The Conversation Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autism and the Videogame Community

April is Autism Awareness Month and if I’m lucky today is the 2nd of April: Autism Awareness Day. I’m taking this time to not just write one but a couple of posts dealing with issues faced by those with autism, instead of my usual spotlight on myself and talking about what autism is like for me. It’s my 8th Autism Awareness Month so talking about that stuff does get tiresome. The first post will be about autistic people in the videogame community and the second about the state of the autism community and its many divisions within that community.

Recently I made the decision to quit playing in multiplayer worlds such as MMOs and spending a long time in game forums. I felt like it wasn’t a very supportive environment and not an ideal place for someone still learning social skills and dealing with serious mental health problems. I was let down by the fact that the game community and most social online communities are not really about making friends and supporting each other. I’m not saying it should change. I would love it to change but I’m not pushing anything here. It’s just not for me and I don’t think it’s for people with similar issues.

That said, I’m still going to play the DOOM beta later and if I run into the same obstacles I will try my best to get through it. Obstacles, you say? Yes, these obstacles are often the mindset other gamers have when they are looking to team up with another person. They expect you to already know what to do and be just as good as they are. If not they will accuse you of not trying hard enough, even being lazy. They just don’t see that two people may not be alike. It’s actually very autistic. OK, I deserve the abuse I’ll get from saying that. But it’s very true. I had to learn all throughout my early adult life to remember to think of others and even had to pick up in other people how to empathise. So, it’s something I’m always trying to keep in mind, yet others seem to be losing this innate ability.

I don’t play as much as other people. I have many other interests, all of which will individually take my complete focus for weeks and months on end. I can’t really commit to two at a time. At the moment I seem to be trying to juggle writing with my band photography with playing video games with reading comic books so I’m not putting much time on any one thing at all, so I haven’t got that intense attention to detail autistic people are famous for. I expect some abuse thrown at me from playing DOOM because I haven’t played anything like DOOM for years. I’m off my game, as they say.

What I’m really trying to encourage here in my speedy jumpy-brain ADHD writing style is that I wish gamers would open their minds up to the fact that not everyone who is playing with or against them is exactly like them. You never know what kind of stress someone is under or what their challenges are. Most of you don’t care but I believe there’s a minority of people who will still give consideration to a minority of people once they’re made aware of it.

The reason I play video games at all has a lot to do with my poor performance playing platform games on SEGA, PC and Nintendo as a kid and proving to myself that I’ve gotten better since. I have. I use my brain much more now than when I was a kid. The second reason is because back when I wasn’t even playing games but was sorta interested in them thanks to the invention of mobile gaming that I started to research game development to help me write about VR technology in a science fiction novel I was writing. Funny thing was I didn’t actually know another company was creating the same type of technology under the label VR Roaming. Anyway, tangent. Point is my research turned into playing the games and living in the communities and then I got so absorbed into the playing side of the research, I became a gamer myself. Then when I was going through a lot of anxiety over going to see live bands cause of a PTSD issue I found that playing Batman: Arkham City calmed these nerves and maybe beating the hell out of bad guys felt kind of empowering. So, when I was struggling to deal with crippling depression and suicidal thoughts (oops, trigger warning) I would make myself play a game at the very beginning of my depression and the feelings would be alleviated and I wouldn’t go on online rants and lose all my friends in the process.

Now the fact that I was in these mental states while gaming meant any slight abuse hurled at me was deeply felt as my mind wasn’t even seeing the world properly – both depression and anxiety put thoughts in your mind that often do not reflect your current situation, but are both paranoid and delusional, in a mild non-psychosis sense. You’re self-critical, sometimes hating everything about you and losing hope about your future. You start to hate everyone and everything around you too. What were once little annoyances are now the most irritating things in the world. And you believe them, you always believe them. It doesn’t matter how many times you try and put positive thoughts in place of them, they will always sneak their way back in. At least for a little while. Dealing with toxic people in the gaming community just becomes more of a burden when in that state of mind.

