“He Has An Amazing Voice, Doesn’t He?”
When moving from Montessori school to a traditional Catholic school at about 5 years old I was asked to take a written test. I aced it, but after that they asked that my mother let me play with the other kids so they could watch me socialize and see how I interacted. Of course, I walked past every kid and every toy in there and promptly sat in the corner by myself. Big eyed and scared I sat and watched the other kids play. After a few hours of this my mother came and got me. She grabbed my hand and told me that the principal wanted to talk to us, I obliged and sat in the chair as I was told. This is the first time I would hear something that would haunt me my entire life, she told my mother that although I was ahead of the other kids in most I was far behind socially. I was told that I was smart enough to skip a grade, but her recommendation was that I return to Montessori school and learn how to socialize. I didnt know what that meant, but I was excited there wouldn’t be any changes to my routine.
After completing another year at Montessori school I was finally ready for regular school. For the first time I had to wear a uniform, I thought it was cool that I would no longer have to figure out what to wear everyday. There was only one problem, I found out that buttoning up a shirt the right way is much harder than it looks. Nearly everyday I went to school with my shirt buttoned the wrong way. My teacher noticed and asked me to button my top button, I couldn’t. After buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt about 10 times she came over and helped me. I said, “thank you” and went back to my usual corner to sit down. Later that day my mother came to pick me up, my teacher then told my mother that she thought I needed to see a child psychologist to make sure everything was ok. She thought I had something called “Autism”. A week later we went to see a Dr. I remember him being very nice, he took me to a room and asked me a bunch of questions and showed me a bunch of pictures. Then he said “We’ve got some toys in the waiting room, I’m going to observe you playing”, I said “yes sir”. The problem here is that I didn’t know what playing was. I knew other kids did it, and because I tend to take things literally I thought he wanted to watch me do what I saw other kids do. So I Picked up a few toys and moved them around. 10 minutes later my Mom came in and got me. The Doctors diagnoses was that I was just “weird”. He was wrong, but that’s ok. Not much was known about Aspergers back then. If you weren’t drooling you were functioning and normal.
Throughout the years I learned how to blend in, sorta. I realized that if I just did what I saw other kids do they liked me. I didn’t realize how much of myself I was losing until about 7th grade. Thats the year I switched from Catholic school to public school. I was so nervous on the first day of school that I vomited. This routine of vomiting on the first day of school lasted until I graduated from high school. I was unable to deal with the changes. Public school was busy, noisy, scattered and scary. I completely withdrew from society that year. To the point of my teacher asking me if I was being abused. Nearly everyday she’d ask me to stay after class and talk to me. Same speech everyday for about 2 weeks. “Brian, you don’t even try. You’re so smart. You’re articulate and creative, but you don’t talk. Some of the other kids have never even heard your voice! Are you being abused? Is someone touching you at home?”, Wide eyed I’d look up at her and say “No ma’am, no Miss April”. Finally one day she had enough and called my mother for a meeting. She was shocked to see that my mother was not only an involved and good parent, but that I came from a somewhat normal home. My mother told Miss April, “Theres nothing wrong with Brian, he’s just weird”. We all laughed and I went on with my day. After a semester I grew more comfortable with the school and my new surroundings. The first time I spoke up in class all the kids turned and looked at me, “OH MY GOD BRIAN SPOKE!”, they said. Miss April turned around and said “Yes, and he has an amazing voice, doesnt he?”. Not knowing what to do with all the attention I looked back down at my paper and wished I could disappear until people stopped looking at me. I always hated when people looked at me.
During high school I fell in love with JROTC. I liked that it was orderly, there was little socializing involved and my success was based solely on how much I accomplish. I also found that the more power I was given the better I could control my surroundings. People would be quiet if I told them to. I joined the color guard, rifle team and the drill team. I even made friends! I was obsessed. Because of the success I found in JROTC I lost interest in everything else. My life revolved around it. At the same time, my teachers in other subjects stopped challenging me. I checked out and stopped caring. In fact, I rarely ever went to some of my other classes. I was an expert in finding hidden corners and unchecked hallways to hide out in. My mother was always confused as to how I was able to get an A in JROTC but barely pass my other classes. To be honest, I didn’t understand why I had to do anything I didn’t enjoy. I just wanted to do JROTC related things, listen to music and be left alone. But they wouldn’t let me. Constant meetings with my mother and teachers complaining about how I don’t try and that I seem like I don’t care. “I don’t”, I would reply as I calmly left the room to find my way to one of my coveted hiding spots.
People always saw potential in me. I sometimes joke that I’ve made a pretty good career out of my potential for greatness. I’ve gotten many chances at success because of people believing in what I may be able to do if I could get my life together. One of my biggest achievements (and failures) was when I received a school based military scholarship to Lincoln University in Jefferson City Missouri. The man that awarded me with the scholarship looked at me and said, “I’m going to give you a chance. Even though your grades aren’t so good you’re incredibly bright. We could use you in the army, you can do great things one day”. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up that way. I was unable to deal with the changes. It was too much at once. New city, new school, new people, more rules, and less support. I cracked. I found myself sitting in my room by myself. Any time my instructor would ask me a question I would cry. He’d ask me, “what happened Brian? Why aren’t you looking me in the eyes?” Id say, “I don’t know. This is so confusing”. Eventually, my scholarship was taken and I withdrew. I just wanted to go home.
