Is Twitter a Toxic Environment?

I love twitter; it’s my social media platform of choice. I have a Facebook account but I don’t use it for anything other than sharing fun stuff with my family. As my parents use it and read/comment on EVERYTHING I post it’s a heavily edited and censored version of me. My parents still don’t know about my AS diagnosis, as far as they know I’m the same old “normal” son I’ve always been.

On Twitter I have a cabal of interesting people I follow, a caucus of weird people who follow me and a junta of people I respect and occasionally see other people re-tweeting. For the most part Twitter is fun and I can be truer to myself than on any other social media platform. However it’s not without its problems. On more than one occasion I’ve fallen foul of “Twitter etiquette” or been set upon by the baying hounds of some Twitter lynch mob just because I had the audacity to either disagree with someone – or agree with the wrong person!

My current Twitter account is at least my 5th – I say “at least” because I’ve honestly lost track. I’ve deleted accounts when I’ve been picked on so many times. People might tell me to “man up” but I can’t. My aspie side hates conflict and I can’t stand it when I think people dislike me.

I try VERY HARD to be likable. I’m VERY OPEN to alternative lifestyles. I DO NOT CARE if you are Black, White, Straight, Gay, Cis, Trans, Male, Female or a Yellow polka-dotted bisexual tribble! As long as you’re a decent person I’ll probably get along with you. Unfortunately my eagerness to “get along with people” has been misinterpreted on more than one occasion. I know I can be a little “invasive” and I try to curb this.. but if I see something I agree/disagree with I’ll usually respond to the person who tweeted it originally. I’ll often mistake twitter conversation for friendship and a friendly “hey you look good today!” tweet from me comes across as a creepy perverted tweet to another.

I had one ex-follower recently accuse me of being a pervert and a “chaser” (I still don’t fully understand this..) to another friend and encouraged my friend to “be careful” and “steer clear”. Thankfully my friend disagreed with this person’s opinions and stood up for me in my absence. Unfortunately the spreader of this toxic accusation had MANY MANY followers who took up arms and picked on me, my friend and mutual friends. So much so they drove my new friend off twitter, blocked me and anyone I followed and who disagreed with them and spent the next few days rubbishing anything and everything I’d ever done via poisonous subtweets. After that, I deleted my account (again) and was very careful about who I let in.

Speaking as an Aspie, I find the terse 140 character limit very problematic. I find it very difficult to read subtext in such a small piece of text. I can’t always pick up on irony or sarcasm; sometimes I’ll read the gist of a tweet wrong and comment inappropriately. It’s not easy to read the mind of anyone from the contents of their tweet, not just for aspies but for anyone.

Another problem with Twitter is its lack of any form of control. Anyone can form a twitter account and say anything they like, admittedly inflammatory or racist comments get picked up EVENTUALLY but usually too late. The number of far right, islamophobic, homophobic, anti-female, anti-male, anti-science, anti-common-sense twitter accounts out there is staggering. Then you have “The Eggs” the accounts who’s only purpose to throw a bucket of steaming hot poison into the room then vanish. They pop up like a rash, Egg or Pepe the frog accounts with random names just to insult someone and cause a ruckus (or fan the flames of an existing ruckus and pour gasoline on the fire!) because there’s an anonymity that makes people think they’re untouchable. I’m @CopernicusCF on twitter. Copernicus, you’ll be surprised to hear, isn’t my real name! I’m loathe to put my real name on twitter or anywhere else where it could be used to track me, my wife, my family or my friends down.

If only Twitter would open up the verified account mark for EVERYONE who supplies proof of id. You wouldn’t need to use your real name, but JUST have your account linked to an identifiable person in the background. Then they could add an extra filter to say only see tweets from verified users. Ok this in itself wouldn’t rid twitter of ALL the bile, but it would dissuade some of these more vocal hate mongers from spewing their vile bile over the internet. But it’s not in Twitter’s interest to do this. They don’t want to limit users access and of course there’s the screams of “Hey free speech and all that! You grok me Earthman?” any time any mention of a filter is suggested.