Now back to autism. I believe it’s tough being an autistic gamer because our symptoms may lead to playing badly, though sometimes an autistic gamer that has gaming as a special interest can have the upper hand. The old term used by psychologists was ‘little professor’ – it was the fact that a child with Asperger’s or high functioning autism (they’re basically the same thing) could become interested in something and soak that knowledge, mostly facts, up like a sponge and when they talked about it they sounded like an expert in the field. People with autism can teach themselves to do anything this way. I used to read a lot about physics, especially astronomy and spit out facts I memorised here and there and people thought I was a genius. I understood what I was saying but I’m far from a genius. We have a high attention to detail so can pick up on things people may miss. Try to pick up an object with a lot of detail with it and try to pick off every little detail on it. This is what we do naturally. It’s actually a good coping mechanism. When we look at the whole picture (environment) we’re easily overwhelmed. Most of us have extremely sensitive senses (take note Bungie) and need to detach from the world and just focus on one thing. As a result we memorise all the details. I’m just saying, a player like that on your team could be an asset.

We’re also very good problem solvers. Despite thinking mostly linearly, like it says in the diagnostic criteria, some of us can think of unconventional ways to solve a problem. A big problem I have with video games is that there’s usually just one way to play the game. I was once doing a raid in Destiny playing the Dark Below DLC. You have to take down a Hive Prince called Crota. We all pretty much knew the drill. All six of us have to touch a stone, then you gotta fight the Hive minions and there’s just a very set way to go on from there. But there was this one time where Bungie servers were being little buttholes and glitching the whole raid up, so we were impatient to finish the game so we broke protocol. It was only a slight deviation from the plan but we defeated Crota a lot faster than we usually would. So, maybe having a less than conventional member on the team could not only make a boring rinse and repeat raid more interesting but may lead to quicker victories. And I just think if there were at least 3 or 4 possible ways to complete a level then it would make for much more exciting game play. I really like emergent game play where you take over some dialogue decisions and it affects the outcome of the game. Developers need to make the way players actually get around the environment and the decisions they make within be as varied as the many choices of dialogue in story driven game play.

Autistic people may be able to learn a lot of information quickly and rehash that knowledge as though they’ve been into that subject for ten years when really it’s been two days, they may see other things people miss and they may want to shake up the linear way in which you play games, but there are also some cons. One of the most noticeable shortcomings about someone with autism is their poorly developed social skills. I’m here to elaborate on that. When talking to someone with autism it’s best to talk in a fairly straight forward manner and leave the phrases and idioms at home. They also cannot process too much information at once so it needs to be done in step by step intervals. For me, I don’t like too much banter while in a raid. I need to be able to focus on the mission at hand and really focus on the team leader’s directions. I simply cannot hear two different types of dialogue at once. I always have to pause a TV show when someone comes into the room talking. I can no longer follow what’s going on TV. I feel so frustrated I feel like throwing the remote at the people talking, but I know they don’t understand why I can’t hear the TV. They can filter out unwanted noise and focus on one thing. I and most people with autism, can’t. And always remember, people with autism cannot deal with change. A very helpful and awesome person will help them slowly transition to change by revealing that something different is going to happen and a most unhelpful person will just drop that information 2 seconds before it happens. The difference is a calm and contended person eager to do some team death match or a very angry person who is going to rage quit anyway, and blame you for it. Might rant on Facebook about it. Maybe.

One thing to keep in mind is people with autism just want to be understood but still be treated like everyone else. We don’t want pity. We’ve been handled with kid gloves for most of our lives and to be treated that way in your teens or adulthood is degrading and patronising. There has to be a balance between not being an ableist coont and not treating us like we’re in damn kindergarten.

