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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Kansas Cliff

In my life I'm finding balance a hard thing to find. The highs are getting stronger and the lows are becoming harder to cope with. Maybe this is due to the fact that I'm so aware of my strengths and weaknesses and have analyzed them and written about them a thousand times. Whatever the case, the borders of Kansas at becoming less of a line in the sand and more like a steep cliff that goes down 1,000 feet.

Take last weekend for example; as mentioned yesterday I flagged the SKUSA race in New Castle, Indiana and it was, perhaps, my finest performance yet. The confidence instilled within me when I do this is great. I can write about the confidence and try to explain but words would fail at just how amazing the transformation is. And yet, when driving home Sunday night, I stopped to get food and the positional warfare (that is what I call "being uncomfortable in one's own skin" in that no posture or positioning feels right) waged on and I couldn't make eye contact with a single person.

Then yesterday whilst driving to the office I stopped to get a breakfast bar at a gas station and the same positional warfare began and the lack of eye contact turned to a complete avoidance of even looking within the space the people were in ran rampant. And yet, four hours after that I gave my presentation in parent training and had no issues speaking with confidence and feeling fully comfortable in the space I was in.

Before my diagnosis I knew there were these two sides but now it seems more pronounced. Perhaps it isn't and perhaps it's just that whatever emotion a person feels in the present is going feel like the strongest ever, or at least it is like that for myself, so it's just stronger. Then again, maybe the proverbial other states in my Kansas metaphor are drifting apart. Could it be as I become more confident in my Kansas there is an equal lowering of my ability to cope with things outside of it? I'd say 100% yes to this EXCEPT how would my Aspie Traveler series fit into this?

Well, how would it? I think I can explain it in that, for one, traveling is a Kansas and when 6,000 miles away in a foreign land any social encounter will probably be the one and only ever experienced with a person, let alone if one even happens, due to the language barrier whereas at home there is no barrier and more is expected.

I realize everyone has their comfort zone and everyone has a strength and weakness and venturing out of their comfort zone is uncomfortable. I understand this, but the gap for us on the autism spectrum can be greater and it is amplified because we may get a taste of what normal is from time to time and it's within that which makes the times when we may become socially paralyzed harder because we've felt the opposite. It boggles my mind that I can present to thousands of people and yet simple chit chat can be overwhelming. On the flip side, I can command a race track and communicate within the team and direct attention to problems and do a dozen things at once flawlessly but when the final checkered flies I lose my confident posture, my firm voice, and any feeling that I didn't any thing of note.

This post isn't to sound depressing, or to over state the issue at hand, but rather explain it because it can happen and unless you've experienced it this issue may be hard to grasp. Society has a habit of thinking that if a person can do one thing exceptionally well they can do everything well. I may be a great presenter, I may be a great official at the race track and do a decent job at ensuring the race is as safe as can be, but underneath it all Asperger's persists. I don't let it define me like I did shortly after my diagnosis, but it's there driving a wedge between Kansas and every other state. Yes, it makes the time I'm in Kansas a most enjoyable experience and I think I enjoy things more than "normal" people and have more passion in what I do than others could ever possibly reach, but it also makes the less enjoyable things more difficult and it makes things I'm not passionate about almost impossible.

Here's the thing; I wish I could do the things normal people do so easily.  Maybe right now I've got normal envy. I understand I've done things most people will probably never do, and I've done some rather spectacular things so maybe it's hard to empathize with this, but in the game of life when it comes to the social aspect I feel as if I'm just an invisible person on the sidelines watching everyone else play the game with a flawless ease and each time I attempt to play the game I get chewed up and spat out right back to the sidelines where I sit, I watch, and I wonder how everyone outside of Kansas can operate so naturally when, for myself, it's all or nothing, ease or impossible, and oh what I would do to close up the Kansas cliff.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I Would Give For One More Lap...

About three years ago I wrote a post similar to this in regards to seeing the past, but I feel I have more to add now, then again I may just repeat myself...