I’m not for limiting the right of any user to say whatever they want.. I’m just saying we don’t necessarily need to see it in our daily feeds.

 

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.

Positively Autistic: A List of (Positive) Autistic Traits

I just had to reblog this for my friends who read my wittering’s! So much of this could be used to describe me and it’s immensely refreshing to see these “quirks” portrayed as positives! Anyone who knows me will see me reflected here !

The rest of the blog is really interesting too! You should *really* go check it out!

UPDATE
Since I moved hosts I’ve noticed some of my re-blogged posts are missing. Where possible I’ve gone back and found the original site but alas not always have searches proved fruitful. Luckily I found this one and present a link to the original article here.

Stranger, Darker Better : Positively Autistic: A List of (Positive) Autistic Traits

The UK General Election 2017

So the UK General Election 2017 is over bar some grumbling, analysis and backroom political negotiations. I feel I can raise my head above the parapet again however the last month or so has been very difficult.

We humans, we’re an odd bunch really. We get so involved in supporting our side, be that football or politics and with the advent of social media everyone is now able to scream into the void with their opinions. That in itself would be bad enough, except there’s this odd compulsion to verbally assault and denigrate anyone who differs from your personal world view.

The vehemence and vitriol being poured forth from ALL sides has been hard to deal with as an Aspie. People assume we have no empathy and are dead soulless robot math machines. It’s so far from the truth; I’m a deeply empathic person. I would go so far as saying my problem is TOO empathic. I pick up on negativity and feel it deeply and intensely.

Like the Scottish referendum and the Brexit referendum afterwards, this election has polarised the country into two (or three, or four.. but two main combatants) warring factions firing off insults with “startling precision like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition” (thank Tim Minchin for that XD)  It’s been increasingly difficult keeping one’s head down and not getting caught up in the cross fire.

As of writing this article, the polls suggest a hung parliament, with no one party in complete control. We’re facing another period of uncertainty as back room negotiations manoeuvre for power. My political leanings are my own, but let it be known I’m in favour of supporting our NHS, I’m against leaving Europe and I’m quite fond of the human rights act as it stands thank you very much! So needless to say I’m not too enamoured with the Conservative party and had hoped the collective forces of common sense would have ousted them. They’re weakened now, but not dead yet. And this is fuel for the fire of UK wide hatred.

We need to get over this and do the only thing that is truly good for the UK, all work together to ensure that NO MATTER the final result we’re all looking out for each and every one else.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Blue, Red, Yellow or Green or if you voted for Elmo or Buckethead. In the end we’re all in this country together, we all have a duty to our fellow man.

We all need to work together and stop the insults. They do more harm than you think.

Music, meditation, mindfulness, and Me.

Fellow aspies and non-aspies alike often suffer from the self-same problem, namely an overabundance or busy thoughts bouncing around our cramped overloaded brains all clamouring for attention. I guess ASD people perceive themselves to suffer more as they’re that little more susceptible to the negative effects. However, it’s something EVERYONE has to deal with at one point or another and in today’s high octane, high stress, low downtime environment finding quiet time is becoming increasingly more and more important.

As a child/young adult I loved the invention of the Sony Walkman. I’d never leave the house without mine and a collection of cassettes. Later the Sony Discman came out and again, I’d walk around with this oversized tea plate of a device strapped to my side and a collection of my precious CD’s . Thank heavens for the invention of the MP3 is all I can say.

To me, music was a means to escape – a bolthole for when things got too much. Although I listened to pretty much anything and everything my music tastes veered more to Classical music, repetitive tracks like Philip Glass or Steve Reich, complex layered pieces from the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre or Jazz from practitioners like Stan Getz et al.  I liked music I could get lost in, music that took me away from my immediate surroundings and gave me something to think about other than my current anxieties.

