I am currently in Brisbane for a conference. I arrived this afternoon. I am one of the speakers. People often say to me ‘Don’t you get nervous speaking?’ I don’t get nervous speaking but other aspects of being a speaker can be overwhelming,. I experienced a fair number of those today.
I am used to going to airports so got on my flight with no difficulties but when I arrived things were challenging.
I went to the bathroom at the airport which I hate. I invariably go in the designated female one because it seems expected given my ‘demi-girl’-type expression / dress but I would much rather use the unisex one. Unfortunately the unisex doubles as the accessible one and I didn’t want to inconvenience others who need to use that facility. This despite me being outwardly quite a strong advocate for the rights of trans and gender diverse people. My advocacy doesn’t always apply to me I suppose! Feeling uncomfortable and guilty for letting myself down I got my bag. I then got a taxi to my hotel, which is a hotel I hadn’t been to before.
I didn’t know how long it would take to get here. The taxi I was given was a maxi taxi. It was hard to get into and my bag kept sliding all over the place. I had my laptop in my backpack and was worried it would get damaged. Then the driver pulled over and asked for the address which I had already given him. Apparently he didn’t listen. We sat on the side of the road for a good five minutes with them meter still going. I didn’t think it was right that I pay for his being lost but didn’t know the accepted protocol for asking him to turn it off. I spent the rest of the trip scared he wouldn’t find the hotel. Eventually we got to the street the hotel is in but he didn’t know which building. I was pretty frazzled by this time so asked him just to let me out. It was hot – I had come from a Canberra winter to balmy Brisbane and was still wearing a jacket. If I took the jacket off I would need to carry it and if I didn’t I would be hot. I also have a staph infection which caused me to go to the emergency GP last night and get antibiotics. I have read that staph bacteria like the heat. Was all the walking around trying to find my hotel going to make it worse?
Where the driver dropped me off was near a building with boats and a high fence. It didn’t look like a hotel but I found a cafe and went in. There were a bunch of older people having lunch and no cafe staff in evidence. Would it be OK to ask the patrons where to go? I had no other option so I did. They all talked at once and pointed at where I was meant to go. I have no sense of direction and the instructions were confusing. I thanked them and left knowing there there was no way a list of instructions like that was going to work with me as I forget all but the first one. Getting a bit desperate I walked across the vast carpark I found myself in. There was a person getting their bags out of the car. I asked them and they gave me a list of just two instructions which I could follow. I thanked them and set off.
I was in a strange place and was very anxious walking down the street. I heard dogs barking and hoped they weren’t loose. I was determined to find my hotel. It was either that for call the conference organiser which I didn’t want to do – they had their own things to do which I imagine didn’t involve rescuing me! Eventually I found the hotel after looking at all the nearby buildings with growing stress. The staff were really lovely and showed me how to get in after hours and other useful things. I got to my room very relieved and am now here writing this post.
The reason I wanted to write this post was to highlight that even highly accomplished autistic people can struggle with things that allistics may take for granted. Someone might look like that they have everything under control but in reality they are really struggling. Today when I was in the cab and looking for the hotel I was actually quite vulnerable. I suspect the cab driver took advantage of my confusion and made a few extra dollars. The input you get from other people is really important in these situations and supportive, clear and understanding is better than dismissive, rude and judgey any day. I am not saying autistic people need to be chaperoned or shielded from doing potentially stressful things, more that we can find everyday stuff chaotic and confusing and need support and understanding to get through it. I am now recovered from the stress and looking forward to the event tomorrow and catching up with friends and colleagues but it was not a nice experience and it is far from an isolated one.