My Love/Hate Relationship with Concerts: Stimming Joy & Sensory Overload

I’ve loved music as long as I can remember… from singing along to “Shout” by Tears for Fears on MTV before I could properly talk to stim-listening to the same Manic Street Preachers song repeatedly, music has featured in my life in one way, shape or form.

My first ever concert experience was 25 years ago today – 15th July 1993 at Melody Fair Theatre in North Tonawanda, New York.  I was 8 years old and attended The Moody Blues “A Night at Red Rocks” tour, my first outing alone with my parents since my brother was born a little over four years prior (he stayed with my grandparents while we went to the concert)… I remember feeling really excited to get the alone time with my parents, and I really liked The Moody Blues’ music.

(Before anyone decides to poke fun or anything, how many 8-year-olds do you know with their own taste in music that was not at all influenced by their parents?)

Because this was 25 years ago and I’ve slept a lot since then, I only remember snippets from the whole experience.  Melody Fair had a circular stage in the middle of a dome-shaped structure which slowly rotated throughout the concert (the stage, not the building!)… at one point as the band rotated past us, bassist John Lodge waved at me!  I remember one of my foam earplugs fell out (knowing me, I was probably fiddling with it because it felt funny or something) and I couldn’t believe how loud it was.  I looked to my dad for help and he whisked me out of my seat to the rear of the auditorium to put my earplug back in and settle me down.  We went back in and enjoyed the rest of the show.  I loved the feeling of being immersed in the music and seeing a band that I had only ever seen in music videos on TV in person.

We didn’t know back then that I was autistic or had sensory sensitivities; my dad was acting as a concerned and attentive parent, ensuring that his young daughter’s hearing was protected.

Fast forward 25 years.

I can’t remember how many concerts I’ve been to, but I’ve seen The All-American Rejects nine times between 2003-2012 and Manic Street Preachers nine times as well between 2010-2018, so that’s at least 18 concerts… Roger Waters three times (twice The Wall 2011 & 2013 and once US+THEM 2018)… Flight of the Conchords twice (2010 & 2018)… you get the picture.

The phrase “I like going to concerts” is a bit of a misnomer.  Being a pedantic amateur linguist, the more accurate phrase for me would be “I like actually being in my seat and watching the show in my own little bubble and ignoring the rest of the world around me while immersed in the music & lights”.  I have continued with wearing earplugs to concerts, more recently really enjoying using Flare Audio Isolate Mini earplugs, as the sound isn’t muffled and you end up listening through bone conduction.  The rumbling bass and pounding drumbeats reverberate through me and the lighting is colourful and fun to watch.  Being at the concert itself is a full-body stimming experience, which may be overwhelming for some, but when in the right headspace, I love it.

However, it’s the before and after that almost always ruins the enjoyable experience for me.

I’ll use our most recent experience attending the Flight of the Conchords show in Birmingham a few weeks ago as a prime example of what I struggle with most.

We were in the midst of the seemingly neverending heatwave in the UK… temperatures were between 84-90°F (29-32°C).  Very little breeze.  Not really humid, but quite uncomfortable.  My husband and I arrived at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) complex in Birmingham, parked the car and walked towards Genting Arena.  It felt like it was taking absolutely ages to get to our destination… the heat certainly wasn’t helping things.  We stopped to get something to eat about 3/4 of the way to the arena itself at The Piazza within the NEC itself.  Even going inside, there was no respite from the heat – no air conditioning, no real air movement at all.  The restaurant we stopped at wasn’t very busy to start, but quite soon loads more people arrived and the quiet table we had to ourselves soon had people sitting at every other table near us, and because they were quite close together, individuals would invariably brush past or bump into me as they were walking to their tables from ordering within the restaurant.  Once or twice, I could forgive, but by the fifth or sixth time, it was getting my hackles up, especially as I was still trying to finish my dinner.  As soon as we were finished, we moved away from the restaurant’s seating area and sat at another small table in the Piazza’s open area, spending a little time catching up on Facebook and the news in general for several minutes before heading to the arena.