I remember listening to a self-hypnosis CD. It wasn’t music, it didn’t have vocals or anything but it was a rich layered abstract environment with overlapping elements of Whale song, synthetic drone sounds, chimes, discordant sounds and choral voices. I loved it! I would listen to this while lying on a bed in a darkened room and my mind would drift off into a strange daydream like state, totally focussed on the sounds but unlinked from reality. For the 30 or so minutes it played I would be totally relaxed and calm and the myriad voices in my head would be quietened. 

Flash-forward many years and I started making these sort of “music” pieces myself for my own benefit. I put music in quotes there because it’s anything BUT musical XD. I’m a mathematician, a programmer, an electronics engineer but most certainly NOT a musician.  I wrote software to generate midi keyboard signals based on musical theory (a mathematical concept) , Chord progressions too I incorporated  (again, another mathematical concept) –When you boil it down, you realise just how mathematical musical composition is ! I’d no real talent at composition but my semi-random plinks and plonks seemed pleasing enough.

I investigated binaural beat theory. I’m dubious about all their claims of Binaural (or Isochronic) beat technology being able to “Open the third eye, Activate astral projection or ensure lucid dreaming” instead I simply found the strange oscillating, pulsating sounds oddly soothing. Whether or not they were actually affecting my Alpha, Beta, Theta or Gamma brainwaves as they claim I have no idea – but they did relax me.

Later in conversation with a friend who was going through a rough patch I mentioned I did these for my own benefit and he showed an interest. Then another, and another.  Ultimately I polished my technique and made a few tracks which I released on Soundcloud.

As I say I’m not a professional musician – I’m not even an amateur musician XD I like listening to these as a means to relax. I find I become very focussed on the music and my random thoughts quieten down. I drift through strange landscapes where thunder and lightning mix with Tibetan bowls and choirs singing vocal aaahs and ooohs!
   I make no claims about my “creations” other than they’re vaguely and strangely relaxing.

If you are interested you can check them out here.

 

 

Me and The Mask

No, this isn’t a discussion of my personal feelings regarding the Jim Carrey movie (although, for better or worse, I quite like it.. Let’s just agree to never talk about the sequel though ok?)

No, the mask in question is this one *points to face* what? You don’t see a mask? Perfect! Just the way it should be. You should look at me and ne’er give me a second glance. You should cast your eyes upon my unremarkable mediocre visage and pass on without a second thought. I should merge seamlessly into the sea of anonymous faces, never standing out.

The mask I wear hides who I really am. After 47 years of being an aspie – actually no, technically after 1 year of being aspie and 46 years of being a very confused individual – I’ve learnt to hide my inner true self. I hark back to the conversation of the previous week ( see blog post Oh Dear…. for details) where a colleague told me I couldn’t possibly be on the autistic spectrum as I was “not weird enough” I suppose I should be happy that it’s working so well.

Unfortunately, I have to present a false front to my shabby interior. We’re all judged daily by people we know and people we don’t. Walk onto a bus and within seconds someone has probably made a snap judgement about who you are and what sort of person you might be. I get treated differently when I’m in my work suit and tie opposed to my scruffy weekend gear. How do you think I’d be received if people who didn’t know me suddenly realised I’m “not right in the head” (not my words – overheard on a bus recently about another passenger)

Masking is dangerous. It puts us under incredible stress and strain. Constantly being on guard and pretending to be someone else every waking moment is hard. Constantly worrying about letting your pretence of normality slip for a second makes me very anxious. Of course, I can’t SHOW this anxiety, no I have to bottle it up as well. Apply the plastic broad smile and artificial twinkle in my eyes. I have to laugh and joke with everyone like I don’t have a care in the world when in reality I’d dead and dry as dust inside.

It’s tiring being someone you’re not, which is why my wife is so important to me. She’s one of the few people who know ME – Not the fake public me, but the frail broken shy private me. She’s got the keys to my inner enclave. She’s seen the face behind the mask and covered it in loving kisses. I feel safe around her. She is my strength and my anchor.

