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.

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Videogames and Regression

I’ve categorized regression in autism into 3 severity types. Type 1 happens when an autistic person is under a lot of stress from a significant change in their environment that causes them a lot of distress which makes them regress into an earlier child-like state and they may preoccupy themselves with an activity that makes them feel safe and comfortable, and returns them to a state of order in an otherwise chaotic situation.

Type 2 is what I have dubbed ‘The Second Regression’ in the past which is a more serious and long term form of regression. It’s usually referred to as cognitive regression or a shutdown. Shutdowns in autism have their own terminology and have their own spectrum of severity and it’s something I won’t get into now because it will just deviate from the original point of me writing this post. This Type 2 regression usually happens when an autistic person pushes themselves beyond their own limitations and can result in a loss of developed skills. Since doctors don’t know much about this condition and even go as far to say it’s psychological hysteria they can’t do a lot in terms of treatment. Instead, the autistic person must re-learn all these skills over again. When their family members notice they’re a bit slower in communicating their thoughts, social understanding and basic skills they may have no choice but provide some accommodations for their struggling child, sibling or spouse.

Type 3 usually happens when a baby is 18 to 20 months of age and begins to show symptoms of autism for the first time. They may have already developed speech and hit their milestones on time or early but for reasons not clear to scientists their skills begin to regress.

I’ve gone through Type 2 regression around four times so I’m hesitant to push myself when I begin to feel anxious. I don’t ever want to feel helpless and dependent on others while trying to re-learn lost social and life skills which I’m all always trying to build more of. Recently though I experienced Type 1 regression for maybe only the second time. They may have been more but I feel so socially developed for an autistic person that this little set back really made a huge impact on my self-confidence.

It all started when I found out that my house’s lease was being terminated and my sister whom I was living with at the time had previously been looking for somewhere else to move, which I protested. But then we had no choice. We had to move. It probably took a week for my sister and housemate to agree to move to Katoomba but I resisted. I tried to find someone else to live with on Flatmates.com but after a few weeks of not really finding anything suitable for me and my small cat Lyra (not many places allowed pets) I started to lose confidence that I could move in with strangers at all. Eventually, I came around to the Katoomba idea but I was still anxious about it.

I was working in Western Sydney and I knew I had to stop working there days before moving to Katoomba. I’m also a gamer and around this time Quantum Break, a game I had been waiting years to come out finally did and I become wholly absorbed into the world of Jack Joyce, the main protagonist. I searched through every nook and cranny of that game world to uncover more of the story. It had become my new reality. Yes, time was breaking down and I had these cool time powers and Dominic Monaghan was my brother. There were these moments in the game called stutters and I guess I played the game for so long I started to see them outside of the game. There were TV episodes in between the levels or acts and I felt like I lived through every character in the show and game. When I was half-way through the game I started to take days off work just to play it, even after my flu symptoms started to dissipate. Then it was choosing playing that game instead of seeing Craig Nicholl’s from The Vines play a solo show at Newtown Social Club. I’m a live band photographer and go to quite a lot of gigs and consider myself part of the Australian live music scene so not going was even a shock to me. Craig also has Asperger’s syndrome so he’s probably the only person in the music scene I can relate to. My friend wasn’t impressed that I didn’t go to that gig. In truth I didn’t want to go out and risk getting sick again. I had already missed so many days of work it was impossible to catch up without risking a collapse. I’ve had chronic fatigue since I was 13 and last time I pushed myself I became close to passing out. It happened after I went to shoot a gig, spent two days editing the photos and went straight back to another gig. When things like that happen to me I become anxious about it ever happening again.

Another reason I was hesitant to go to gigs might have had something to do with feeling anxious and even suicidal at previous gigs I went to alone. The feelings lasted as long as I was alone and didn’t talk to the band members if I didn’t know them. Fortunately, at those gigs I did know some band members. These feelings were new and unusual and they may have also had something to do with my stress over moving.