Over the past weekend I worked the Fikse Wheels SKUSA Summer Nationals at New Castle Motorsports Park. The track facility is unbelievable and is a stark contrast to where I began in the sport of motorsports. New Castle has garages, a full on diner, suites, more pit area than one could possibly use, and an infinite (that number could be slightly exaggerated) number of track configurations that could be ran. I have to admit watching photo finish after photo finish (the event is going to make for some exciting action on CBS SportsNetwork in a couple weeks) that I wish I was still behind the wheel instead of displaying the flags at start finish but as I thought of this I didn't want to take a lap around New Castle but rather I'd give anything for just one more lap around Widman Park.

I began racing karts in 1995 and the Saint Louis Karting Association had a lease for the Saint Louis County Parks department to use Widman Park ,which had been a motorcycle track for many years, to be used for karting. The land itself is in a frequent flood zone so there wasn't much use for the land to anyone else but for myself it shaped who I am today.

If you look on the internet you can find videos of many karting tracks in use today. With the advent of high quality cameras such as GoPro you can even get a driver's perspective of almost any track, but if you look up Widman and SLKA few hits will come up on Google. One of the leading ones is actually the time I blogged about it. When it comes to images, again, few come up, but I did find this one that a person posted in a Facebook community about the history of karting in Missouri.



With all of the picture capturing devices now kids of today will be able to remember the tracks they raced on. Heck, I take pictures of the tracks I flag at, but there are few images of the place that I spent my weekends racing, growing, and learning all the valuable lesson one learns while competing.

If you drive by the land that the track was on it'll either be flooded or will look like a unkempt field and there will be no trace of the track that was there. Was the track New Castle? Oh, most certainly not! However, I'd give anything to take turns one and two again (the turns in the top right of the track) or turn three, or the horseshoe which in six seasons I always felt I could take it just a bit better.

Memories are an odd thing and are something that will certainly be transformed by the ease of capturing video and pictures. The fact that no one has shared pictures from all the years the SLKA raced there is saddening in a way. When I began the club was getting about 150-200 entries for each club race. Those numbers today would be massive for a club race, and yet there is barely a trace that the track ever existed.

I owe a lot to that place; it's the place I first held a flag while motorized vehicles raced, it's the place I first became a chief starter (at the age of 13!) and it's the place got me through my childhood. Where would I be without this place? I'm not sure. This plot of land gave me a reason to get through the days. I didn't feel isolated in my teens, really, because I was always focused on the next weekend when everyone was socially equal being isolated behind the wheel of their karts zipping around the track.

Many years, 20 actually, have passed since I first took my first laps around Widman and to many that raced there it was probably just a hobby; something to do on the weekends, but to me it was much more. For all the kids that race today I wonder if, in 20 years, they'll think about the track they began at and the smell of the track, the early mornings, the sun rises, and all the dreams of racing stardom when they took that first lap. I can almost assure you one thing though; regardless if any of the drivers I flag today make it to NASCAR, Indycar, or even F1, there will be a time that every driver will think back to the track they began at and will give anything to do one more lap on the track and one more attempt to take that tricky corner just right. They'll want to relive that time that they made a three wide pass, or the time they won there first race. Maybe in 20 years the track they began at will still be there, and then again perhaps it won't, but the memories made are irreplaceably vivid. Sure, newer tracks will be built, but no place can replace the place where it all began. Oh, to be 12 again and take my first green flag!
 
 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Getting Through It

The internal storm rages on but on my drive to Indy yesterday I had a flurry of blog ideas. It also helped that I worked the USAC Silver Crown series race last night and then went straight to New Castle to work the SKUSA Summernats which starts today. I'm not fully sure, but there's just something awesome about going from track to track on five hours sleep. 

The blog ideas I've got are good and I look forward to actually being able to write again next week. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Aspergers and The Redline

If there's one question above all else that irritates me it's, "what are you thinking?" because the vastness of things I'm thinking about is hard to describe. However, there are times when something is troubling me and when this happens whatever is troubling me creates an unenviable situation. To describe this I'll use a physical example of something that I witnessed at a race track a decade ago.

I have to apologize to my college comp 101 teacher because her words of, "never use anything sports related to prove any point" still ring in my head to this day and today I'll break it. Anyway, I was working as the chief starter for the Saint Louis Karting Association and in the TaG 60 class two karts got together and spun. The lead kart through a chain which mean the engine could run but no power would get to the axel. Something occurred, however, which kept the engine running. And run it did! It just didn't run but the RPM's picked up and up and up. The young driver frantically got out of the kart as a sound that I've never heard since this event blared out. The motor was screaming past 20,000RPM's and this putrid odor filled the air. I thought about throwing the red flag because I was sure this engine would explode in a spectacular flurry of shrapnel. A corner worker arrived and pulled the spark plus wire which always cuts the power to the engine, or so in theory. Later, a person told me he engine was dieseling but at the time all I knew was that I was worried about most anyone including myself, that was within 50 yards of this now smoking engine.