Unfortunately I can’t carry her around with me every minute of every day. I have to work, interact with people, deal with problems and strangers and that great messy uncontrolled tangle that is London. As much as I hate it, I need the mask.

Time to put the mask on again and face the world from behind its protection.

How do I feel?

Smokin’

 

the-mask-world-cup-630x349

A letter to my younger selves

Imagine writing a series to letters to be sent back in time to yourself at previous points in your life. What would you say to yourself?

Dear 7yr Old Peter,

Hi, It’s Pete here. I’m you from 40 years in the future. I’m just writing to say hi and to let you know you’re going to be ok in School. You’ll be, what?, in 2nd year of Primary school at the moment ? I know you don’t like school very much on account of the bullying. You won’t always be the smallest person in the class, in fact by the time you go to high school you’ll be the tallest.  I know you don’t like many people in your class. But it’s ok. Things will get better. Not for a while I’m afraid to say, but they will get better. I know you feel different, you are but not in a bad way. You won’t know for a long time but you’re on the Autistic Spectrum. It means you find some things like making friends difficult but you’ll find you’re better at other things too. I know Mum and Dad shout at you when you get your homework wrong. It’s ok. They know how clever you are and are just trying to push you to do your best. Pity they’re doing it all the wrong way but it’s not because they think you’re stupid but because they think you’re clever and can do better. You know, after high school you’ll go to college and then university and you’ll become a Mathematician! Imagine that!! Mum and Dad are so proud of you, they may not tell you now but they will.. when you’re older.

Are you still playing with Lego ? In a few years Mum is going to give all your Lego away to our young cousin. I know I’m still angry about that. But you know what’s funny? When you leave university and get a job you buy more Lego that you ever have now ! At least that’s something to look forward to.

Oh and another thing, in a few years in the early 1980’s you’ll get a toy called a ‘Rubik Cube’ trust me you’re going to LOVE THAT!

Anyway I must go. Keep reading those science fiction books. In the future getting books is so much easier. I know the local village library isn’t very good but by the time you’re 18 you’ll have so many second hand books you’ll break the bedroom wall ! Dad will shout about it then, but we both laugh about it now.

Take care, stick in at school, And I’ll write to you again in a few years. Say hi to Kaye for me 😉

I’ll just stick this in the post. Hmm I might have time for another one to a later version of me..

Dear 17 year old Peter,

Hey! It’s me again! I know it’s been 10 years since I last wrote. It’s not easy writing letters to be delivered back in time. The postage is EXTORTIONATE ! haha. So, secondary school eh? And what you’ll be in 5th or 6th year now I suppose? You’ve been doing ok with your exams if I remember? And you’re library monitor now , albeit unofficially.  Sorry to hear you’re still getting bullied but congratulations on getting over your stammer ! You may not have liked it at the time, but the speech therapist sending you to the school acting club really helped! I see you like to hang around with the clever kids. They’re nice but they really don’t think you’re one of them you know. In few weeks they’ll all be voted in as Prefects. They’ll all vote for each other but I’m sorry to say no one will vote for you. I know you try to fit in but you’re still too “odd” for them. I wish you had been diagnosed earlier but you still won’t be diagnosed for nearly another 30 years! I’m sorry, people are just going to think you’re strange for a bit longer. At least the Doctors are looking into your Anosmia now! I know it took a while for them to realise. You’re not very good at communicating things yet. I know all those tests etc are unpleasant. I hate to tell you they never find a cure, turns out that it was due to you being so premature. Maybe that explains why we’re so “different” in other ways too? Who knows.

But.. whoo hoo.. if I remember correctly. Didn’t you get your first girlfriend recently? I forget her name but I remember her hand me down fur coat she’d wear to school. She was picked on a lot too. You called her “Teddy bear” and she called you “Specs” it won’t last I’m afraid but there will be others, few and far between granted but there will be others! You even get married later! But again that’s not for 23 years !