I think one of the big problems facing people with autism and is probably the reason why they remain unicorns to me (hard to find in the gaming community) is because of the fact that autism is used as an insult throughout the gaming community and social media as a whole. Now, I’m not going to tell those people to stop. I know how much gamers hate having to change something about themselves to seem less offensive. I just don’t think autism should be used as an insult. For one, there’s nothing in the diagnostic criteria that says people with autism have an intellectual disability. Anyone who would make fun of someone with an intellectual disability have voided their humanity and are not subject to the same rights as declared in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights in my book anyway. They’re monsters and not worthy of a second thought. Hmm. I may be compartmentalising here..eh. People with autism are not mentally handicapped; it just co-exists in those with severe autism. In the psychological world we call that co-morbid. Like my ADHD. The symptoms of autism are to me personally a set of behaviors developed within the brain as its own way to cope with the chaotic world that the differently connected neural circuits within the autistic brain cannot cope with. But go ahead and think of autistic people as all retarded. It just shows how little you really know about the condition. It’s probably one of the very few mental disorders that give special skills within the frustrating life experience limiting symptoms too.

There are other autistic gamers out there who face the same issues as I do in the online community. I can’t be the only one. I wish to find them and give us a safe place to exist in the game community. If you’re on Xbox One send REDMENACE85 a message. If you’re a troll you will be ignored, reported to Microsoft and name and shamed by the international autism community. If I ever get back into Destiny I’ll make a clan just for us.

Life Goes On

Here’s an update of sorts on my life. I’ve had way too many thoughts to come up with a single subject to write about this time.

Lately, I’ve not been doing much aside from playing Mass Effect 3 for a few hours a day. On Sunday I clocked over 4 hours which to hardcore gamers is nothing but to someone who likes to divide their time by doing a variety of tasks I was beginning to feel a bit…non-functional.

You see, I have this problem where I can get stuck on doing just one thing and then forget to take care of my basic needs, like buying food and making my own healthy meals. I showered today, right? Yes. OK, good.

So, as I was saying I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3 and getting pretty far with it. It’s always surprising when I’m actually good at a game. I’m expecting to get so stuck soon that I’ll just quit the game in a fit of rage.

Something interesting to note about playing through ME:3 is that during the dialogue scenes where you get to choose what Commander Shepard says and decide where the game gets to go, I’ve not only been learning that my decisions have some real consequences but I’ve also picked up some extra social skills along the way. I’ve noticed how Shepard does take care to speak warmly to people even when you just select ‘goodbye’ as a piece of the dialogue. He doesn’t just say ‘bye then’ but will gently reveal that he’s going but will try to reassure the other character he still cares about their situation. If it was left up to me I’d probably just say ‘bye’ and leave it at that. Another thing I picked up which could help me with my erm, defiant reactions, is that I’ve learned not everyone will be pleased with the decisions I made within the game even if a few others might. For example I helped a race called the Krogan get more power by having them cured of the genophage; it sort of limited their growth as a species. The Salarians weren’t impressed with that. Even my own General Hackett wasn’t impressed that I freed a creature created by the Reapers, our enemy. Maybe I was a bit naive in believing her when she said she’d help fight them. At least I didn’t free a psychopath or work with a ruthless gang just to help win the war. However, I think I made a bad call not letting the Grissom students join the fight. Fortunately, I have saved my game on several slots and I can replay the mission to see what having the students fighting alongside me will be like.

Yep. A video game is teaching me social skills. Add it to the list of emotional family drama shows and science fiction which have also helped me develop socially.

Ever since I came back from seeing and photographing The Ape I feel like I’ve lost the spark of life. At least I had been. I don’t do very well with transitioning from one thing to another and once it was over it was over. I really wanted to meet them and my anxiety seemed to resurface at the moment the opportunity arose. It was a fine mix of social anxiety and avoidance that made me decide neh, I don’t want to do this. I was so set on going to Free Comic Book Day the next day that I thought it justified making a quick exit. Plus I had to work on the photos. Enough excuses, kid.

