In Praise Of Older Diagnosis

June 23, 2011

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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