The walk to the arena wasn’t too bad, other than having to negotiate walking around pairs and small groups of people, which isn’t easy when you have subtle proprioceptive difficulties and somewhat dyspraxic tendencies that are exacerbated by being fatigued and overheated.

Following the Manchester Arena attack last year, security checks at concert venues have been ramped up, which I’m absolutely fine with; however, I am always very self-conscious when I find myself fumbling with the zippers on my rucksack and there’s a queue of people behind me watching, as well as the security officer waiting for me to get my bag open… this little spike of anxiety makes me less dexterous and fumble more, which I then think makes me look guilty somehow, even though I know I’m not bringing anything dangerous or illegal in with me.

Once beyond security, the overwhelm begins.  The arena’s Forum Live area is “the place to grab some food, meet friends for a drink and listen to some fantastic unsigned acts on the Forum Live stage before the main event”… food stands, alcohol purveyors, merchandise stands, music performers, and even charity collectors from Guide Dogs UK – the poor dogs looked so miserable, it was so loud and hot.  There were people everywhere… it was so noisy, and trying to navigate through the crowd was causing another anxiety spike.  We joined a sort-of organised crowd queue system in front of the merchandise stand, which gave us time to have a look at what was available to buy.  I settled on a set of enamel pins – Bret & Jemaine’s faces and a stylised FOTC logo like the pop art LOVE sculpture.

After getting a pint of cider, we found our seats and settled in for the show.  I finally was able to settle down and feel calm.

Eugene Mirman opened the show and was very funny.  Having seen him in FOTC’s HBO show and being a voice actor for shows like Archer and Bob’s Burgers, it was a bit surreal to see him in person.

The Conchords took the stage to a warm reception from the crowd.  The stage set was very simple – a couple of chairs, microphones and their instruments (including a piano) – and the plain backdrop behind the duo acted as a canvas for a colourful PARcan light show.  The show itself was absolutely brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it… some new songs we’d never heard before mixed in with several familiar tunes from the TV show.

Then the show ended and it was time to depart.  The difference between the NEC and the NIA (now Arena Birmingham) is that the NEC, while near the Birmingham International Airport railway station, I don’t think many people travelled by train; due to the show’s scheduled end time, the last train would have already left.  The NIA is within short walking distance to both New Street and Snow Hill stations, and thus people tend to disperse in multiple directions from the NIA, whereas from the NEC, it seemed that the majority of people were heading in the same direction towards the car parks.

Walking out of the arena, I kept my earplugs in and I was so glad I did.  Even through my earplugs, it sounded like a cacophony walking through the Forum Live area towards the arena exits, almost like the roar of the ocean in a storm.  I clung to my husband so we didn’t lose each other in the crowd.  As soon as we got outside, I took myself off the footpath onto the grass to catch my breath.  I had to build myself up for the long walk back to the car.

Along the footpath to the car parks, there were pedestrian tunnels and pinch points along the way, which led to the throng of people to stop outright periodically.  Even though it was getting close to 11pm by this point, it was still quite stiflingly warm and I was exhausted… I just wanted to get back to the car.  I didn’t want to be stuck in amongst the crowd of people, hot and sticky and worn out.

When we finally got back to the car, trying to leave was nigh on impossible.  The cars were queuing, pulling out of their car parking spaces cutting others off rudely, and only inching forwards every few minutes.  We were stationary for nearly 45 minutes before we noticed that a second exit to the car park was opened, and we managed to loop the car around to leave that way.  Due to traffic jams (unclear as to the cause), we ended up taking a little detour to get back on the motorway we needed to head home whilst avoiding the long queues on the roads off the NEC campus.

Granted, this was highly unusual and we’ve never experienced a departure from a gig like this… the last time I was stuck leaving an event was easily back when I was still living in Western New York and was trying to leave a Sabres game from downtown Buffalo.

The sensory overwhelm and stress caused by all of this almost made me completely forget about the enjoyable experience I had at the show itself.