Then I felt incomplete and for several days just wanted to go back to try again. But I have to wait a really long time to get that chance again. My main aim of the night was to take certain type of photos of them, particularly what I call ‘rock moves’ which I kinda aced, but I missed out on few good shots, mainly because my lens wasn’t wide enough and the one lens I needed I decided to leave at home.

Leading up to the gig I had this whole theme of loneliness surrounding me. I had been struggling to talk to other MARVEL comic book fans and knew that I would literally know just one person at the gig who I also couldn’t go up to talk to. But fans did start talking to me. I had never realised that just hanging alone by the stage with a drink would make me appear to be so isolated. I guess I do look that way but I’ve got one aim: take the best photos at all costs, and that is what I accomplished that night. I even spent two days post processing the photos and was glad I sacrificed all that time to produce some pretty damn good looking photos.I kind of wonder at times whether using flash was the right call. The Ape’s lighting has always been challenging to work with and when I used the flash I barely noticed it. Actually, I think I was too over focused. I barely noticed anything going around me.

It took me awhile to get back into my interests or to even want to keep living my normal life. There’s a lot coming up but at the time I didn’t want to do it. I basically have two functions: zero motivation or extremely excited about my life and everything. So, I may just have been lacking motivation again. Then I made the decision to start playing Mass Effect 3. I didn’t think I could even get past the first cutscene because it was so damned long and then there were so many options I felt like pulling my hair out. But I was able to focus for a bit longer this time and carefully selected how I wanted my soldier. I’ve clocked about 15 hours of gameplay so I’m pretty happy about that. I even want to play a few more games.

I was still having trouble motivating myself to keep going to gigs and taking photos, mainly because it was hard enough to get the clearance to take photos. I can’t always rely on one helpful band member to get me in to take photos. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I’m probably just going to have to risk taking in my camera to Dallas Crane and I no longer felt like going. Then the support band, Greta Mob said they could get me in and ask me to take press shots of them. Nervous, excited and so very ambitious I decided to take them on. Then, I hear back from Pete Satchell from Dallas Crane. Sure, we could get you in.

Now the spark has returned to me, though it does wane at times. I’m pretty good at thinking the worst about a good opportunity. For now, I’m just waiting to see what happens on Saturday. I’ve kind of put myself into quarantine to keep me hidden away from the masses of sick sniffling and coughing people who carelessly spread their germs on someone who can’t affect to get sick.

Still, it’s hard to get through each day. Not long ago the only thing that could bring me happiness was the prospect of playing Mass Effect 3 for a few more hours a day. Could be depression or it could be that I don’t really care about anything except going to this gig. I was like this with The Ape, although with less anxiety. I was looking forward to Free Comic Book Day too. Then on the day I had extreme anxiety and then depression (thanks beer) but you know, I got over that. It might have taken a week but I got over it. I was a little ashamed of my behaviour that night and some thoughts I had that were just ridiculous to have because things turned out to be the opposite. Life goes on. And can I be any more vague than that?

But I do have things to look forward to. Tomorrow night (or tomorrow – depends on my patience) new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D premieres and it’s the season finale. I also have my S.H.I.E.L.D Origins comic book to read. Are you detecting a pattern here? Plus I’ve got new Big Bang Theory to watch as well as a few re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Tomorrow I’ll add Parenthood to the list. Yeah, don’t ask. Two characters have Asperger’s syndrome in it – we could be best friends! They make me feel normal, like Sheldon Cooper does. Ray Romano surprisingly makes a good autistic character.

I seem to be the kind of person who has to constantly give themselves things to look forward to do to keep my motivation going. I think it’s got to do with my ADHD. My mind is often struggling to focus while my thoughts are racing so to give myself some few minutes of stability I will just come up with a variety of things to do. When I don’t do this I get bored, under motivated and become easily depressed, empty, longing for something that I can’t see. I jump at any opportunity when my mind finds that focus, even if it’s just for an hour. And I’ll stick with it until exhaustion.

