As I sit here writing this, I still don’t know how I’m actually going to write something about a thing that has been with me since I was young. There are so many layers to this that I don’t know how to basically write about it. Truth be told, I’ve had a portion of this written for a long time, but was so unsure on whether to post it. Now, I don’t really have a choice in the matter.
To put this into perspective, I’m scared about talking about this thing than I was coming out being bi/queer. Multiply the nerves and anxiety I had about talking about being queer with this. And then multiply it again. By 500. And then again by 5,000,000. To say this isn’t hyperbole on my part is, well, not hyperbole. It’s taking everything in my power to talk of this despite the numerous risks I’m taking on myself doing.
But maybe the truth is I’m also tired of it battering me around like as if it’s holding a gun to my back. I’m tired of it having an effect on me. I’m tired of it having some sort of run in with my mental health. I’m tired of feeling like this thing is controlling my life. I’m tired of it being a massively potential reason why I push friends away from me because I’m maybe super weird and stuff, because I am super shy at meeting people and stuff, because of varying factors in relation to this. I’m tired of any professional ramifications that’d come from it.
I want to state before I go into detail about this that this is only my experience of it. Not anyone else, I don’t speak for anyone else who is the same as me with this. I am speaking for me and only me.
a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.
Being on the spectrum is not something I ever thought about, even when I was maturing from a child to a teen to an adult. I was diagnosed pretty young with Aspergers Syndrome (though I fucking despise that term and thus prefer either ASD or being on the spectrum), but even now I still can’t tell you what age it was when it happened. It was relatively young, that much I know. And it fits with the usual diagnosis period of two-to-three years old. But it’s not something I’ve ever thought about so much. At least until a year or two ago.
When I was in school, despite my pleas being heard on deaf ears, I asked for no special treatment. I got a lot of special treatment. And I fucking despised the fact that I got it – assistants, help in certain things and other stuff. And it made me a target for bullying. Now I was no angel either in school, I was an asshole too. But I was definitely a lot more of a target than others as a result of getting ‘preferential treatment’. To name a few things, grass stuffed into my mouth, attacked by someone in front of me with a schoolbag to the face that sent me flying to the floor as if I just been shot in the chest by a shotgun or karate kicked in the chest by Jackie Chan.
Basically, school was a living hell. But then two years after I finished, I was given a new opportunity on life. As if the past few years before it never happened: writing about games. I had a clean slate in a way and able to do something I’d dreamed of doing. People like Tom Bramwell, Pat Garratt, Tim Clark who made me want to write about games for a living, I was now following what they were doing. In fact, my first job ever – not just in the industry, but outright – was in fact being hired to write about games. By one of those people I mentioned. For a site that is one of the biggest on the planet. I’ve done that for over ten years now as of this month (not counting the few years beforehand as an enthusiast and not being paid for it) and its been in many ways everything I’ve wanted.
But because of what happened while at school, I was determined to make sure I never ever let anyone know of me being in the industry. I may have had quirks which could constitute a guess of me being on the spectrum, but I was never going to outright confirm it. So since I started writing about games, I made sure to keep it to myself and only myself. But five years ago was when everything changed.
If you know me or read this blog, you’ll know what I’m referring to: my mother’s passing. An event that hit me incredibly hard and was difficult for me in so fucking many ways. My mother was in a sense my biggest supporter professionally when I didn’t deserve her support. As a child and as someone with autism, I was, to put it politely, a walking, talking bomb. It was difficult for me to understand why I could be a handful and why. Yet, despite everything, she raised me with all the unconditional love and support she could give when I was the worst bastard you could put up with at times. I’ll quote this from this blog I wrote a few weeks after she died. It’s an anicdote from when I was fourteen:
Two months later, I had to bring our PC into my bedroom as the main computer room was being done up for redecoration. I begged with her, I pleaded with her not to do it until ‘this big games conference’ ended at least. That big ‘games conference’ was E3 (remember when E3 was held at the end of Spring, not the start of Summer?). This was when PlayStation 3, Xbox 2 (which would later become Xbox 360) and the Nintendo Revolution (Nintendo Wii) were being announced, but because of said redecoration, they had to move the PC. And we didn’t have wireless broadband at the time, we still had a wired line. So there was no way of knowing what was going on in LA.
