Processing My TXT Concert Experience
How what happened at TXT’s concert summarizes how being autistic and an incredibly nervous person shape my concert experiences
As I write this, it is the day after I went to an amazing concert. TOMORROW X TOGETHER, also known as TXT, put on a spectacular show that was a true dream to see in person. It was an excellent show that I am so grateful to have attended and am truly awestruck to have seen with my own eyes. Yet I cannot stop thinking about a very minor incident that tainted the glow of the evening for me, and below are my attempts to unpack why I cannot let it go.
What Music Means to Me
As an autistic person who also deals with multiple severe anxiety disorders, it is quite odd to think that concerts are a safe haven for me! However, my ultimate coping mechanism, to both calm my nerves and cope in a world not designed for the neurodivergent, is music. This is why I have been so enamored with K-pop since it entered my life: the sheer amount of instrumental and vocal layers in K-pop songs, the energy boost of listening to them, and the visually arresting allure of cinematic and/or sleekly-choreographed K-pop music videos epitomize why music is my saving grace. I have to deal with a sensory overload far earlier into an event and far more often than the average person; it takes my brain longer than a neurotypical and calm one to process my surroundings. My sensory difficulties compound my anxiety and vice versa. To be able to eliminate all of the pauses in my sensory processes, to get my discombobulated streams of thought to rearrange themselves in an orderly fashion, and to focus singularly on one thing is a tremendous feat. Music is the ultimate go-to that is up to that task. In short, music centers me. Music that metaphorically pushes all the right buttons to get my senses to straighten themselves out is my ultimate therapy, and concerts full of my favorite music are one of the only chances I get to truly recharge.
TXT’s concert was a great example of the power of music on my psyche. The night was full of immersive listening experiences, thanks to synchronized dance routines, larger-than-life backgrounds, and the high-volume music that vibrates in the floorboards in the way I crave. I reveled in the special occasion where my typically-stressed and torn-every-which-way brain could simply concentrate on getting lost in the visual and audio storytelling. Focusing on the live performances, I got to take a mental vacation into each of the stage’s locations: a pastel carnival, an old castle, a haunted woods… I was sucked into an alternate reality to match my uplifted mental state.
What I also find so therapeutic about entering this mental state at concerts is how I release my inhibitions. I go through life on edge and skeptical, always anticipating the worst and having to consciously remind myself to hope for the best. To be able to simply let go - of my insecurities, my paranoia, my self-doubt - is part of why I cherish concert experiences so much too.
My Inner Monologue
I hope the above background context about how I navigate the world and what shows like TXT’s do for me allows the following story to be seen in a fuller light.
I have always been too nervous to draw attention to myself at concerts, causing me to refrain from holding up a sign during shows. I was frankly proud of myself for deciding that for the very first time, I was going to challenge myself to bring a sign to this show. I tried to quiet all the “What ifs” that inevitably plagued me in the days leading up to the show:
What if TXT see it and comment on it? Well, that’s the point, right?! That fear of being noticed will certainly be worth it!
What if they don’t see it? Oh, inner monologue, why must you fret about both something happening and something not happening?!
What if you block someone’s view? I will make sure to keep my poster size relatively small to avoid this, and I’ll only hold it up between songs, during the downtime when the lights go up and the members start looking around and actually reading the signs people brought!
What if even raising your sign on those brief occasions annoys the people behind you and you get scolded?
That is where my inner monologue changed. Typically, I would respond to myself by saying that was the ultimate reason to just go back to invisibility and skip bringing attention to myself altogether. To my surprise, for once, I told myself to not worry about that and reminded myself that I deserved to be there boldly. I reassured myself there is a happy medium between not bringing a sign at all and bringing an obnoxious one! I could take up space as a loud, proud, unapologetic MOA (a fan of TXT) and still ensure I didn’t taint the experience for other MOAs by keeping the times I held up the sign quick and limited.
As usual, I felt incredibly nervous and self-conscious entering the venue with my sign. Nevermind the fact many concert-goers wore big cowboy hats and other tall accessories, I still felt like I was being too distracting and had to keep reminding myself that standing out was the point and not something to run from anymore! This fretting over the attention my sign would draw to myself - and the simultaneous fear of it not drawing the desired attention! - filled my mind while I also tried to process the sound of noisy trucks outside and the fact I had to stand in close proximity to so many other people (these struggles as an autistic person are always worth voluntarily enduring once I get into my mental happy place during concerts, though!).