And after Dallas Crane there’s WAITS to see who are made up of ex-members of After the Fall including my buddy Mark, so I can actually talk to someone at a gig again. Then there Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos. Such band members include Davey Lane and I’m always going to go up and say hi to Davey.  During this time I should also get more prepared to go to Portland. At times it’s the last thing I want to do but it could be a good experience for me. Also, I get to see one of the more likable members of my family. I’m kidding of course. I do miss my big sis though. And I want to become best friends with her pug.

I’ll miss seeing my Australian bands. That’s why when I’ll return I’ll be seeing The Used and Taking Back Sunday. Heh. I’ll at least get to see Darren Middleton again. I just love Australian music more than any other type of music. I still love my welsh rockers Funeral For a Friend and Thursday/Bayside/Jawbreaker/Cursive/Anberlin/etc who all come from the US, but my loyalty lies with the Australian music scene. People in my family have been hinting to me falling in love with Portland so much when I’m over there I will move there, but I won’t. I want to move to Melbourne, or Wales. Or Canada. Nah. I’m not that obsessed with Stargate anymore.

As I’ve been getting older my music taste has been changing so I’ve been going to a lot of gigs where the music and music scene is quite new to me. Sometimes I neglect to listen to the bands from the old scene. I kind of feel a bit left out about not knowing much about the history of the Australian rock scene or most bands people talk about. I can make more sense out of Star Trek than I can Rockwiz, but I am learning. At times I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot, but then I’m glad I never just stuck with one genre or sub genres throughout my life. At different parts of my life I’ve been pretty obsessed with a variety of music. As varied as emo/punk/hardcore is. I also like folk music and recently I’ve been getting into You Am I, Dallas Crane, The Gin Club, etc. I still listen to bands like The Used with a sense of guilty pleasure and I listen to bands like Jawbreaker, Refused, Thursday and Brand New as though I’m experiencing something incredible few people have, because I hardly know people who listen to them anymore. Basically put those bands make me experience far deeper emotions than most of the Australian rock bands can. Scientists say that we always feel nostalgic about the music we listened to as a teenager and because I’m autistic and a few years emotionally delayed my teen years were experienced more in my early to mid 20s. Some of those songs made up the soundtrack of what was happening in my life at the time. At least two or three were break-up records.

I’m an analytical person and much like Data from Star Trek or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory study the behaviour of people to get a better understanding of them, I’ve decided to focus on the different demographic of music fans and how it manifests in them, i.e teenagers probably get the most obsessed. They have posters on their wall, frequent fan forums, wear the band’s merch and learn pretty much all they can about the bands. I’m partly still in this demographic though I’m not really into the hero worshiping thing like they are. I’d rather have a drink with a band than get an autograph. I’m over collecting 10,000 set lists too. Then, I wondered how the older fans (40+) differed from this. I’m still conducting my research so I don’t have much to put forward yet. But in time I might be more capable of articulating my thoughts on this matter. One can speculate they spend less time in fan communities and being obsessed and their love of the band is pushed to the background as they work, raise children and whatever else they do. And gigs are a place they can unwind. They stand back in the crowd and watch from afar. Unless they’re my best friend. But I’m basically looking for a general picture here and not the exception to the rule.

Moving on.

It’s disappointing to me that the bands I used to always see and photograph have become difficult to get photo access to. Anberlin are playing one last show ever and I probably won’t get to take photos. I’m seeing Taking Back Sunday and probably won’t get to take photos. All I really need is the Dwarf to send me an e-mail asking people to apply to take photos at those shows and I’m in. But at least now I can rely on The Ape, Dallas Crane and You Am I to get me into take photos. And depending how much Matthew Davies wants to help me I might get some photo access to Funeral For a Friend.

So, life goes on. It goes to Portland, returns to buy video games and read more comic books. It goes to more Australian gigs (and a few overseas ones as well) and takes photos. It reignites and loses the spark to enjoy everything that comes its way.

Eventually it will get a job and on some medical treatment plan.