But for some odd reason, I had turned on offline mode on the browser. One of the websites caught in the offline mode was a website I started visiting, a website that made me want to do my own website. It was Eurogamer. And among the cached stories were things like ‘PlayStation 3 being teased at LA bus stops’ or ‘Metal Gear Solid 4 set to be announced’. I wanted to write about games like they did and Metal Gear Solid 3 gave me an itch to go further. And as well as Eurogamer, I was reading a lot of Official PlayStation Magazine UK at the time too during the Tim Clark era. So I started a website soon after with the hopes of one day having my name on a thing I wrote on Eurogamer. It was on crappy Freewebs software, no one ever read it but me. I had an episode one night regarding the website and how I wanted more people to read it (in retrospect thank fuck no one did, considering the state of it and my writing). My mum came in and I can’t remember what she said exactly, but she somehow managed to reassure me over it, telling me things would come good eventually.
And another from 2012:
One day, I had told my mum of my concerns and worries of wanting to stay in the games industry as she very much knew I wanted to be part of it rather than the family business. She assured me that if she could help me get to London permanently as part of a new gig, she would. From that day, she did when she could.
One occasion that year springs to mind when she said she would help. That being giving me the money to go to London as part of a job interview I had planned for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe as a content producer for PlayStation.com. It was a six-month placement that at the time I would have liked to have done, but knew if I got the job, I would see out the six-month period and return to games journalism. I didn’t get the job. I’m glad I didn’t now, but if I had, it would have at least put my foot in the door in regards to living in London.
I’ve written at length about my mum and how she supported me on this blog. But ever since she died, being able to keep a handle on who I truly was was going to become even more difficult. But not in ways I imagined. The truth is I’ve kept it quiet for the longest time because I was scared. I was scared it’d lose me opportunities, including and especially that one opportunity I’ve been clamoring for nearly fifteen years. It’d lose me friendships. It’d make me out to be something I was not or didn’t want to be. Basically, I was scared to be open about who I truly was. For better and worse. Even if that meant people thinking that I was a bit of a dick as a result (and even then, if there have been times where I’ve intentionally acted an absolute dick, I don’t want to use my ASD as an excuse. It’s because I was a dick outright or because you’re a massive dickhead and you fight a dick by being a dick).
Socially in life, I’ve been fine (mostly) but there are times where I do sorta act awkwardish towards people I’ve never met before or don’t know very well. My gut instinct is also very good towards people I’ve never met before. I can usually tell if someone’s alright or they’re a massive shitheel. It’s not perfect, but it’s steered me right for the most part. I’d like to imagine that as a sort of silver lining to this bastard thing.
Nevertheless, as I said, if you never knew I was on it, I could have shown characteristics that would constitute a (albeit lucky but correct) guess of me being on the spectrum, but I was never going to outright tell you or confirm it to you if you asked me. The truth is, short of my family and people I fundementally, absolutely trust with my life who I’ve told (not including someone who I DM’ed once because I was super drunk and I am so sorry to that person), my plan was to never publicly talk about my being autistic. It’s not something I am not friends with, lets say. Frankly, and I must stress I am speaking for me and only me, I feel ashamed having to put up with it. And frankly, it scares me that it’d change what people thought of me once they found out. Simply, I was taking this to my grave if I could help it.
At least, that was the plan until last night.
Last night, a documentary aired on my family and the family business. Although I’m not involved in the business, I am involved in the documentary as someone who works outside it (along with my cousin, who’s not involved with the business and works as a teacher, but also appears). It was during said documentary that my autism was mentioned. I’ll quote my sister Joanne from the documentary:
Jonathan has had his challenges. He’s on the autistic spectrum, our parents were both supportive of what he wanted to do and he hasn’t let his autism hold him back.
