I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I bothered to get tested for AS at the not-so-tender age of twenty-seven. The amount of support for adult-aged Aspies isn’t particularly extensive (or existent) in most areas, and a lot of people who make it to adulthood without proper testing have probably developed their own coping mechanisms to appear normal enough, so is a proper diagnosis really helpful after a certain age?

For me, it really was. Granted, some of that help has come in the form of a therapist who has only been made available to me through the generous financial assistance of my parents. But even if I didn’t have access to a therapist, I’d still be better off today than I was just over two years ago. Having a name and an explanation for certain facets of my life has made so many subtle but powerful changes in it.

Here’s a little story about one of them:

My Dork Passenger was all about Canadian indie rock the summer that the North By Northeast came into being. I immediately became convinced that it was going to be the greatest thing to ever happen. I was too young and Welland-bound to actually go, but that didn’t stop me from tearing the schedule out of an issue of NOW, taping it to my wall, circling all of the bands that I wanted to see and fantasizing about being there. As soon as I was of age, I promised myself, I would take that festival for all it was worth.

Armed with a media pass and boundless enthusiasm, I sort of made good on my promise six years later. I did the festival. I went to the “exclusive” opening party. I saw at least five bands a night and reviewed them all. But it was really nothing like I’d dreamed it would be.

I couldn’t figure it out. I loved music. I loved being invited to things that other people weren’t invited to. I loved festivals. And yet I came out of the festival feeling anxious, sad, frustrated and completely drained. I had never had less fun with music. My years of choir practice had actually been more invigorating.

As I am wont to do, I blamed myself. All of my fellow music lovers and writers thrived at events like NXNE and Canadian Music Week. They’d go see a million bands! They’d party after! And they’d still have the time and energy to write about all of it in detail the next morning! Clearly everyone else was awesome and I was deficient.

I operated on that conclusion for almost a decade. Every March and every June, I would drag myself through a heady mix of amazing music, decent parties, and all-encompassing anxiety and crying jags and then beat myself up for not being more perfectly rock’n’roll. And then, somewhere in the middle in Devo’s Saturday night set at Yonge and Dundas Square, something occurred to me: I was simply overloaded.

I enjoy loud music. I like it in crowds. I like going to parties with loud music, particularly when I’m getting free food and drinks out of the experience. But I simply don’t have the capacity for those experiences that my fellow music writers and fans do.

People with Asperger’s sometimes say that a neurotypical’s capacity for social energy is like a large bucket that takes forever to fill. Aspies, on the other hand, are only armed with a small cup that is prone to overflowing.

I thoroughly enjoyed a number of things that happened to me this weekend. I went to a couple of cool parties and BBQs and got a little free liquor (and some delicious burgers) out of them. I went on a free cruise and watched a number of bands who didn’t suck play on the boat. I attended a screening for a great film about The Replacements. I saw one of the big bands from my adolescent music life and they still rocked.

But I also cried a fair amount. And got disproportionately mad at people for accidentally jostling me in packed bars. And found myself angrily stomping around Y&D square while I said horrible things about Devo.

It still wasn’t exactly the best NXNE I could have possibly had, but there was one big difference from the old days: instead of forcing myself to go out to the clubs for another five hours of music, I admitted defeat and went home. And then, at some later point, I gave myself a break.

Maybe some people could have figured that out on their own, but I needed that diagnosis before I could assess my strengths and weaknesses properly. I needed to know what was going on in my brain before I could ever come to any self-acceptance or understanding.

And so, thanks to my Official Autism badge, I finally realized that I was taking NXNE for all I was worth. And then, when it became too much for me and stopped being fun, I went home and watched some TopGear to relax.

It might not sound like much, but it sure beats crying at The Horseshoe at 3am and not knowing why.

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In The Club

June 13, 2011

While the outside of a nightclub is clearly terrifying for my crippling low self-esteem and self-loathing, the inside is actually a lot more perilous from an autism perspective. Loud music! Personal Space Issues! Socialization! Here’s my lazy, so-late-it-barely-matters-anymore recap of my night as an autistic club kid.

Loud Music

Although I had to beg my mom to turn the music down when I was a teen, my sensitivity to sound is relatively minor. I’ve never felt overstimulated by music. Loud sounds are only really upsetting when they’re a surprise. I can (and regularly do) attend concerts without any major issues.