The Trials and Tribulations of an Autistic Band Photographer: Part 1: Meeting the Band

Firstly, don’t give me any of that person-first language garbage. If I want to say I’m autistic I’ll say I’m autistic. I actually have autism and you don’t – so leave it.

Now that’s all over with I can continue. I’m not going to describe every autistic symptom that affects me as a band photographer; instead I’ll just focus on my lack of social skills.

It seems like such a small issue but people with autism can become very depressed about not knowing how to speak to people. Some focus a lot of not being able to get a date but for the moment I don’t even want to try that, because I struggle to get along with people at all. I’m not sure if I like anyone that way. I’m so blinded by my own rage at people and myself about getting into arguments or feeling like everyone is trying to manipulate me, that there’s not a whole left to find out I can feel that way for people at all.

One of my major problems is being able to meet and talk to the bands I love the most. I was even told it was such a small nuance and it is but I have to work really hard just to achieve something other fans can just go up and do without even thinking about it. They want to do it so much that they bound up to the band. Then there’s me. Sometimes I’ll ignore the fact that I want to go up and say hi but something is holding me back. Other times I’ll be torn apart by it, usually much later on in the night and after I left the venue.

Ever since I was 18 or 19 and I still hadn’t made any friends of my own there were a few people from bands who I considered my friends. I met the singer from Funeral For a Friend that way. It took years to have a conversation with him but I never gave up and now I know him, and I do not take such a friendship for granted. Then I started to become friends with their fans and didn’t care so much about meeting other bands. Recently I’ve started to feel alone again and have tried to meet bands again. Sometimes it works and sometimes it just feels like the most impossible goal to reach.

I do know some band members and have great times with them but it’s getting so much harder now to meet new people. I’m no longer in a music scene I feel comfortable with. The emo/punk scene was just so familiar that you knew that even if you didn’t know somebody you soon will or that you would probably get along because we all listened to the same bands, and we all dressed like each other. It was the whole all ages thing too. I could rock up to an all ages gig alone and end up talking to about 10 people while waiting in line.

Now I go to a gig alone and I stay alone, unless I know someone from the band. Last time though I did have some middle aged fans taking pity on me but I felt too uncomfortable about the age gap. Sometimes I don’t realise how young I still am and look.

Although I can get really down about this and just feel like it’s an impossible task to accomplish and that maybe the band members don’t even like me enough to want to say hi, I still want to try, to work on it so that one day I can meet them and talk to them. I don’t think anyone without autism or social anxiety can ever understand how lonely and depressing it gets for us who literally don’t know what to say to people, unless we’re impulsive and thus say something embarrassing which we will regret or talk about a special interest which people may find odd or immature, or give us the ‘nerd’ label. The depressive episodes that focus on these facts can be horrendous. I used to want to step into a busy street and quickly end the pain. Now I just play suicidal scenarios over in my head. At least I know now that my thoughts are false and my depression won’t last forever. Then I become manic and act like I already know the people I wish I knew and that I’m always going to be capable of talking to them.

The only time I’ve been able to go up to a band member and talk with ease was when I was taking Ritalin. But the last time I was on Ritalin I felt I was talking too loudly and speedily and was so very intense. I don’t think taking speed should be the answer to my problem, though sometimes I think it’s the only answer. And by ‘speed’ I’m talking about actual speed, not Ritalin.

I could always go on a longer acting dose of Ritalin which means it won’t all go into my bloodstream at once but take its time. I would really love to have my symptoms more under control but with a under medicated mood disorder it just might make me even more depressed.

I am depressed right now. I went from depressed to angry to more euphoric to highly anxious and again to depressed. So I will just have to recover again.