I kept trying to psych myself up before the show once I got to my seat: You deserve to be here as a bold, unapologetic super-MOA! Please just tune out your surroundings like you normally do and don’t let self-consciousness about a freaking piece of paper spoil your much-deserved special night! With that pep talk to myself, I held up a sign for the first time in my concert-going life.
When the show began, the light switch in my brain seemed to flip, and I went from the “So Stressed I Can’t Think Straight” mode into my “Blissfully Tuning Out My Surroundings” mode! I mentally traveled into a world of dramatic and stunning outfits and settings, high-energy performances, and the surreality of seeing the soundtrack of my life carried out like a theatrical production before my eyes. I felt emboldened and held my sign up a couple of times during one song, not thinking straight at that point.
I was startled out of my blissful state by someone touching me to get my attention and yelling for me to stop blocking “everybody’s view!” It was as if the light switch in my brain turned back into the other mode, where I have to process several distressing things at once. I was nervous and stuck thinking down too many different trains-of-thought at once: getting over someone touching me (even light touching as an autistic person throws me for a loop), second-guessing the entire pep talk I had spent days giving myself about me deserving a night free of pressuring myself to please others, struggling to articulate how much this show meant to me and how to implore her to just let me hold up the sign once or twice more later in the show... On top of that, being autistic means the social cues and unspoken rules that just come naturally to others take conscious work to teach and remind myself. I am easily confused when a situation does not appear as black-and-white as I taught myself it was. Isn’t it part of social norms to bring signs to concerts? Is there a caveat if the show is indoors? Is there a second caveat if the sign is too big? But how big is too big? And aren’t people at concerts supposed to outwardly express their joy to be there? If I had joined many others in wearing a big hat or holding a light stick up high in front of the rows behind me, would that be socially acceptable? What makes a sign different? Why was I called out for a sign when those with their arms waving high and those with big accessories were not? My mind is an endless stream of questions about technicalities; being autistic means I am the definition of overly analytical!
I also struggled to process how to read the entire situation, because I always think I am doing something wrong and have misunderstood the social norms of a situation, so everything feels so personal. Did she yell at me to knock it off? Yes, but was that yelling out of rage because I messed up so badly, or was it just to make sure I could hear her? My anxious brain obviously told me it was the former. Nice going, Hope. You ruined everybody’s view! It was selfish of you to draw attention to yourself!
All of the trains-of-thought in my head seemed to collide into each other, and I shut down, not saying a word to her and just going limp. I just stared down at the ground and kept my arms to my sides as often as I remembered to throughout the show, questioning what the protocol is for handling situations like that. Should I have said sorry? Should I have just kept my head hung in shame all night (again, my mind is nothing if not thinking in extremes!)? Should I have tried to stand up for myself and elaborated on why this show meant the world to me and why being admonished for holding up a sign was a much bigger downer than she realized? Instead, I did nothing. My light switch was stuck back in “Super-Sensitive” mode, its go-to when I feel in over my head.
“What’s the Big Deal?”
This entire story surely sounds odd and trivial to neurotypical people who do not struggle with mental illness. Someone yelled for me to drop my sign, and I did! It’s not like multiple attendees piled on or a physical brawl ensued! She probably already forgot about this incident! But my point in going on and on about this is not to make a mountain out of a molehill, but to shine a light on how people with my conditions internalize molehills like this as mountains! We interpret the world in a heightened way, and I hope this anecdote is a helpful example.
After I felt ashamed and confused why I was called out when the flag-holders, light-stick-wavers, and big-hat-wearers were not, I slowly did have my mental light switch move back into “Bliss” mode, but it felt partway stuck. Ninety-five percent of the time post-chastising, I was able to soak in the musical adventures like always and felt extremely happy and grateful to be there. But again and again, thoughts about this incident intruded. I was not just stuck on what happened, but on why I was stuck on what happened! I was angry at myself for not being able to just let it go.
I have been reflecting nonstop since the concert about why this small moment bugged me so much. The deeper reason for my frustration with it seems to come from this: I simultaneously live with the fear of being visible and the fear of being invisible! I shy away from anything that brings attention, even good attention, to me precisely because I fear the kind of confrontation I experienced the first time I tried stepping out of my comfort zone in this way. I took a risk that did not pay off, and my black-and-white mindset leads me to think this was an indictment instead of just an incident. I take things extremely personally because I so often act and feel out of place, and when anyone reminds me of my social awkwardness, I cannot help but feel frustrated at being acknowledged instead of left alone. My brain associates condemnation with personal attacks and call-outs as validation of my fear and sense of unworthiness to be seen.