My biggest frustration is that being autistic and having sensory needs is not quite recognised by venues like this, nor even by government support offices (I tried applying for Personal Independence Payments to have evidence of need for access, but was declined because I’m too capable of looking after myself… that will be another blog for another day).  The NEC’s website has a section about accessibility for those with physical needs and disabilities, but no indication of how to support autistic guests.  Having a separate accessible entrance & exit and perhaps a shuttle between the car park & venue would have greatly reduced the stress I experienced.  I suppose it’s about raising these kinds of issues and making these venues aware of how they could support guests with invisible disabilities and conditions… but whether they would be open to accommodating us remains to be seen.

15 Reasons I love my Asperger’s / #actuallyautistic friends

Yet again, The Silent Wave has written an amazing post that I identify so much with. If you don’t already follow her, best to get that sorted out pronto. 😉🌸

the silent wave

Discovering the truth about my Asperger’s/autistic identity was in itself a complete life game-changer.  The discovery alone was its own gift, a head-nod from the universe or the cosmos or whatever that said, “you’ve worked hard enough; you’ve earned a little nudge, a little loving push, a little…secret decoder key that will suddenly clarify your entire life such that when you turn this key, your entire life will make sense to you.”

OK, cool.  Glad we’ve established that. 🙂

If the discovery was that monumental a gift, just wait–there’s more!  My Asperger’s/autism discovery and resulting identity had a ripple effect, a perpetual gift that just keeps giving and giving…

And that, my pretties, is that when I found my true identity, I also found my true community.  The place–and the people–to which and to whom I finally feel like I belong.

Over the past several months, I’ve been attempting to…

View original post 2,125 more words

30 Things I’ve learned since learning that I “have” Asperger’s / autism

After a cognitively exhausting two weeks, coming across this has been a relief. I am “my own worst enemy” and even though many people around me say that I need to not be so hard on myself, I recognise that I really need to work on the “being kinder to myself” bit and the “explaining myself in a Spoonie context” bit. 🌸

the silent wave

(To be clear, when I write words like “I ‘have'” and “people ‘with'”, I’m not trying to advocate or emphasize a person-first viewpoint.  Truthfully, I’m very much a proponent of identity-first language; I simply title my posts the way I do (and occasionally use those phrases in the text of the post) to make this blog and its posts more search-engine-friendly, in order to reach–and hopefully help–more people, because they’ll likely use person-first search strings.  OK, with that said, moving forward…)

The last seven-plus months have been a complete game-changer for me (and at least a few others that I know of).  The learning curve has been steep at times, but all the neat positive and encouraging resources, authors, blogs, social media accounts, social media groups, and internet forums out there have all lubricated the uphill climb for me, making for a much easier ascent through the learning process.

The…

View original post 555 more words

‘How can you not hear that??’ communicating sensory difficulties

I have always had sensory sensitivities but never knew that was what they were called; I always felt like others thought I was just being dramatic, so I rarely said anything. It’s nice, in a way, to have these sensory differences acknowledged. 🌸

YennPurkis

I’m not sure if this is the case for anyone else but the older I get, the worse my sensory sensitivities are. I used to be able to eat almost anything and it all tasted good and had a texture which didn’t revolt me. Now I am anxious about going to restaurants in case they have nothing I can happily eat.  I eat exactly the same dish every night unless I get take away, in which case I usually order the same dish! (Except for pizza. I think it’s pretty hard to make pizza horrible). To the horror of my vegetarian, vegan and health conscious friends, the things I am able to eat mostly come from the meat group or the sugar group! I am only 42 so worry that if I get old I might only have one thing I can eat!

I also have an increasingly heightened sense…

View original post 849 more words

My First Special Interest: The Beatles

strawberry-fieldI’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember.  Growing up with a British father pretty much guaranteed that I would be a lifelong fan, though I can’t exactly say that the same follows for a handful of bands my mother liked (*cough* Jethro Tull, for example *cough*).