I’m just getting sick of missing opportunities of meeting or talking to band members when I go through so much just to get to a gig. I’m always anxious weeks before I go to a gig. I don’t drink until that night too and drinking can sometimes trigger a depressive episode in me. But when people talk to me I kind of snap out of it. When depressed I end up drinking a lot even though it just makes me worse and something must happen when I start hearing music and taking photos of the bands because I begin to feel better, sometimes even becoming hypomanic. But because of the shifting around of moods and the stress I go through from them when it comes to going up to a band member and having a little chat I can’t do it, and I like to blame it on my moods. I tell myself it’s ok if you don’t because of what you just went through. It’s understandable.

These days my social skills are a lot better than they were before. I can talk to strangers with ease so can talk to other fans if they come up to me. But when I watch them easily go up to the band and talk with them with their hopeful faces about getting something signed I feel jealous. I suddenly remember who I am and what I have. I’m always going to struggle to do that one thing they decide to do on a whim. “Hey, let’s buy some merch and see if we can get it signed!” “Okay, great idea!” I could always go get something signed myself but I don’t tend to do that anymore. I don’t see the point apart from an excuse to meet a band member. Anyway, once those moods hit they will take anyway any confidence I have about going up to the band. Last time I was just under prepared and highly anxious.

I don’t want people to pity me, I just want to be able to talk to the bands without having to worry about it, like most people can. It takes years and years of effort with several photo galleries under my belt just to have an average conversation with them, in the stuttery and impulsive way I have conversations with people, drunk while on stimulant medication. Or maybe just drunk now.

Such a tiny thing sparks such depressive feelings, even suicidal ones. If I didn’t care about it I wouldn’t try and would be fine, but the fact is that I do care about it and will keep trying until I succeed. I’m well known for my intuitive problem solving skills and the many ways I’ve thought up about just achieving a simple two minute chat with certain band members would make you laugh.

An Excuse to Talk about MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D While Trying to Explain My Lack of Social Skills

 

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Ah yes, I finally get to talk about my current no.1 obsession: the TV show MARVEL’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m just going to go ahead and mention that this post may contain spoilers for the most current S.H.I.E.L.D episodes because I like to keep pretty up-to date on them and I would hate to ruin the excitement and nervous anticipation of fans waiting for another installment like I have been over these many weeks.

For about 5 or 6 months now I have been developing into a very huge MARVEL comic book fan and enthusiast, but I’ve not been able to share my love with other comic book fans. It’s not just being a failure to connect to the comic book world but I first realised I struggled to get along with other fans when I joined a Stargate online fan message board. Before I was into the MCU I was and still am a very huge fan of the Stargate franchise.

I’ve acquired a lot of knowledge about Stargate so it’s never hard for me to talk about the facts from the Stargate Universe (not to be confused with Stargate: Universe) but when it came to discussing the episodes in depth is when I started to realise I focused on different parts of the show than those around me. Basically other fans were talking about the show as if it was real and getting quite worked up about it too. To them the characters were free to make decisions and their actions were not solely at the hands of some very creative writers, and as someone who wants to become a writer I saw it the other way. At times I would praise the writers for creating such a thrilling episode with mystery and intrigue and drop hints throughout the series so we the audience could try to work out what was going to happen on our own – take note, Alphas.

But I just did not connect with the fans. I found them emotional and almost delusional for not getting that it’s just a show.

fitzquote13One of my favourite characters (Agent Fitz) and one of my favourite moments on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the S.H.I.E.L.D episodes that linked with it I became so passionate about the show that I wanted to connect to other fans. There were the odd trolls who would nit-pick certain parts of the episode they didn’t like or whatever news that came out about future episodes or they would basically just say the show should be cancelled because commenting on the official Facebook page of the show you hate is just such a good way to spend your precious time, right? Those people are easy to ignore, though some people just can’t help but give them a piece of their mind.