When I was close to finishing Quantum Break a free Destiny update came out so I gave the game another chance and I enjoyed it a lot more. I was one of those year 1 players who got sick of it and vowed never to play again, but the loot and upgrading points were very rewarding so I stayed. I entered into a new reality, a futuristic dystopian world in which I and other players were the last hope of humanity’s survival.  I became my Titan subclass throwing fiery hammers, ground pounding groups of enemies into oblivion or helping my team mates out by erecting a void shield. I dominated the Crucible (multiplayer) for a short while employing underhanded tactics to defeat my enemies. I played for full days to slowly upgrade my light level so I could play the final challenge. But it was all cut short when Starfox Zero came out and packed up my Xbox One and set up my Wii U. Three days later I wanted to throw that game and Wii U into the Sun. I also played a bit of Alan Wake: American Nightmare on my Xbox One in between Quantum Break and Destiny or whenever I couldn’t connect to Xbox Live.

Next was Ratchet and Clank I think so I set up my PS4 and packed up my Xbox One. Around this time I was beginning to suspect that I had grown some sort of a psychological dependence on playing videogames. I would never buy so many games in a matter of weeks. Usually, I would play a videogame to distract myself from depressed and suicidal thoughts. So, it was a form of therapy for me. I discovered this when I was anxious about going to a gig and I found playing Batman: Arkham City calmed me down. Since then, playing videogames works better than any psychiatrist’s advice ever has.

Not only did I have a psychological dependence to play videogames I also stopped hanging out with groups of people. People would come over to the house all the time and there was even a birthday party but I just didn’t care about socialising. It may have just been another way for me to cope with my stress. But in my head I came to the decision that I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

I did want to go to Good Game Live though but I felt nervous about meeting fans of Good Game Pocket show, the ‘Pocketeers.’ I’m not really good at meeting people and becoming friends. I’ve been bullied and trolled by people who were meant to be my friends so I was hesitant to go. When I sort of told one of my friends she made it sound like I wasn’t making an effort. We had a big row, a big big one. She told me I was making excuses even for my PTSD and this is from someone who has a mental illness themselves. Emotionally I couldn’t deal with it and I didn’t know how to handle the situation so I did what I always do when I hit a social brick wall – I tried to get her out of my life but she kept trying. Through my sister I realized she missed me and it was something that never occurred to me. I don’t often miss people. I can spend 6 months without seeing people and as long as I’m preoccupied with an interest it’s enough for me. I did try to make an effort to hang out though. I was going to go to a gig in her town and asked to stay the night but I was never really given an answer. I deliberately didn’t go to two gigs I knew she’d be at. Although, I had no real motivation to go. This was You Am I and Davey Lane – they were usually unmissable gigs but I just kept playing Ratchet and Clank and Modern Combat 5.

It took about a week but things are good between me and my friend again. I think. I’m not very good at keeping friends.

Then Uncharted 4 was released and yep I bought it day one. Now I was Nathan Drake, a thief/ adventurer in search of pirate treasure. Once again I was completely absorbed into the story and became so accustomed to the combat it began to feel like muscle memory. I would shoot one bad guy, take his gun, grapple to a rope, swing on that rope to another ledge, shoot another bad guy while still swinging in the air, land on him and take his gun and continue the process until the area was cleared of enemies. I felt so athletic while playing it even though I had barely gotten up and gone for a walk. I never wanted to stop playing it. I wanted to stay in that world forever.

I might have spent between 6-10 hours playing it daily and completed it in four days. I’m not the best player but I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing as Nathan Drake. I enjoyed the cinematic driven story so much that when I played DOOM on my Xbox One it felt boring but I eventually got comfortable with it. It was hard to feel like I was in the DOOM world so I tried to read up as much of the lore as I could but the days til I moved were getting shorter and I had to stop playing DOOM and pack my Xbox One into a moving box. I also really wanted to see Dallas Crane and I felt I had to completely put away my game console so I could be sure I could go to that show. I put N.O.V.A 3 on my phone and played it before the show. The A.I that was supposed to help me was buggy AF though so I eventually gave up on it. But I am glad I went to the Dallas Crane gig. I got to hang out with the guys, talk mostly about videogames with the drummer Steve and take some good photos despite having no confidence of my skills after months off photographing bands. I even forgot the differences between fast and slow shutter speeds.

Then I was going to go see Olympia two or three days later, so I hastily edited the Dallas Crane photos, ignored the support act photos and was off to another gig. Then some more symptoms showed up. I completely lost my appetite yet still felt hungry; I just didn’t want to eat. The kitchen was a mess because of the move so that may have been one reason why I couldn’t eat.  I ended up surviving on Shapes and crackers. My sister was convinced that Olympia went to our church when we were kids. I didn’t really believe her.