With the plug wire off and the engine still screaming the corner worker laid prone on the ground beside the kart, presumably to protect himself should the engine explode, and he covered the carburetor to starve the engine of oxygen. This, at first, seemed ineffective as the motor screamed but eventually the wail and scream of a motor going many, many thousands of RPM's above hat it should be running ceased. The ordeal was over, but the awful smell remained as a reminded of what had happened.

Why do I recount a story that happened a decade ago? The reason is that I feel that this is a great example of what my brain does. It's doing so right now at a level I haven't felt in years (or ever). What's causing it? I do know the root cause but I won't bore you with that because the point here is how it's making me feel.

Experts can say that the Asperger brain can dwell, perseverate, and downright obsess. I wouldn't be surprised if I had an assessment done right now that I'd be given the diagnosis of OCD. OCD? Yes, once a stressor is realized and felt it isn't just felt at the medium range of an engine's power but rather it's up there in the redline zone. In other words it's at maximum speed with no ability to simply slow down.

It gets tiring; this constant stressing over the same thing. When I wake up in the morning there's calm and I can feel the exact moment my brain starts the stressing and once it begins it's like that engine that couldn't be turned off.

To live with this is to carry a great burden. During these times of great worry I can't distract my mind strongly enough and the thoughts keep going and going. There's a lot of repetition in my conversations but that's only my conversations; inside my head there's a lot more action that I don't share. Telling me to, "just quit thinking about it" is not much help because, if I had a choice, I wouldn't opt for a mind that is putting myself through pure misery.

What can be a gift at the ability of hyper-focusing is also a curse when it comes to this. The only respite comes in sleep and as mentioned above that moment that I wake up only to experience the same fierce thoughts is difficult.

Perhaps this once again illustrates the all or nothing, black or white thinking for a person on the spectrum. When a thought, emotion, or in this case fear/anxiety is felt it is felt to an unfiltered level. There is no 2,000RPM thought  it instead it is felt at maximum velocity and speed. I may have isolated it and explained it but still the dieseling continues in my brain and I'd give anything to prolong those moments when I wake up oblivious to the worry that lies ahead of me.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Population Effect

I spent yesterday in thought, maybe too much thought but nonetheless it was a lot. I thought about what I wrote about the population of Kansas. I don't think I've ever described it the way I did yesterday, but I started thinking about what it all means. I mean, everyone has his or her own Kansas regardless of the autism spectrum, right? Everyone has a favorite topic or a topic that makes one feel safe when talking about. Everyone has that subject that makes them feel "normal," but what happens when that one thing creates a state of isolation? The answer that I came up with may explain a lot about who I am.

Despite the fact that I'm a public speaker and have 100% confidence in a presentation, I am not the most confident person you'll ever meet. Actually, I'm rather the contrary as I struggle in most places outside the stage or the flag stand. Just yesterday, when ordering lunch I had a gigantic struggle simply making eye to person contact (that is a step below eye contact in that my eyes weren't any where in the space the person was in) and my words did not come easy. For those that have seen me in a presentation, or command a race track from the stand, it may be hard to imagine this. But what causes it? Why do I feel defeated before I even start to order? It's very much like starting a race on lap four and accepting defeat before the race has even started. Why do I have this fail-set mindset?

The previous paragraph filled up most of my day yesterday. I thought about what I wrote regarding the population of Kansas and then I read a comment someone put on my author page about the post in that it describes how and where a person from autism comes from. I didn't really think of it like that until I read that comment and that got me thinking about where I came from. Think about it, if you lived in a state that few visited but wanted others to come visit and when they did and eventually left you will accept the fact that they would leave before they even got there.

This population effect, in my opinion, starts out subtlety but over time grows and grows. Right now I'm experiencing the full brunt of it as I've come off of two amazing trips this year and many racing events. It's odd to say this but in Japan I didn't feel alone. Yet here at home, where I understand the language, I do feel this crushing sense of isolation.

