I moved to Michigan the first week of August 2018, so I was in the area for the tail-end of the Traverse City Film Festival — not that I was in the city itself — but I missed the National Cherry Festival.

It’s obvious how important the festivals are to the area — the summer population explosion kind of says it all. Heck, an economic impact study a few years back showed the National Cherry Festival had a $26.7 million impact on the local economy in 2016.

I think we can all agree that that’s nothing to scoff at — and believe me, I’m not.

As a journalist, I’d be happy to attend. But as a private citizen, I’m not so eager to join in.

As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, the idea of being surrounded by thousands of people, wandering around with no particular goal in mind and no one to wander with doesn’t really appeal to me.

Asperger’s isn’t technically its own diagnosis anymore — the DSM-5 (“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”) rolled it into a broader category called autism spectrum disorder — but the doctor who diagnosed me said I’m an Aspie, so I stick with the original terminology.

For those of you who don’t know, Asperger’s is a “high-functioning” type of autism spectrum disorder that mostly affects social skills.

On the downside, subtle social cues — like facial expressions or other body language — are easy for me to overlook. On the upside, I can be super focused and spot small, intricate details that others miss.

I really don’t consider any of it bad or good. It just is what it is. I’ve never known anything different and I find ways to adjust as necessary.

One of the things for which I have to adjust most are my hypersensitivities. I like to describe it by saying my mental secretary — who is supposed to filter things I don’t need to notice away from my conscious mind — is incredibly bad at her job.

That means those conversations co-workers are having nearby don’t go unheard and the scent of barbecue sauce makes me grimace. It’s why I wear my socks inside out so I don’t feel the seam and have hated mashed potatoes since I was a baby. It’s why, at family Thanksgivings where an “on year” has about 50 people, I’ll seclude myself in one of the upstairs bedrooms at least once during the day.

Which brings us back to Cherry Fest and all the sources of sensory input that come with it.

The idea of subjecting myself to all those sights, sounds, smells and the dodging of bodies that comes with crowds makes me happy to walk out the Record-Eagle’s doors and head across Front Street to my car instead of turning left and joining the festivities.

I’d be more likely to want to go if I had people with me, but there still would only be so much I could take before the stimuli overwhelmed me and I would need a break.

I’ll be wandering about Film Fest more than I did the Cherry Festival — but I’ll have a purpose. I’ll be there as a journalist and will have a reason to approach people and do things, so it won’t bother me.

To some, that might sound strange, but it’s just how I am.

For those of you who did visit the Cherry Fest, I hope you had a great time. I’d love to hear all about it.

Email reporter Alexa Zoellner at azoellner@record-eagle.com.

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