I mentioned in a previous post I had something I needed to get off my chest, as it were. Now there is no need to panic or worry, I just feel I am comfortable enough now with things to let people know something that some would consider being major about myself.
About 3 or 4 years ago, around my 40th birthday, I was tested, then tested again to confirm and the result confirmed that I am on the autism spectrum, hence the ASD in the title. A decade or so ago it would have been classed as Aspergers, but is now ASD. Whilst I cannot say how it affects everyone I can say how it affected my life. Up until I was tested I had thought, and kinda still do but to a MUCH lesser degree, that I was mentally damaged, that I was unlikeable/unlovable for being “the weird kid/person”. In hindsight, it affected my childhood, teens and adult relationships so much more then I thought. I genuinely believed that there was something flawed with me, that I was a genetic mistake, should not have happened and so on. These days things are a LOT better and those thoughts are practically gone, but the, well, the damage thinking like that has left its mark and I slowly getting to a place where I feel I am comfortable talking about things like this and I feel that RPGs have helped me a ton.
But first, let’s cover my personal downsides to being on the spectrum
- Social interactions, especially on social media, where the tone is missing, is hard..no I mean HARD for me. Every conversation I have I have, be it online or via cameras I have to mentally “re-read” before I respond as I know I can and sometimes do, take things the wrong way or personally. Example: Someone might say something that others would take at face value, as was intended, but then my brain goes “But what if they mean this, they MUST be talking about you otherwise why say it”. This gets very tiring very quickly and the capacity for misunderstanding/misinterpreting things is high. There are days when I simply CANNOT not take something personally, even when it was never directed at me. Then you factor in the second-guessing of yourself it compounds the issue “Did I say something that upset that person and I’m not noticing?”. This made relationships especially difficult. Not impossible, but If I had known then what I know now, well, I wouldn’t be single let’s just say that 🙂
- Overstimulation – Going out, especially in large crowds is difficult. For many, ASD is a sensory processing issue. It can feel like your brain is “pulling too much information in” from your senses. It’s not that the shop, for example, is loud, but your brain is trying to listen to ALL the sounds, to smell ALL the smells, to deal with ALL the people all whilst your own internal thoughts are racing along at 88 mph.
- Emotional states – Irritability. Aggression. Hyperactivity. Attention problems. Anxiety and depression. I don’t think I can remember any-day of my life where I have not felt one of these to a lesser degree or not. Now I know all people get these from time to time, but with for some like me with ASD this can be rapid changes between them, sometimes, almost paradoxically, opposing ones at the same time. Combined with the above two points it can make some days feel amazing, but even the act of going down to the shops for food a stressful experience if done when “mentally unprepared”. It’s why some with ASD hate a change to routine. It introduces another chaotic element into what is, mentally speaking, a mind that can at times be compared to a raging tempest and you are attempting to steer it to a safe port…then someone comes along and says “oh yeah the port is closed we’re going to another one now. Hope you don’t mind?”
Now quite rightly, you might be thinking “Chris, whilst this is all very interesting what the flip does this have to do with RPGs?” – Well, reader, I am getting there, context and all that jazz.
- Social Interactions – RPGs are, even in the most combat oriented, a social game. There are rules, sometimes clearly defined or sometimes not. Even in the ones that don’t have a clear definition, most groups have a form of “house rule” to do so. This makes life so much easier for those with ASD. Clearly defined rules for the most part) on what can be done and what cant. Why is this person doing that, what you should be doing and so on. Knowing what needs to be done in a situation and that everyone else is on the same page is a great stabiliser and vastly reduces the feeling of misunderstanding, from both sides of the coin. I know that, with minor variations, the dragon can fly and breathe stuff, the sneaky rogue can do back-stab, the wizard can cast spells and I can expect the barbarian to rage at some point.
- Overstimulation – As I play virtually all of my games online, there is so much, not comfort, but I can 100% control my immediate environment. Too windy? I close the window. Too bright? I can dim the lights or even turn it off. As I mentioned above, playing the games from home means the environment is under MY control. The worst I have to deal with at home is a surprise visit from the cat 🙂
- Emotional States – This is a difficult one to quantify. I run two rpgs, a Star Trek Adventures and D&D 5e game on alternating weeks. – Before every game, especially when i started I get worried and stressed – “What if they like this, what if they are simply humouring me. being patronising and saying they like it for some reason (point #1 in the top lists striking again)”. During the game am fine (for the most part), then afterwards it’s “Gah…that was shite. I could have done better…I bet they hated it etc etc”. Now I know that that is something many GMs experience, but combined with #1 again, you can see how that compounds things. Why do I mention this then? Well, that thought/feeling has been getting less and less with time. If you say that when I started it was at level 100, now it’s at an 80 or so. I *know* I am going to feel like the game was worthless afterwards, but a good nights sleep and that feeling/intrusive thought has reduced it down to 20 or less. It will never go away but be reduced to such a quiet level that it can be ignored. In my STA game, I introduced a Romulan cloaking expert who, If I am brutally honest, has the same characteristic as myself, or at least how I see myself. If you ever watch the VODs keep an eye out for her.
Now I know some will say/think “oooh he’s just doing this for attention and wants to be treated special” – Let me assure you… I don’t. There are days when I would sell an internal organ to be an NT (neurotypical). But then I wouldn’t be the person I am today, gaming with some frankly amazing people.
But I won’t lie, somedays, well, some days I do wonder how things would have turned out if I didn’t have this. and RPGs help me to explore the “what if” side of things.
And for that, I shall be eternally grateful to those who take the time and be patient with me to a level i don’t think you’ll ever truly understand.
Now please excuse me, I need to find out where that ninja is cutting onions 😉