A month ago I celebrated nine years of playing DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). Now people who have known me through college and high school know me as a pro DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) player who moves like lightning across a DDR pad and almost never misses a step. While it seems like a simple hobby on the surface, there is a story to this madness that dates as far back as Sophomore year of high school. Now you’re probably wondering what DDR has to do with me being Autistic, it has a lot to do with the subject in ways people couldn’t ever imagine. Those who read my Autism Awareness posts last year will remember the basis of this story however this post goes into greater depth.
Now when I was younger I became friends with someone who was just as geeky as I was and I’d consider him to be my first real friend and I’d soon realize that in those early years he was my only friend through the early years. I never understood the concept of a friend growing up, I considered every acquaintance a friend not realizing that friends are people you spend time with, you go over each other’s houses, play video games and watch movies with. He was the only person who fulfilled the requirements of a friend through 10th grade I wouldn’t realize that harsh reality until until one fateful day in my sophomore year of high school. Part of the way through the year he and his family moved to Florida and it was in that moment I realized that aside from him I had no one else that I could call a real friend at the time and it would be another few months before I connected with with another group of people I’d consider to be real friends. This also happened around the time I was starting to realize how different and how out of place I was. This and a few girl troubles made me feel really alone and depressed.
I despised being so different, I also despised being the butt of every joke. I wished that people would forget that I was a socially awkward autistic guy and focus on something else. One day at a movie theater I there was a DDR machine with this Asian kid moving lightning fast. I was completely floored by his skills and wished I could play the way he did. People watched this kid as if he was some sort of deity and they had nothing but respect for him. I longed for that type of respect and admiration from people other than my family members and teachers. When the kid was done I decided to jump on the machine and give the game a shot. I failed miserably but yet I enjoyed the challenge and instantly got hooked to the game. I poured more and more quarters and realized I’d need to own this game at home in order to get better at it.
My mother purchased the game for my 17th birthday and I instantly got hooked. It was a painful few days as my body had to adjust to increased physical activity but as they days went by it became not only a great workout but and outlet for pain on those days I felt alone. I played and played until I got better. Remembering back to that Asian kid from months ago, I thought to myself that if I got good enough at DDR that people would forget that I was Autistic, for once in my life I’d give people something else about me to focus on. I realized that in order to make up for my flaws I’d have to compensate for them through skills very few people had. Life never got easier from there but knowing I had something that brought me happiness and reminded me that there were good ways I was unique made things a bit easier. Playing DDR allowed me to be apart of a really supportive community of players that helped me get better. It was one of many points in my life where I for once felt like I belonged. Playing DDR after a long school day was a always a great release. Life seemed to make way more sense on that pad than it did off it. The worse days at school always brought about my best workouts. Having an escape from life did my mind wonders during a time I was trying to understand myself and connect a giant mess of dots created by several doctors and years of IEP meetings as well as social troubles. For once I had something in life that I could actually amount to and no one could take that from me. When people saw me play the game it was like they instantly forgot I was that socially awkward kid with the odd voice. To them I became that kid who was a beast at playing DDR. Though there were a few that saw through the smoke and mirrors and always knew me as the socially awkward kid with the weird voice but I slept better at night know I had something they’d never have the will power or the dedication to amount to.
There will be many points in life where those with a disability feel alone and feel like they have nothing to offer. Everyone has something they’re good at without realizing it. For some of us we find it instantly and for others it takes years for people to figure it out. Finding those talents and interests are the key to feeling good about yourselves and allowing yourself to find a community where there are others with that same love. It’s that sense of belonging and purpose that keeps people going even through the darkest of times. DDR for me was always a major stress reliever and it set me apart from many others in the best way possible. To this day I still use the game as a means to keep weight off and just to reduce stress and anxiety on those lonely nights. Below are a few videos of me playing the game embedded in this video playlist, enjoy and stay classy.