Before I go further, let me stress this: it’s no-one’s fault here. Not the production team who put this together (in fact, they were the nicest people you could have covering you) and not my family. If it’s anyone’s fault, it was a communication breakdown of sorts and if you had to point a finger of blame at someone, it’s me. I asked whether the production team were briefed on my autism (they were), but I never pushed hard enough to make sure it wasn’t mentioned in the program. Last night, before the documentary aired, I started getting more and more anxious it was going to be talked about (we didn’t see it before it was aired, but clips of the documentary released last week while I was in Berlin on holiday). I legit felt like the day my autism was put into the public, it’d be my day of reckoning. Last night was my day of reckoning.
So yes, it was my fault. But if at all I was ever going to talk about it, I wanted it to be on my terms. That’s not gonna happen now, though. So yeah, I guess it’s out there for all to know now.
Let me stress something else: I know people in my life who are on the spectrum, whether it’d be personally or professionally in the games industry, and I’m not trying to devalue them or what not (again, I speak for me and only me, my experiences, my feelings). In fact, one of my favourite bits of games writing comes from Jordan Erica Webber, who talked of being on the spectrum through a Borderlands piece in the now defunct Five Out of Ten Magazine. And there’s a sorta family member also on the spectrum who I would happily take a bullet for without a second’s thought who I care about so fucking much.
But I was so scared, so anxious and so paranoid of what people would think of me when and if they found out about my autism that I was so determined to keep it to myself. Not to mention, the self-loathing I had, and have, for being on the spectrum. Once my mum died, I knew that’d be difficult, so I did confide with other people who I trusted wholeheartedly (and I can’t thank those people enough for being so wonderful). Things were not helped when one of my cousins started outing me as bi/queer before I had the chance to do it publicly, which aroded any chance of ever trusting another soul again (I thankfully managed to get there again) and thus making other people untrustworthy to me. I got ahead of that and managed to do things on my terms. This one, not as much, although this is my fault this time.
I’m high-functioning, but mixed with depression and anxiety, hoo boy, I have got a cocktail of ‘oh my god, you are fucked up’. And boy do I feel it. It’s legitimately the worst thing ever. Depression and anxiety together is one thing, but throw in varients of them with my autism or even all three together and it’s a massive pina colata of ‘WOW, JOHNNY, YOU REALLY ARE FUCKED UP’. It’s not something I’ve dealt with well, but in all regards, it’s something I have to deal with. For better or worse. And you have no idea how much I hate that.
I guess I should wrap this up. I’m approaching 3,000 words and well, lets not turn this into more of an essay than it already is. There’s three things about this, though, I want to finish this off with.
One, this is my first and last remarks on this. I don’t intend on talking publicly about my autism ever again after all this. It’s not something I actively want to go out of my way to talk about. If you bring it up face-to-face or social media outside of this blog, I will shut down, refuse to talk to you about it and walk away. Obviously, for the people who I’ve confided in and trust, that’s obviously different, and for the sake of this blog, I’m allowing a 24 hour amnesty if you want to ask questions or whatever on social media. But for everyone else after the 24 hour period is up – I’m not talking about it.
Two, I’m not sure of how to process all of this. I’m sorta all over the place and actually spiraling bad. I’m afraid that now this is out in the open, it’s maybe going to ruin any chance of possibly getting the one thing I’ve chased for the longest time. I’m afraid of how this will impact my new thing. And I’m especially affraid of how people will look at me now this is out in the open and that it will change what people think of me. Frankly, I’m not in a great bit of headspace as a result. So, I’m gonna try and take a few days off social media after tomorrow. I’ll have GameDaily duty today, which is my priority. Beyond that, I’m gonna lay low.
And three, the one silver lining out of all this – and this is literally the only silver lining and even then it feels pellet-sized – is even though this blog is all over the place, it’s allowed me to be emotionally vulnerable. I think it’s okay for men to be emotionally vulnerable. It’s cathartic, healthy and wonderful, though I’m not exactly feeling the final two right now. And if your masculinity is toxic enough to make fun of people who put themselves out there, boy, do I feel sorry for you.
Thanks for reading.