I’m Autistic: How I Listened to One Song for 20 Years Before I Knew Why

I realized I was autistic about a year and a half ago during a lengthy depression. Cascading, jolting life events had burned me out and left me gasping for answers to unknown questions. Knowing that my mind and life were on the line, I gave myself permission to indulge fully in one of my interests.

Many people in my life know the Red Hot Chili Peppers are my favorite band. The word “favorite” only scratches the surface though — I needed that music. I felt that music. It was special in a way I only vaguely understood.

How long, how long will I slide?/Separate my side, I don’t/I don’t believe it’s bad/Slit my throat it’s all I ever…

Sitting in the mall parking lot in the summer of 2000, shortly after graduating high school, I had to stop for a moment before going in — “Otherside,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was playing on the radio.

Mesmerized by the harmonized chorus and slammed by an unexplainable sensation, I indulged my emotions and bought their latest album, Californication. By the end of the following week, I owned three more of their releases.

“Otherside” is a siren song of depression, full of confusion and defeatism, and I sang it over and over. Much like with echolalia, I had difficulty interpreting what I crooned, despite repeating the lyrics for years. I did the same with many of their songs, losing myself on the linguistic joyride led by Anthony Kiedis– I love their whole catalog, but Otherside was uniquely comforting.

Many people know of RHCP as a fun-loving California rock band — and they are — but they also have a habit of producing sweet-sounding, catchy songs full of intense lyrics. The slow, building, jazz-funk groove that is remorseless about wife-beating (“If You Want Me to Stay,” a cover of Sly and the Family Stone).

A folky salute to anxiety ending on a meticulously manic monologue (“Melancholy Mechanics”). A song that echoes a bicycle ride through a park but ideates on suicide (“Circle of the Noose”). The countless tracks dealing with drugs, despair, and death– I was enchanted by these lyrical incantations that juxtaposed bubbly on the outside with depression on the inside.

How long, how long will I slide?/Separate my side, I don’t/I don’t believe it’s bad/Slit my throat it’s all I ever…

Only rarely over the past year and a half have I listened to music from other artists. Such mindful dedication to one band’s discography enabled a rediscovery, even after almost two decades of their music in my life.

I’ve been creating playlists, repeating favorites, memorizing lyrics, and finding more meaning with every listen. It’s not that I ever stopped playing their music; it was just less-than-desired because I knew people thought it was obsessive. Autistics with special interests will groan in collective recognition of the previous statement– hiding is often necessary for preservation in a world that always seems so angry and exasperated at our mere existence.

I was depressed as a teenager, but at the time I had no idea because the school district leaned conservative, the health curriculum lacked depth, and my parents had other problems.

I thought about suicide, though I never attempted; it was known as “chickening out,” and I guess I didn’t want to face the wrath of the after-death chicken-out police. Something was gnawing at me, though, and I knew I was different from others. They knew too– they always seem to know– and made me feel awful about it.

My blank stares and alexithymia evoked such a stoic demeanor that I was once told I had “the emotions of a brick.” Alexithymia makes it difficult to recognize feelings, and it is partly why it took me so long to understand song lyrics, depression, my motivations, and, well, me.

Alexithymia also means that when I do have strong emotional experiences, whether explained or unexplained, they leave a lasting impression. I could never decode my connection to the Chilis, but that was trivial because I felt them.

I only sought comfort, not elucidation, when I pushed play on my 18-month Red Hot playlist. Like any emotional affinity, however, the meaning bubbled up– it manifested as a focus on particular songs at particular times, with particular themes and particular rhymes. Some old, some new, some joyful, and some blue…

Skinny Sweaty Man… Blues for Meister… Wet Sand… Catch My Death… Transcending… Sick Love… Happiness Loves Company……Otherside.

How long, how long will I slide?/Separate my side, I don’t/I don’t believe it’s bad/Slit my throat it’s all I ever…

The human brain’s ability to fill gaps in vision, speech, sound, and other senses quickens our processing and reaction times, but it can trick us, too. My brain filled a gap in the chorus while I was getting swept up in the comfort and emotions of “Otherside.” I never looked at the lyrics until now. I never knew how it went or how it ended. I only assumed I knew the path to the “Otherside.”

So, what is my Otherside? How do I get there? I expect it will be more pleasant than I previously imagined.

My Otherside is my rebirth as a newly realized transgender woman, ready for my bubbly to show on the outside.

My Otherside is a fresh look at life, with a framework that finally makes sense.

My Otherside is mine now. And anyway, I’m leaning toward “Pink as Floyd” as my new emotional anthem– its decree is much more straightforward regarding my destiny.

You will clear the air/With a single stare/Your fate

Follow me!

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