Then people yet again started to talk about the characters as if they were real and the story was real and I just felt uncomfortable again. These people were just empathising so much more with the characters than me, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. When I watch the show I can be moved in the same way as they are. I know that after Agent Phil Coulson was brought back to life by regenerative DNA of a blue alien that he is kind of a broken man and that he didn’t want the cellist to know he was alive because it took so long for her to get over him, though a few other fans did reveal some of the finer details for me. Fitz big speech in ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ when standing up to Garrett while crying was touching but again it was very hard for me to understand why. I needed other people to explain to me what it meant to them. It even took some time for me to empathise with Skye who was looking for her parents but then it turned out they were dead and she was being protected by S.H.I.E.L.D because she was an 0-8-4 (meaning an object of unknown origin – she could have special powers) and some bad people were out there looking for her. Most likely Hydra, because unless you’ve been living under a rock or are kind of you know popular, you know they had been infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D for 70 years and since Captain America helped take them down S.H.I.E.L.D is now seen as a terrorist organization, so they are still kind of in power.

You can see why I filed this under ‘autism’ now can’t you? I even feel my above descriptions of some of the series’ plot is coming out a bit stale. Could it be anxiety? Perhaps. I have lots of that. Is it a bad time to mention that I’m writing this while hearing Agent Phil Coulson’s voice in my head, kind of reading out the post to me? It’s something else I do to help me write. It’s common on the autistic spectrum. I’ll stop talking about it now.

It may take me some time to feel emotions toward the characters but I do feel them and when I watch the show I am taken into the fantasy of it all, but for some reason when I talk about it to other people I can only regurgitate the facts of the show, you know, recite the story in a very technical way (my psychologist said I explained everything in a technical way too) and then when I tried to explain the emotions of a character  I would start to sound less intelligent than I am. When I talk about the neuronal processes in the brain or recite any law of physics or even share a theory I have about black holes I can just articulate it so much better that I sound like I’m smarter than I am. But when it comes to explaining how something can move me emotionally, well I just I, well I, I just feel dumb.

There would have been a time where I thought it was better to think more logically and not worry so much about emotions. After all, emotions are distracting, confusing and exhausting things. They get it the way of our reasoning skills and all my achievements have been a cause of my logical problem solving skills. They create unnecessary social drama and keep us stuck in our rumination, so we remain longer in distress whereas if we ignored them we would reach a solution faster and not be as emotionally affected by our reactions as we usually are. I have a bit of a mood disorder too so my emotions are usually explosive. I am like a real life Vulcan when I suppress them and focus mainly on logical solutions.

But I’m starting to think that maybe it is better to get stuck in the fantasy of a show. It’s strange, in any social situation, usually offline, I will just want to talk about anything related to MARVEL comics and my most recent successful conversation (yeah, I count them) was when I rather drunkenly gave a very long and spoilerish run down of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and how they linked up with S.H.I.E.L.D episodes from episode 14 and up, to someone who probably had no idea what I was talking about. And when I get really into show or story, especially if it’s related to science fiction, the line between the real world and fantasy becomes a bit blurred. I just don’t understand why I can’t go into that mindset when I talk to other fans.

So, now I’m trying to feel deeper emotions from the characters in S.H.I.E.L.D so I can get a better understanding of how other fans of the show empathise with them and maybe I could have longer and more in depth discussions with them without thinking ‘this person realises that’s just a TV show right? Whatever happened in it was how the writers wanted it to happen.’ No, I must silence those thoughts. There are times for logical thought and times to be more emotional. It’s not really that fun being a robot. I’ve met others who take things more literally than me. They have told me that they literally have no visual imagination and I can make movies up in my head and I would hate to live without that. Likewise, the more empathetic among us would hate to live without feeling such deep emotions for their fellow man, or woman.

I’m planning to go to Free Comic Book Day and experience the comic book fandom that I’ve been missing out on because I hardly know anyone well enough to go to these events. And yes crowds are a problem but we must fight through uncomfortable or even scary situations so we don’t miss out on opportunities to make new friends or have new and enjoyable experiences.

I’m really excited about this next episode of S.H.I.E.L.D by the way. I think Skye is going to be taken to Hydra and we get a see Maria Hill again. And I’m just so excited I can’t even speculate properly.