The night of the Olympia gig I had some anxiety about getting in at all because my sister had my ticket but it passed and I met up with my sister (not the one I lived with) and we got together to excitedly talk about a house that we were approved to rent. I ate a meal for the first time in days and I was looking forward to seeing my friend Pat at the gig who plays bass in Olympia.

I was distracted and unfocused at the gig. Maybe it was because I kept talking to my sister when I’d usually be alone and hyperfocused on what was happening on stage. I yet again had zero confidence in my ability to take photos but I eventually remembered what a slow shutter speed does to photos taken in low light, so I corrected that. It was a good night. I got to talk to Pat and meet Olympia and my sister asked her if she was the same person that went to our church as kids, and she was and it was kind of strange but nice. I was an extremely quiet and weird child and I’m so different now that it felt good that someone knew me back then. It’s like that child actually did exist. I didn’t really have much to talk about because I had been playing videogames obsessively for the past month and being around a 35 to 40 something year old crowd I didn’t want to make myself seem any younger by mentioning that.

So, despite all the stress and weird regressive symptoms and anxiety about everything and near starvation I still had a good time and took some great photos and just got to do what I had been missing out on for months. It was enough for me to want to do it again. A couple of weeks ago I had feelings of giving up on my photography because I just couldn’t get out to the shows, and also those suicidal feelings. Every now and then I think about giving up on my band photography anyway.

I hastily edited my photos of Olympia too because I planned on seeing The Matches that night. The Matches were amazing and energetic as usual but I didn’t feel like I belonged in that scene anymore. And that was once my scene. There was a time when everyone knew about my photography and at least two people at that gig knew me. I met the guitarist of The Matches but it didn’t go as great as it did at Olympia.

I’m in my new house now and I haven’t played a video game for about two weeks, maybe more. I’ve been watching a whole lot of Good Game Pocket and following gaming news. I’m waiting for a gaming monitor to be delivered and DOOM is sitting on a desk of dresser drawers in the lounge room waiting to be finished. I don’t think I’ll become dependent on videogames again, not to the extent I was. I think it all had to do with the stress I was feeling over moving. Sure, I’m going to be picking up a controller when I feel deeply depressed or even anxious but I don’t think I’ll choose it over going to a gig. I’ve been trying to work on my social skills – AGAIN! Sorry, but this is like the fifth time. I pretty much know what to say to people but don’t say it. It’s going to take time and practice but it will happen. The nervous impulsive speaker will return.

I still enjoyed my time playing videogames. I felt like a gamer for the first time. I’m not saying they’re as broken as I was. No, they seem to be able to balance playing games with work and socialising in a way that I never could. I’ll still continue to play games but I won’t have much money to buy them day one or pre-order collector editions ever again. They’re still the best therapy I can ever get and the only way I can make friends, outside of the music scene of course.

2015: The Year of Change

Usually when you hear me talk about change it’s in defiance of it but this time it’s been more about embracing it. More than that. Change has happened in my life and within me personally that I barely even knew it was happening.
First, I decided to start a photography course which I at times have doubts that I could ever finish after I start another subject but I work out ways to make it happen. I’ve learned a lot from this course and I use it my general and concert photography. General is anything from self-portraits to photos of animals to photos of children’s birthday parties. I now have the passion to take photos again. I’m not really sure where it went all those years before to be honest. I have had to overcome anxiety that kept me from going to concerts and still have to face a type of agoraphobia that developed in me after a traumatic event. That was years ago though and I now feel ready to move on.
Secondly, with my 30th birthday looming near I decided I should probably go find my some work. The government also requires it of me despite being on a disability pension. The hardest part for me would be overcoming my physical weaknesses. I have hypoglycemia and so need to eat a little every few hours. I also have chronic fatigue and can use up my energy in just a matter of hours. I’m sure there’s a nice employer out there who can work around these issues. I have a lot to offer and not even Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD or mood disorders can hold me back.
Third and last and probably most important I’ve become a committed Christian again. I don’t think Christian is the right word but I believe in God as I have from a young age and follow both early Hebrew traditions and the New Testament. I have a calling on my life that I’ve felt since a very young age but it was never revealed to me until now. I will not say too much since I don’t want to scare you away but I’m very serious and committed to what I have to do and am even creating artworks to share this message, and those artworks will be on another blog. People can mock me. People can try to convince me I’m believing in fairy tales but it won’t do them any good. I’m a rock. Agreeing with people just so they don’t feel uncomfortable around me doesn’t matter to me, the only thing that matters to me is what I can do to secure a future in the next life.
So, I’m finally getting back into my art. I’m a gifted artist (or just quick to pick it up) but have never had any formal education. So I have a lot of self-learning to do to reach these artistic goals I have set in place.
I still want to be a writer of some kind and have a story in the back of my mind. Instead of being science fiction it’s more to help autism awareness. I recently saw a BBC miniseries called The Politician’s Husband and while the depiction of a child with Asperger’s was truthful it focused too much on the negative. I believe showing the negative is important but as someone who has lived that child’s life I can tell you it does get better. In fact, things might be able to get better for an autistic child when they are still a child. It’s more about teaching them life skills without trying to make them ‘normal’ i.e allowing them to have interests and their own coping strategies most commonly referred to as ‘symptomatic behaviour.’ So, that’s the book/screenplay I wish to write.