I grew up in a household with a plethora of CDs and a fair few Rock & Roll Encyclopaedias.  I loved looking at the album artwork for the CDs and through the contained booklets and their photographs and printed lyrics.  I would sit for ages flipping through the rock & roll books and read up on almost anything and everything.  When I worked out the discography order of The Beatles’ albums, I proceeded to listen to them in chronological order (because anything else is sacrilege) in order to immerse myself in the music.  I learned the lyrics with almost encyclopaedic precision.  I can pretty much tell you what album any song is on and what year the album was released.  We had a LaserDisc player when I was growing up – which my husband loves to rib me about because of its now obsolete existence, but I maintain that I was watching HD video before HD was a thing!! – and we had The Beatles films of A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine on LaserDisc, which I would watch frequently and scan back (“rewind”) my favourite lines over and over again to try to pick up their subtle but brilliant British wit.

What always disappointed me though was that not one of my friends in school were as remotely interested in The Beatles as much as I was, if interested at all (*scoff* philistines).  I learned quite early on that when no one else is as interested in the same things as you, you stop waffling on about it because no one will like you.  It was a very tricky thing to suss out and conclude because I desperately wanted someone else to be as excited about The Beatles as I was, but was sorely disappointed that in my very small town (and an equally small selection of peers) I was unable to find that person.  I was grateful that my three closest maternal cousins loved watching A Hard Day’s Night whenever we had a sleepover at our house with them and always laughed along with me at the funniest parts.

When the Anthology series came out in (*gasp*) 1995, little 11-year-old me was entranced and enchanted by the old footage and learning absolutely everything possible about my first favourite band.  I think this is when I first developed my crush on Paul McCartney… it makes me cringe writing that now because he’s 42 years my senior and a crush like that is clearly wholly inappropriate, but I found younger Paul (circa 1964 to 1967) really cute; Let It Be era and beyond? Meh – too beardy, too much mullet.  Now?  Absolutely not, bless him – I’m not one of those women who goes after much older men, especially one who is older than my own father!  I just liked how he looked then, thought he had a very cute face and I think I was intrigued by him being left-handed too (always kinda wished I was ambidextrous).  It’s so hard to explain without feeling absolutely reduced to being 11-years-old again!!  My friend Katherine Uher (formerly known as Green) did an amazing presentation about Romantic Attachments for Girls with ASD at The Autism Show this summer (check out the PowerPoint slides here).  I still like watching old Beatles footage and sometimes just staring at young Paul McCartney’s face… hell, it’s why I chose my husband’s alias on here as Paul!  I don’t mean for it to sound creepy, but I don’t know how else to explain it. 😟

The funny thing though is that when I look back at boys/guys that I’ve had crushes on in the past, with one exception, all guys that I liked sort of fit the young Paul McCartney archetype – tall, lean (not “skinny” as such), dark hair, dark eyes, cute/kind face.  I’d dare to say that my husband fulfils this “criteria”, as it were – I’ve always found him very cute and nice to look at; he does not see himself as being especially handsome, but I tell him frequently that I love him and find him very attractive.  Please do not interpret this as me being superficial or shallow; obviously, he and I have chemistry and matching personality attributes which led us to date and subsequently get engaged and married (five years married, eight years together come January 2017).  What I’m simply saying here (in probably not the most articulate way) is that I have a definite “type”, I suppose.

Of all the non-essential information out there that could possibly occupy the precious real estate of my brain, I think there are definitely worse things to have in there other than having the order of the album releases, the entire scripts of their films (well, maybe not as airtight with Magical Mystery Tour), being able to hear a song and tell you which album it’s on, and having all the lyrics to all of their songs emblazoned in my mind forever.  I’ve always suppressed my feelings of utter geekiness around The Beatles because I never saw anyone else being as deeply interested as I was.  Whilst “my Paul” (husband) understands, appreciates and respects my love of The Beatles and has learned more about them through me, it’s still my own special interest. 😀  We went to Liverpool for my 30th birthday and did a Beatles Fab Four Taxi Tour [highly, highly recommend] and saw many important Beatles landmarks in Liverpool – categorically the best birthday ever!!  The Strawberry Field photo at the top is from our trip, as well as the two photos below.

Thank you for reading my Ode to The Beatles!! 😀