I've tried to keep my mind active and I've tried not to allow myself to feel, but it's been useless. The effects of many years of isolation within Kansas have created this mindset that A. I'll never be good enough, B. I'll never experience what I've done again, and C. I'm simply not interesting enough to be included in any other person's conversation and I just need to accept a life of solitude.

Yes, I know those words are absurd, but a feeling like this isn't something that I can simply think, "go away!" These thoughts are vicious and destructive of every aspect of confidence and esteem, but they're there. And why wouldn't they be? If we use my "film theory," which states that "whatever happens first always has to happen," and the initial history showed this lack of ability to connect with others, why should I be able to see the picture differently? If you were told the color red was green all your life and later you found out green was it's own thing and the correct word for red was red, you'd still initially think of the word green when seeing red. It's much like this as I do have evidence stating that I might be somewhat interesting because if I weren't would you be reading this? Would I be a presenter? Obviously not and yet unless I'm in the midst of a presentation the concept is all rather foreign to me.

I'm sure my fail-set beliefs go back to when I was in school and all I wanted was that ability to feel like I fit in. Sure, I had a friend or two but with anything that involved a group I was an outsider, confused by it all. And besides, why would I want to even be in a group considering that the normal consensus of what to talk about was never anywhere close to the intricate things I wanted to discuss?

I will still always speak highly and fondly of Kansas, but there is this downside. And maybe this funk I'm in is a perfect storm because this has been the most turbulent year of my life since 2005 which is amplified by this fail-set mindset from what I picked up on as a child. Whatever the case, I have to remain active and busy because to be alone in thought is to be isolated not within Kansas but another state. In the other state there may be people but I'm alone and on the outside, an alien if you will, because my homeland is Kansas and the ways of other states don't make sense. There are times when I don't want the isolation, but I'll be alone in a crowd. That's what I deal with. It's hard to describe, harder to live with, and probably hardest of all is to understand this without living it. Unfortunately, my proverbial state borders are shifting and I need to stay occupied to not allow myself to tell me that I'm not good enough.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Population of Kansas

It's 2.904,000... But wait, that's not exactly what I'm talking about here. The Kansas I'm talking about is the from the main concept of my book. Instead of having a Capitol like Topeka an individual's Kansas may be dinosaurs or Minecraft or maybe even something such as famous mayors from the state of Idaho. The way I describe Kansas isn't in a geographical sense but rather a metaphorical one and Kansas is an activity or task that we on the autism spectrum may become obsessed with.

I've written about Kansas in more ways than I can remember but I've never talked about the actual population of Kansas.  In my life I do all that I can to be in Kansas because I word it this way; in Kansas things make sense and I feel normal but if I venture to any other state it's as if I'm paralyzed. That being said it's an easy choice to decide where I'd want to live. There's a problem here, however, and that is that the population of Kansas.

Growing up I did all that I could to get everyone interested in my Kansas. This was difficult because what I was interested in no one else my age had any idea what it was that I was talking about. This made me the only person in Kansas and if we are talking about the literal state of Kansas and if just one person lived there that would be a lot of square miles without any life, being, or any other person to interact with. Because of this Kansas can be the greatest yet loneliest place on earth.

What all this does is this; because I can't just make something a Kansas or make a Kansas go away it can become rather depressing to have an interest I want to talk about and have no one else care. To keep the geographical metaphor alive I wonder what it is like in another state and what it is like to interact with others on a shared topic. In looking across the border, though, I know and am convinced that I don't stand a chance surviving in the chaos that is every other state as it doesn't make sense. My facts and my interests in which I have all aspects memorized does make sense and I'm at ease speaking about them but the randomness of other states and all the unwritten social rules which everyone else seems to understand makes no sense.

