Recently, I went to the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and even though the situation was everything an autistic person would be completely justified in rocking in foetal position over, I had an amazing time. There was no need to compromise my wellbeing in order for a magical night to happen, so I’d like to share some of what I did.
Before the Event
I double-triple-checked the date, time, location and dress code. I invited my plus one, which was my boyfriend. I kept an eye on the weather forecast and began visualising the exquisite evening I wanted to have and imagining the most comfortable and delectable ensemble to wear, without being too fixed, because weather is always a factor. It was the Melbourne Film Festival, after all.
I did tarot card readings on the energy around the night to get a sense of it, and I went to the gym. Using the Stairmaster as an outlet for tension and nervousness means I’m less likely to feverishly stim on the citrine crystal in my coat pocket at the event. I also did a hair mask, a face mask, painted my nails and soaked in the tub for an hour the day beforehand, because rituals like these inspire me to go slow and to care for myself no matter what happens.
What I Packed In My Stylish Yet Affordable Bag
Earplugs, face mist, perfume, money, a fully charged phone, a topped up Myki card, a concession card, a front door key, lipstick, bronzer and another crystal. It would have been good to pack sunglasses, too, because outside The Regent Theatre there were crowds, lights and cameras and dimming that down a bit would’ve been soothing.
Making A Grand Entrance
Unlike the neurotypicals amongst us who undoubtedly came up with the term ‘fashionably late’ I would say ‘fashionably early’ is de rigueur for the autistic. There will be no moseying in and looking for a friend sitting ‘somewhere near the front’ as everyone watches on from their seats. It’s about arriving early with ample time to suss out where the bar is, where the disabled toilets are, what the people in attendance are like, which door is going to take us to our spots in the cinema and where the nearest exits are located.
My partner and I also have an understanding that if I need to get some air, lock myself in a toilet cubicle for a bit, go for a walk around the block, find a hot cup of coffee, or leave altogether, I can. I’ll text him and all will be well. Knowing that I can do this if I need to makes all the difference.
Pretending not to be autistic is the most exhausting part of an evening, so I try not to worry about it. Let the social faux pas’ fall where they may.
When people complimented me on my outfit and I said, ‘yes it came together nicely’ or ‘yeah, I love red!’ or ‘it’s so fun to wear!’ I feared being seen as pretentious, before I realised that maybe I am pretentious.
At another point, I was introduced to a guy in a waistcoat whose name I can’t remember and he hugged me and lifted me up and put his face close to mine because for some reason he felt entitled to do that. I made it clear through my body language that I was at the event with my boyfriend, however, if I hadn’t been there with him, and the guy had done it again, I would have told him not to, screamed, and/or made haste toward the toilets. Waistcoat or no, getting touchy too soon isn’t smooth.
Everyone has a unique relationship with eating, drinking, smoking, dancing and doing drugs. I eat light at big events because I’m overstimulated and therefore more likely to experience symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome if I get too excited about the cauliflower tempura and falafels.
I never drink enough alcohol to get drunk and, at MIFF, I had a puff of someone’s cigarette and danced when I couldn’t not dance, which was around the time You Can Call Me Al was playing at The Toff in Town. I didn’t think I’d have enough energy to get to an after, after party - yet there I was on the dance floor.
I don’t really do drugs because I already miss enough social cues and sense every arm that brushes against mine and want to be silent and held by everyone without the ‘help’ of psychedelics.
I drank heaps of water before going to bed, and took vitamin c. My partner and I both slept most of the next day and I didn’t exercise, or go anywhere. Honouring the toll a big social event takes is key. Pretending that it has no effect makes recuperating more difficult and now, looking back, not only did I care for myself – I had a fantastic time.
Madeleine Ryan is a freelance writer.