How you getting on with the cube? You’ve got a few now don’t you? And you’ve asked Dad to put bigger shelves up above the bed for all your books? I’d warn you not to overload them, but I know you won’t listen. Never mind, the sight of you buried under a pile of books will be a joke you and dad share in later years.

Oh, and how many LP’s and Cassettes do you have now? In a few years at University you’ll get a thing called a CD player. It plays things like little silver records. You and your sensitive hearing will LOVE the sound quality.

What else to say? Oh yeah. Don’t feel bad about flunking your 1st driving test.  You’re still young. Heck I’m 47 and I’ve just failed again too XD I won’t tell you how many times that is now.

Anyway must dash and get this in the post. I’ll write you again in a decade or so.

Pete.

Ps. Yeah, btw, you’ll drop the ‘R’ from your name when in Uni. Mum will still call you Peter. Heck she still refuses to call me anything but Peter!

Time’s getting on. Maybe I’ll write to my 27 and 37 year old selves in a few days.. Anyway I’m off to watch Doctor Who…

Known by many, loved by few.

That’s a twist on a regular diagnosis of ADHD sufferers (something, thankfully, I don’t suffer from) the typical way of describing someone with ADHD is ““known by all but liked by none” which is actually quite cruel if you consider it for a moment.

I read that and considered my own interaction with friends. I’ve only known about my Aspergers for about a year now but as a child I didn’t make friends easily. If there was a pecking order for bullies then I was at the very bottom of the pile. I was bullied mercilessly by everyone including some of the female students.  I had a terrible speech defect (to some extent I still have it, although 47 years of practice means I hide it very well) and kids (being the cruel little monsters they are) picked up on it and all through primary and secondary school my nickname was “Stutter”

Not everyone was a monster or a bully though. There was one girl, Kaye – sigh – I honestly thought we’d marry back then. Ah the innocence of childhood eh! Of course, to marry it is USUALLY preferable for affection to work BOTH ways XD Not being very good at reading emotions I didn’t actually pick up on that. I always got the impression she “liked me” but probably much in the same way as a child likes a dumb dog or cute idiotic little hamster hehe.

Anyway, we grew up. One cannot prevent that no matter how one tries. Primary School gave way to High School, High School gave way to University, and University gave way to the endless trudge of working for a living.

For 47 years I’ve found making (and more importantly keeping) friends very difficult. I’m what can only be described as “odd” or “peculiar”. I’m prone to emotional outbursts and don’t like letting people into my internal “fortress of solitude”. I’m standoffish and shy, bordering on rude at times.

I don’t like social events, I don’t like lots of people milling around or chatting (see my previous post for a recent example) so naturally I don’t tend to socialise much.

The fact that I somehow met a woman who loved me enough to see past my hang-ups to actually marry me is amazing. But she’s a social butterfly. She dances, she goes to the WI (Woman’s Institute) , she has MANY MANY friend who she contacts and visits regularly. Me?  I have her.

Well, ok I DO have other friends. People from University I feel comfortable around. They were my best man and ushers at my wedding. I never contact them, never see them, occasionally I’ll post something on my Facebook page that mentions them but I know they’re there. They’re not expecting me to chat or call. (When I do occasionally telephone I’m always at a loss for things to say anyway XD)

Then there’s my circle of VF’s (Virtual Friends.. a term my wife coined for me) These are people I chat with on Twitter. They have names, they ALL have names, but we don’t use them. It’s all MightyMycroft this and Diceman3000 that or BizarroMan10 the other (Those names are made up btw) there’s a level of detachment about them. Doesn’t mean they’re not important to me. They are. But they’re not “REAL” in the tactile sense. I’ve never met any of them, I have no intention to ever meet any of them, I care about them and their problems. Even going as far as helping them out when problems strike, but they don’t REALLY know me. They know a VERSION of me. Edited and spell checked (mostly) , Puns carefully thought out and delivered with rapier sharp (but controlled, planned and restrained) intellect . They get the cardboard cut-out of me complete with sound bites and bad jokes. They get the image I project onto Twitter. It’s no more me that the image on a movie screen is the actual actor whose movie you’re watching. It’s two dimensional and ever so slightly fake.