After many more failed jobs and failed relationships I found myself consumed with the internet. In chat rooms and message boards I could interact with people without the awkwardness of first time meetings. I made friends, started romances and discovered lots of new interesting things. Including new music and boobies. I didn’t have to charm a woman to see her naked and I didn’t have to go to the CD shop to buy CDs. JACKPOT. However, I was growing increasingly lonely. I crave human interaction but I’m not sure how to actually get it. One night I went to a chat room solely to bother people (I trolled AOL chatrooms BEFORE it was cool to troll), there I met a girl with a cute pink font. I tried to bother her, but she told me I was cute. We spent the rest of that night chatting about everything from my irrational fear of cows to religion. She told me how interesting and smart I was. She let me go on hour long rants about things she didn’t care about and judging from the picture she had on her profile she was gorgeous. The only problem was that she lived in New York City. She’d tell me nightly that she wished we could be together and Id tell her “me too, but you live all the way over there”. She’d tell me about how she wanted to talk to me on the phone, but I was an expert at excuse making. Id make up an excuse on the spot “cant, my mom is on the phone”, “oh snap! Sorry, I gotta go to the store but maybe later!”. After a month of this she said “I’m calling you!” I typed up my excuse, hit enter and saw “That user is no longer online”, I immediately panicked. She stopped listening to me, she was going to call me whether I liked it or not. What was I going to say? I paced back and forth in the hallway. Repeating different ways to say “hello”. “HI!”, “WASSUP BOO?”, “WHAT IT IS GIRL?”, “HOLA!”. In them midst of my craziness the phone rang, reluctantly I picked up…”hellooo?”. She giggled and said “hi, its Chanel. You cute. Chu doin?”. We spoke everyday after that. Online, on the phone. She was my life! She made me comfortable. She let me be myself. To my surprise and confusion she thought my awkwardness was cute. She giggled at the way I organized my food. She’d smile, look at me and say “you cute”. I knew I couldn’t let her get away.
After a year of being in a long distance relationship and going back and forth she came to me and said “I cant do this anymore, I need you here with me”. I just said “ok” and made it happen. Next thing I know I’m living in Brooklyn and sleeping on my cousins couch. I was adjusting surprisingly well. New York City is busy, so busy that its easy to find yourself alone. People here don’t bother themselves with other peoples business. The isolation of this city was my saving grace. My girlfriend and her family provided amazing support. Every once in awhile her parents would ask me “why don’t you look me in the eyes?”. Defiantly my girlfriend would say ‘THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY BOYFRIEND, HE’S JUST A LITTLE WEIRD”, again, we’d all laugh and go about our business. During my first few months in New York City I scored an internship at Roadrunner Records. I worked hard. First one there, last one out. I learned everything I could about that record label. I did whatever they asked me to do and did it well. But when it came time to hire someone, I was told “Brian, you do amazing work, you know your shit…but no one here really KNOWS you”. This confused me, how could they not know me? I was there everyday. And either way, why wasn’t my amazing work enough? I left Roadrunner Records angry and confused but not ready to give up on my dream. My girlfriend and I regrouped. We read books on the record industry and networking. I had new tools. I asked for another chance and was given one. This time I said hi to everyone when I came in. They gave me my own desk, my own phone number and my own email address. The other interns didn’t have this, I was so proud of myself. But looking back I know they gave me these things to get me away from them. My personality can be off putting at times. I always seem awkward and uncomfortable. Now I can understand why they didn’t want me around.
About 2 years ago my girlfriend told me I wasn’t like everyone else. I asked what she meant, she told me that everything I do is exactly the same way every single time. After a few years of many meltdowns because of changed routines she came to the conclusion that something was wrong me with me. At this point in my life I was unemployed, unable to keep a job for more than a month and confused. My life had taken a turn for the worse. The more stressed I got the more I clung to my routines. I create more routines to cope with stress. Late one night she found herself looking up Autism. She showed me the symptoms, I told her that I had been tested years ago. We came to the conclusion that I should get tested. I always knew something was “wrong” with me. I remember telling numerous friends that I felt like the whole world was in my head. “Weird” and “eccentric” weren’t the right words to describe me. The more I read about Aspergers the more it fit.
One night after looking at an absurd amount of porn I decided to see if any of my favorite stars were on Twitter. I decided to follow a few of them. One of my favorites was always Sinnamon Love. She looked like a girl that would like me (at least that’s what I told myself lol). She was tweeting about her son, who she said was Autistic. I replied to her with “90% sure I have Aspergers”. She said “really? why?” I sent her an email laying out my entire life. Part of Aspergers is ranting and not knowing when to shut up lol. I probably over shared with her, but she was sweet enough to read the entire e-mail. She told me she had done a lot of research on Aspergers herself, and judging from my issues it looked like I had it. My girlfriend and I had hit a roadblock. No one would test me, organizations that help kids don’t usually help adults (we’ll talk more about that another day). I reached out to Sinnamon Love for some help. Not only did she reassure that it would be ok and encourage me but she gave me links, phone numbers and email addresses to various organizations I had never heard of. She even gave me the name of her Doctor. Some days she’d tweet me and ask me if I had gotten tested, She’d tell me not to give up. I listened and I kept going. a year later I’ve been diagnosed and started therapy. I’m struggling right now but things are looking better.
I’m starting to realize a lot the mistakes I made in life weren’t necessarily my fault. When I thought I was doing things the “right” way, I wasn’t. I learned that I don’t even know what the right way is. I thought I’d use this blog entry to talk about my road to diagnoses. A lot of people know about it, but dont know how I got here. As you can see I had lots of help and support. There are a lot of people who arent as lucky as I am. I hope this entry can help them see that they arent alone, and that if they’re willing to open and share a little bit there are good people (sometimes strangers) willing to lend a hand.
So in conclusion, thank you to everyone that helped me find my voice. My mother, My Auntie Nini, my siblings, my family, my amazing, beautiful and patient girlfriend Chanel and Sinnamon Love, who was kind and caring enough to help out a complete stranger. I want you all to know that your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. I wont let any of you down.