I am, however, no good at having a conversation while loud music is playing in the background. I can’t always separate the tone of a person’s voice from the overall sound and, even if I could, I can’t really process the conversation as quickly as I would be able to if there weren’t any outside stimulants. Which is all for the best, because I have problems moderating the tone of my voice at the best of times, so even when I can attempt to be part of a normal club conversation, no one can ever hear me.

I solved this by…

Personal Space Issues

…leaning right into people and yelling into their ears! Because taking an autistic person’s unique concept of personal space and mixing it with alcohol can’t go wrong!

Socialization

For the first hour, I watched everyone else in our party get approached by guys. Then one particularly confident and focused gent strutted up to our bench and sat right down beside me… so that he could talk to the girl who had been sitting on the other side of me. I handled the slight with dignity (or, um, loudly declaring myself a Liz Lemon and high-fiving a million angels) but it’s not exactly the biggest ego boost when you’re the only undesirable in the group.

I have three theories to explain my lack of male attention:

1. I was wearing glasses. And while Dorothy Parker’s line doesn’t necessarily apply to a city soaked in hipsters (who stole my look), it still might be accurate in Niagara Falls.

2. Although I was not hideous enough to be turned away at the door, I’m still only slightly hotter than a middlingly sexy version of Odo from Deep Space 9 at the best of times.

Hello, boys.

3. Boys apparently complained to the bride to be that some of the girls in her party were stuck up and just hanging out with each other and weren’t friendly. This could have been me. I haven’t exactly mastered the art of open body language and my shyness has often been mistaken for aloofness.

At some point, the boys either ran out of other options or I magically appeared less accidentally bitchy and they started to talk to me. Here are some actual conversations that I had with strange men who may have wanted to get into my Starfleet uniform:

Boy: Hello ladies! Where are you from?

Me: Toronto.

Boy: Oh.

and

Boy: Hello! How are you?

Me: I’m married!

Eventually, one sweet, nerdy and impossibly young boy took a fancy to me. I gave him a lovely speech about the possibilities of youth and how he had so many years ahead of him to make stupid mistakes and have bizarre adventures. He asked me why I was talking like I was old. Then a security guard came up to us and said that he looked better in stripes than I did.

I doubt a neurotypical could make any more sense of that than I have.

Actually, he suggested that I try it out to test my suspicions about the whole scene.

I rarely get invited out to clubs. I think most of my friends, even the ones who don’t officially know that I have autism, just assume that I’m a little awkward and nerdy and not the type of person who would want to go to a club, so they don’t ask. The truth is, though, that my only real problem with clubs – aside from music snobbery –  is that I have always been convinced that I’d be turned away at the door because I’m not attractive enough. I simply wanted to spare myself the humiliation.

I explained this to my therapist and he said that maybe I should actually give it a shot. He seemed to think that I might be surprised by the results. I told him that I’d consider it at some undetermined date in the future and then promptly forgot about it.

My assignment was the last thing on my mind when one of my oldest and best friends invited me to tag along to her friend’s bachelorette in Niagara Falls. I just wanted to hang out with her. And I wanted to be in Niagara Falls, because I love that city in the absurd obsessive way that only an Aspie can. It wasn’t until well into the evening that I realized I had accomplished my goal. “Hey!” I yelled above the Britney remix as I stole a cupcake from a neighbouring VIP booth. “My therapist told me to do this!”

For the record, my therapist did not tell me to steal cupcakes at a club. My second martini told me to do that. But when I told my therapist about it today, he didn’t seem to think that it was a bad idea, either. At least he didn’t admonish me for it. I’m going to take that as an endorsement of sorts.

Anyway, I made it past the door pretty well. My virulently low self-esteem still believes that I was only let in because I was with a group of women who were rather attractive, but, at the very least, the bouncer didn’t think that I looked much like my ID. Given the photos on my health card and passports, I consider that promising. “I like to tell people that I look like Charlize Theron on my ID,” I told the bouncer. “Unfortunately, I look like her when she was in Monster.”

The bouncer barely grunted in response as he shooed me in.

So the good news is that I am not so shockingly ugly that I can’t get into clubs. And that is good news, indeed, because I clearly can’t rely on my wit to get me past the door.