I don’t make myself ridiculous new year’s resolutions to keep, instead I’m just going to launch straight into a healthy diet and exercise routine. I like feeling fit and it does help give me prolonged concentration and just puts me in an all round happier mood.

As it’s now the first day of 2016 I can begin seeing these goals through. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. I’m now a photographer for CargoArt Magazine which could mean my photographs can now be printed. I’ll continue to do my photography course and just keep on taking photos in my spare time or for my band photography. I look for jobs daily now, usually anything that involves using a camera. I’ll have to start learning how to draw and paint those things I wish to create on canvases. I’m going to be reading plenty of religious books, including The Bible every Saturday in my own little live-in Church which is my bedroom and the only Church I can trust. I’m already exercising and eating healthily too.

It all seems to be working out pretty well for me – the planning stages at least. I’ll still have plenty of downtime to rest and recharge. So that’s that then. It will be a great year because everyday I will strive to get better; healthier, fitter, mindful, creative and righteous. Now I’m not trying to sound better than everyone – far from it. I mean others are allowed to sin. I have to watch everything I say, do and think very carefully. I just want to be a good person. Good in the eyes of God and mentally sound and say goodbye to physical weakness.

Shanti

Breaking the Bonds of Overprotection

We hear it a lot these days how children are being wrapped up in cotton wool or about the helicopter parents who can always be seen hovering near them, structuring their day including their playtime and never looking away for a second. Child experts say that it’s creating a generation of adults being ill prepared for the challenges of the world.

Now imagine an autistic adult being treated like that. Oh sure, I hear you with your ‘but it’s understandable, they don’t understand enough about the world and do require extra help.’ I agree to a point. See I was that over protected child. Not long ago I felt like I needed it because being autistic I was behind many children my age but even those with special needs need to grow up and acquire skills to help them navigate throughout this world.

Those skills were not learned while I was young. I have this suspicion that I was just expected to just get it when I was old enough. Maybe I was to pick it up from my peers. When I left home at 25 to live with my sister I was suddenly thrown into independent living without having the slightest clue about what I was to do, so naturally I had a breakdown. In the autistic community we call them shutdowns, they are commonly known as nervous breakdowns. Triggered by extreme anxiety both the body and brain shutdown, slow down, as if one was recovering from an epileptic seizure but there is lasting damage to the brain and recently acquired skills are lost. It’s happened to me about three times. How I am still alive is beyond me and every time I have had to build up lost social skills and even had to learn how to take things less literally. But there have been changes that I have not overcome or don’t think I ever can; I’m less coordinated, my previously internal meltdowns are as loud as the planes that fly overhead my Inner West home and my emotional regulation is completely out of whack.

But still I go on. I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime on the disability pension. A few years ago I developed PTSD and every kind of anxiety you can think of, and probably those that are yet to be discovered. I have depression too but I can survive the most agonizing day of depression more than I can get through another panic attack. Both feel terrible but both I have to deal with in order to continue living. Sometimes I mean that literally.

