Asperger’s Syndrome. Even the name sounds slightly odd, like it just doesn’t sit quite right in your mind. It’s an apt name for the condition.
Manifestations of the condition include a dislike of change that borders on a craving for routine, easily being emotionally overwhelmed by loud noises, and an inability to naturally perceive subtext in social interactions.
So, when you hate trying new things, need to be in calm quiet environments and have no comprehension of what to say or not to say, or when you’re being annoying or when someone has made a joke etc. you tend to find yourself without too many friends. I don’t begrudge the kids who grew tired of having to deal with my problems, it wasn’t their burden to bear and it wasn’t reasonable to ask them to understand. I could have done without the merciless bullying, though. It’s truly amazing how feral people can be towards things they don’t understand.
So there I was, a lonely, sad kid who couldn’t get their thoughts out properly and would end up just pushing people away. I didn’t have support, I didn’t have someone to talk to. But I had Superman. Movies, cartoons, video games, you name it. I was enthralled by this man who had everything – powers, charisma, and Lois Lane to boot. I suppose deep down I always knew it wasn’t “real”. But it felt real to me. I wanted what he had and I wanted to be like him. So when Superman said I had the power to be anything I wanted, I listened. Seeing him stand up to supervillains, or “bullies” if you will, I was inspired to do the same.
And it wasn’t just Superman. Wonder Woman taught me the power of the truth. Batman taught me to overcome great sorrow and make it my strength. Deadpool taught me how to smile, even in the darkest of times. There was always a lesson to be learnt, amongst the escapism of superheroes. And I owe a lot of who I am today to them. I started exercising regularly because Batman did. I was kinder to strangers because I wanted to be the person Clark Kent knew I could be, and I saw my life change for the better for it. For the first time I had a few friends, I knew some happiness. So for a long time, I wanted to be a superhero when I grew up.
Eventually though, I had to face reality. Superheroes aren’t real. I was so perplexed because they’d instilled in me such a desire to better myself and the world I live in, to leave a positive lasting impact. Was it all a lie? No, it couldn’t be, I still felt a burning desire to do good, I still felt inspired thinking about these characters, it couldn’t be fake.
Well, it is and it isn’t. The heroes themselves may never have been real, but what they stood for is, and always will be. They are the amalgamation of the effort of writers, artists, actors, and so much more, all to entertain, and maybe impart a little wisdom along the way. It was through this realisation that I discovered writing and film. I may never be a superhero like Superman. But by believing in the things he said, and the message he embodied, they became a little true through me, through anyone like me.
Author Terry Pratchett once said, “Take the universe, grind it into the finest powder, sieve it through the finest sieve, and show me one atom of justice, or one molecule of mercy. You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become.” It’s something I’ve made my life-goal by getting into writing. Using fantasy to inspire others the same way I was inspired in the hopes of maybe leaving the world a slightly better place. It’s something we should all strive towards.
If you’re thinking, “I’m not an artist, or a writer, I’m just me… how do I inspire people?” Then let me tell you about the people who’ve had the most positive impact of all: people just like you.
I’d never really thought about going to a comic-con. Where I grew up there certainly weren’t any notable ones. But when I moved to London, I found myself in the vicinity of a few sizeable ones. I was persuaded by a friend to be part of their cosplay group. It’s safe to say I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, how people would react to my costume, or how I would function in such a loud environment.
I remember the train trip to the convention on the day. Picture a tall skinny guy, wearing a bloody gas mask that has an eye covered. I’m bare chested save for a leather harness, with orange trousers and brandishing a giant prop chainsaw axe. It was the most hilariously awkward train journey I’ve had to date, as I sat next to some poor sap in a suit just making his daily commute to work.
I got into the convention super early, hadn’t even run into any of my friends yet and none of that mattered. It was almost like stepping into another world. Countless people, none of whom I’d ever met before, would enthusiastically approach me to compliment my outfit, and readily strike up a chat. There were no barriers, no norms, everyone was just weird and wonderful. I belonged immediately and thinking back on it even now – the friends I’ve made and how much my life has changed for the better – it still makes me cry a little. I wasn’t the weird autistic kid, I was whomever I wanted to be.
You did that, with your unfailing positivity and acceptance, you made someone who thought he’d always be a pariah feel part of a family. You inspired him to hope again.
I’m still standing because of people like you. So remember that. The simplest, most innocuous actions, like paying someone a compliment, lending your superglue to fix a piece of cosplay, or just casually comparing hearthstone decks over a drink. They make all the difference in the world.