenly developing bipolar disorder, but there was a strong emphasis on mental illness being overcome or people handling their bipolar on medication. Happy endings are great and all but they don’t reflect the reality for many people in low socio-economic areas who can’t access or afford the services they desperately need, and don’t forget about what I said about biased doctors earlier.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the University College London’s Institute of Health and Equity, says that mental health issues are caused by the conditions of a lower working class, unemployment and lack of government spending towards public healthcare, and I think that can be true sometimes but I think for many of us those mental health issues are separate; genetic or triggered by the environment, and not just in the way Marmot thinks. I can certainly pinpoint the exact moments my mental health issues triggered because of environment stressors. I can give the date, time, location and even say what the type of weather was when my PTSD developed, but cannot give you any specifics of the actual event. Most of my anxiety and cyclic mood-like symptoms are basically permanent side effects to medication which is why I’m strongly opposed to drugs, all forms of medication except for codeine for severe muscle pain I experience.

But I’m not completely denying what Marmot says. Being low class and unemployed certainly adds to the stress and therefore exacerbates the symptoms of mental illness. I certainly experienced more suicidal thoughts when Tony Abbott proposed changes to the disability support pension and made all recipients under 35 years get re-assessed. Not one day went by when I didn’t feel extreme anxiety or depression. I even had a suicidal plan. My financial anxiety often got to that point in 2015. I actually became so manic that my words became unintelligible. It was my anxiety experienced during the assessment interview that made them decide to keep me of the DSP. And now with the Turnbull government forcing me to into work that has me two days a week looking for jobs that I don’t have stamina to do and none of the social skills the employer expects, I feel a mixture of anxiety, suicidal thoughts, apathy, and complete contempt of my job network consultants who are nothing but pawns of a Gilliard government plan to kick 400,000 disabled people off their pensions and into low paid work. They get no respect from me.

They could take a leaf out of the Centrelink whistleblower’s books and risk losing their jobs by doing the honorable thing and tell the public how much pressure the government wants them to put on people on disability and the dole to just get a job; bullying and  threatening to cut them off their payments at any sign of resistance. And believe me there’s a lot. Not a day goes by where not at least one person argues who gets passively aggressively talked down, or they end up storming out and risk getting their payment suspended.

There’s another source to my anxious and suicidal thoughts: Centrelink are through the Turnbull Liberal government using an automated system developed by the Labor government to weed out welfare cheats by comparing payments with income statements, and after they’ve found ‘evidence’ of the over payments they send out a letter declaring someone one welfare pay back up to $3000-$20,000 in over over payments. Problem is most of these declarations are false. It’s been proven that people either owe less or don’t owe any money at all, and at least 280,000 have received such letters, and the government has extended its number of victims to people on the aged care and disability support pension. People have already become suicidal over it but what do you expect will happen when they target people who are already dealing with suicidal thoughts? Now doing something as simple as checking the letter box gives me panic attacks.

So, there’s a lot more involved than just asking for help for mental health issues. Some people ask for help only to have their concerns shrugged off by doctors and there’s those who can’t even afford to get the right care, especially in Australia where GPs are refusing to bulk bill and the government tries more and more sneaky ways to privatize Medicare. I’m fortunate that I live close to a medical centre that still bulk bills. But with all the extra pressures of living with pre-existing mental health issues and living on handouts below the poverty line in low socio-economic areas with crime, deeply set racism, job instability and rising rates of unemployment and fearing that things will just get so much worse, there’s not a lot of hope people can have to receive treatment for their mental health issues even if they do ask for help.

UPDATE:

At the moment I am seeing a GP who is taking my concerns about having mitochondrial disease and chronic fatigue seriously. He has even given me bipolar assessment questions and has even tried to reassure me of my anxiety about having a blood test taken. And I’m finally looking into my foot pain from having very flat feet. It’s such a breath of fresh air to finally have a doctor that will listen to my concerns.

xSpycraft

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.

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.