I have my wife but am I lonely? Perhaps? Yes AND No. I know that’s a contradiction but I like my solitude. I like going to the movies by myself, I like going to Cosplay conventions on my own. But part of me aches for the connection. I see friends playing online together, or meeting up at games conventions and the likes. I want to be able to share in that warmth but I can’t I’m too isolated. It’s a barrier I can’t get over. I have my soul mate in my wife; I should be content with that.

Sadly part of me is still that 8 year old boy standing on the edge of the playground watching other kids have fun playing chase and wishing I could join in.

Of Meltdowns and Men

(My apologies to John Steinbeck)

Well, what can I say? I’m an aspie and I have pronounced aspie traits. I’m 47 years old and tend not to throw tantrums these days when things get a bit out of hand, however that doesn’t mean I’m 100% immune from the looming spectre of the dreaded aspie meltdown.

At the weekend my wife and I drove from London to the Guilford area for a friend’s 50th birthday bash. Although I was hesitant and somewhat dubious about going to a party I decided to attend because (a) I like the friend in question (one of my Wife’s oldest friends I’ve ‘adopted’) and (b) I thought I could handle it.. After all how bad could it be?

Oh dear!

We arrived at the venue and it was quite small with benches round the outside and a couple of tables with buffet foods laid out. They were playing 80’s pop hits on the sound system and it was all very cosy and friendly – initially! Not everyone had arrived yet and we were some of the first people to turn up. More and more people started to arrive and floor space began to get eaten up. I found myself being unintentionally ushered up against the wall between a bench and the buffet while people split off into groups and chatted noisily around me. My wife is off chatting to some old friends and I’m standing there, trapped with no route out.. no, that’s incorrect, I had a route out. I just needed to say “Excuse me” and move. Of course, 20/20 hindsight is a wondrous thing. No instead I stood there feeling increasingly more and more anxious while being bombarded by music too loud for the size of the venue and the oppressive mix of multiple conversations battering my senses.

My wife looked over and her face dropped. I didn’t realise it at the time but according to her “post mortem” of the situation I’d started rocking and fidgeting with my fingers and cuffs. My “tell” is when I start constantly wringing my fingers over and over while keeping my arms tight up against my chest. When I’m really stressed I rock back and forth slightly, the faster I rock , the more stressed I’m getting.

I was at the brink of screaming when my wife grabbed me by the arm and guided me out to a quieter back area of the café/bar where the party was being held. But alas the damage was done. I was shaking, I became non vocal, was rocking violently and was chewing on my fingers.

People kept coming over to see if I was ok, unfortunately sitting down next to me and putting their arm around me didn’t help my feeling of being trapped. My tactile defensiveness was cranked up to 11. In the end, the proprietor of the establishment let me out the back of the bar – there was NO way I’d be able to walk through the crowd again. Luckily My wife and I were staying in a hotel across the road for the night so I had a bolt hole. I dread to think what would have happened if we were driving home or were staying miles from the party venue.

I felt awful. Not only had I ruined my night, I’d (perceived) to have ruined my wife’s night, my wife’s friend’s night and the night of her guests. As it transpires my wife informed them of my problem and they were all quite understanding.

I hate letting myself down like this. I’m 47, I feel I should be able to cope. I was supposed to be going to the MCM comic con this month but that’s a no go now. I can’t even begin to face several thousand people in a loud crammed exhibition centre.

As I get older I find myself getting increasingly isolationary. I seem to be losing the ability to cope with crowds. It’s a worrying trend and one I need to keep an eye on. Perhaps it’s not just me though? Perhaps other aspies have the same problem. Or perhaps.. going back to John Steinbeck..

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men