I’ve overcome a lot between the ages of 26 to 29 and I’ve still got much more to overcome. The latest was being too afraid to go to a music venue after some helpful fellow thought it was a good idea to grab me by the arm and tell me to stop taking photos. I couldn’t stay out in the open after that so I went backstage and filled up on cans of beer from Darren Middleton and Guy Pearce’s rider. Yes, I was working with them that night and had every right taking photos of them. It was both the best and worst night of my life. Then I took about 3 months off taking photos of bands because of the panic attacks I had every time I tried to leave my house. One of my friends wasn’t happy about that, said I bailed on them one night while I was shaking uncontrollably on the floor, the door knob just feet away from me.

Media passes to concerts

It’s not always been that bad for me and there have been times where I’ve just wanted to go out and live a life as normally as I can, even get a job just to see that I can, but this is when various members of my family have reminded me that I wouldn’t be good at that job or I couldn’t cope with it. It’s not just about jobs but owning my own house or living in a share house, studying something like physics, script writing and even photography online (hint hint).

Yes, it happened to me recently about two courses I wanted to study. One was the most part-time course you could give a person that involved learning script writing at NIDA. I went through all my usual preparations at such a big change in my life. I budgeted my money, planned a good way to save more money so when the fee was taken out of my account I wouldn’t worry about going broke and starving to death (quite a common worry with me), and I even got familiar with my new bus route. Then I was told it wouldn’t be right for me, that I couldn’t handle it. I was heartbroken and the next person who told me the same thing got a rather agitated reaction from me. I even began to stutter and the words just wouldn’t form into sentences. That’s also a very common thing to happen with me.

One of these people, ok my sister, suggested I look for a TAFE course on script writing and photography and even though I was still upset they didn’t believe that I could manage myself in a short NIDA course I went along and looked up the courses. I actually got a phone call from Open Colleges when I put my interest into the Professional Script Writing course and had a chat about what I wanted to get out of the course, but it seemed my plan to get work after the course might not have been the best path to take. Then it was recommended to me to take a photography course, so I considered it. The next time I saw my sister she again said that it might not have been right for me. I wasn’t just heartbroken but depressed. My other sister that I yelled at the night before was already on board with the idea – yelling at someone really does make them try to take your point of view a bit more seriously. But still one sister didn’t think I could handle it.

Their concern was understandable (even though a few years ago they denied I had any medical or mental problems) but the worst thing you can say to an adult with autism is that they won’t be good enough. It’s funny that there was a time where I would have loved for people to take my impairments seriously and now that they do I want them to lay off. I might have difficulties but I’ve had them for almost 30 years, and I’ve developed new skills and overcame many obstacles just to get to a place where I finally feel ready to study those courses that will give me enough knowledge and confidence to launch my career, finally.

I’ve been unemployed for a very long time that I’m actually over doing nothing all day but playing video games or watching TV. There were some attempts at becoming the next best Science Fiction author but I stopped taking that medication and the mania is gone and now I realise that’s probably not the best way to write. I got a lot of encouragement for it then but people didn’t realise what was going on in my brain at the time and it wasn’t healthy. I went through a down period after that and people wondered why I was not pursuing the writing or the photography or anything. This was when people denied I had any problems, it was also when I almost OD’d on Ritalin.

Now they deny that I’ll be able to manage doing a full on course of study. It’s funny to me because they are pushing me in other ways. Take flying. I’m terrified of flying on planes. It’s not so much the flight that worries me, but the airport and the breaking of my routine and being away from the sanctuary that is my house and going to a place completely new and alien to me. In other words I’m scared of change. They tell me I’ll probably be ok, some even say I’ll get addicted to travel. But you know what? This Certificate in Digital Photography is me getting on a plane. If they think I’ll be ok flying to another country then they’ve got to let me take risks and do something they don’t think I’ll be able to manage.

about three times. How I am still alive is beyond me and every time I have had to build up lost social skills and even had to learn how to take things less literally. But there have been changes that I have not overcome or don’t think I ever can; I’m less coordinated, my previously internal meltdowns are as loud as the planes that fly overhead my Inner West home and my emotional regulation is completely out of whack.

Check out my latest project

FFAFmyspace3

I decided to make a blog just for my band photography.

Originally I wanted to write all my thoughts down about the last gig as a form of therapy about the residual emotions that usually like to hang around after I shoot a gig. Now, I kind of just like talking about my photography and the Australian music scene.

Either click on the photo above or check out The Ultimate Lost Through the Lens