I think the primary reason why I became upset is because this situation broke through my bubble. It broke the line between my worlds: my concert-related world free of fear and overthinking and my typical, anxiety-fueled one. My presumed lack of awareness about how to behave around others, my sense of doing something wrong, and the ridicule I got for blocking out my surroundings for just a few minutes were things I thought resigned solely in my “real world.” To have these concerns I deal with on a daily basis - the overthinking, the fear of being seen as rude - infiltrate my cherished state of euphoria that I enter at concerts is why this situation bugged me so much.
I process the world in black and white, but I am unable to do so in this case, which is partly why I am hung up on it. I am trying to shed old ways of thinking and remind myself I deserved to be at the TXT concert, but I am also back to blaming myself for damaging others’ experiences.
I am also trying to stay compassionate towards the woman behind me. After all, I would be irate too if someone obstructed my view repeatedly, even if for just a few moments at a time. My lack of determining what the right or wrong way to handle both my sign-holding and the negative reaction to it were leaves me stuck ruminating over this.
If there is any moral to this story, perhaps it is this: instead of rushing to judgment and viewing someone as rude, people should consider what that person might be dealing with and how that is affecting how much that “rude” person is even aware they are doing something annoying in the first place. When people zone out, I wish people stopped to think before deciding to bring them back to Earth.
The person behind me would have been less likely to tell me to not hold up my sign if she had known the mental and emotional lengths I had gone to to get the courage to even bring that sign in the first place. She would’ve been less likely to criticize me if she knew how much this night meant to me and how much of a saving grace it is when I get to escape into music and finally feel a semblance of inner peace. Lastly, she would’ve been less likely to tell me to put my sign down if she knew how much touching and yelling anything at me would leave me feeling shaken; interruptions feel destabilizing in a way hard to explain to neurotypical and non-anxious people.
To those whose view I blocked with my sign at the beginning of the show: I am so sorry. I never want to be that person at a concert, the one who attendees complain about on their rides home. I wish that when my ability to give even a one-word response left me and my brain entered a state of panic that you could have read my full story through my downcast eyes alone. I struggled so hard to find the right words that I said nothing at all. I endlessly desire for people to understand my shortcomings and moments that come across as rude. I could not think of a condensed way to articulate all the confusion, fear, live-wire nerves, and second-guessing I go through on a daily basis that can explain my insistence that I deserved to not feel so self-aware for a night.
I will not be bringing a sign to any concerts going forward; the mental gymnastics that ensued after this debacle were not worth it to me. I do not know if I will do anything else to draw attention to myself at future events, especially because I genuinely am confused by the seemingly contradictory protocols regarding what types of view-obstruction are warranted and which are not. At future concerts, I will continue to consciously try my hardest to spend the show in a rare carefree state. Whether or not I succeed at doing so, without paranoia over whose experience I might be dampening by anything I do to draw attention to myself, remains to be seen.
The bottom line is NOT that this experience ruined concerts for me! But it did cause me to contemplate if it is possible for me to let loose but not at the expense of bugging other people and internalizing their complaints.
Although I am not sure if my experience at TXT’s concert will change how much I question every move I make at future concerts, what will certainly remain unchanged is my desire to be understood. I am on an endless quest to be understood without saying a thing, for people to know my struggles without me having to tell them, for people to be extra compassionate with me without me having to prompt them to be that way! I know it is impossible to try to be both seen and unseen, and both provoke their own types of fear and regret, and this dilemma is at the core of why this situation left me so contemplative. I want to permit myself to let loose at concerts, and I just wish other attendees gave me that permission too. The fact they did not has left me spiraling into a myriad of second-guesses.
Again, as trivial as all this might sound, I hope it offers some advice for concert-goers of all kinds: when someone is blocking your view, looking like they could not possibly be happier to be there, please let them just revel uninterrupted in that excitement a bit longer than you initially planned. If they persist at blocking your view relentlessly, then it is okay to ask them to be more mindful. But please do take an extra few minutes to pause and let them just enjoy themselves. You never know the story behind the sign.
Read my previous TXT writing and listen to my TXT-themed podcast episodes below!
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