Kansas is an awesome place, it really is, but it can be a prison of sorts. I can't leave it; I can't simply say that I want to be social and change who I am and what I'm interested in. It doesn't work that way. When I was young there were times others, primarily teachers (speaking about non-family members) that would make the trek to Kansas and I remember like it was right this second the elation and joy I had when I knew I wasn't alone. Often times I'll feel alone in a crowd because I know that, even though a few feet may separate myself and another person the actual distance is that of Kansas to Maine. Sure, one could make the trip that far but few do. For as awesome as Kansas is it can also be the loneliest place on the planet and I'll be waiting there, patiently, awaiting that moment when someone crosses the border and I get that rare feeling if normality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Little Bit of Racing History

Over the past weekend I flagged the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The event itself is our crown jewel event, but in 30 years few will remember who won, who got taken out, and what a fifth place finish meant. What will be remembered is that on Saturday night all the kids got gridded up on the 2.5 mile oval and got to do a lap at the world's most famous race course.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Back to Writing (hopefully)

As with my Amsterdam trip I'm having a challenge writing. My writing abilities have shifted over five years with when I started I wrote a lot of concepts but now I'm much more suited in writing about stories and experiences. 

The good thing is I have some great ideas for some blogs coming up so it should get good, but for today I'm at the police academy about to present. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Barometer of Tension

Over the 4th weekend I did something I wish I have done a lot more frequently and that is to go play golf with my dad. The experience, however, wasn't a peaceful day on the links but instead was a five marathon of pure tension.

This tension wasn't caused by my dad, myself, or the way I was hitting the ball. Instead, this tension was created by the two people that we were paired up to golf with. I'm awful with age but I'd say they were late 20's early 30's and one of them was the splitting image of the idea of an angry golfer. Right off the first tee  he hit two shots that hooked far left and the classic "slam the club into the ground to prove a point" routine was used. After that my level of alert raised to maximum.

The holes slowly went by and there were more club slams, throws, and angry words and with each outburst I felt it more. In my writings and presentations I state, "I'm not a good judge if you're happy, sad, mad, bored" but raging is something I can pick up on. Secondly, and others on the spectrum and their families have told me this which also happens to be my story, I am a barometer of the environment. When there's a possibility of anger I seem to sense it. If there's any hint of passive aggressiveness I also pick up on that, but there was nothing passive about this situation unfolding on the fairways, and rough, of this golf course.

When I say barometer you may be wondering what that means as well as saying that I pick up on it. This means I can sense that something is wrong. Sense emotions are hard to understand and my body has a need to know everything that is about to happen this means that my body has to overcompensate and prepare for the worst. On that golf course I was prepared for many things; in my mind is was within the realm of possibility that this golfer could get angry and start attacking everyone. Rational? Probably not, but my body's defenses have to fill in the blanks that most people understand.

The pace of play was slow and this guy kept getting worse and worse. His friend wasn't much better but didn't have the club throw or anger technique his friend had. Once we were halfway through I had a few minutes in the cart with just my dad and I and that was all that I wanted. I didn't want a day filled with fearing verbal outbursts. I didn't want a day in which I was afraid to even speak so as to not even risk angering a person. All of those elements made it to where I had severe positional warfare and couldn't even make eye to person contact (that would be eye contact within a box around a person).

On the 15th hole the anger got the worst of him. He hit a bad shot after bad shot and on the approach to the green which has a big ravine in the middle he shanked it right in the face of the upslope so he went full throttle down the hill and then tried to go up the 60 degree incline. A golf cart being top heavy and having a small amount of power was no match for the hill. The cart stalled out and started to tip to one side which through the angry golfer's friend out the side then the cart's rear tire rolled over the friend. It was an alarming sight, but the friend got up and didn't appear to be even the slightest bit angry with his so called friend.

Now I was in a full state of red alert. What I had predicted, that being that he would lose all control, happened what was next? My internal barometer was now showing that a category five hurricane was coming ashore and yet there were no outwardly signs that there was outward anger.

The friend that got ran over was in pain and he quit golfing, then at the end of the next hole he started to cough and I'm pretty sure there was blood so the angry golfer said, "Well, I've hit enough bad shots today, I quit" and they left and finally there was peace. I told my dad about the fear and anxiety I had been experiencing and he was oblivious to the tension I felt.

I've always been a barometer and in school this was one of the more tiring aspects; trying to stay up on who was about to be angry at who. I had to stay apprised, I had to know, I had to prepare. Not being able to read the social cues, as I mentioned, makes me fill in the blanks and most of the times I fill them in with going too far. Was this angry golfer going to attack someone? Probably not, but could it have happened? That's what having this barometer does and most of the time the storms that are predicted don't occur, but should they occur I'll be prepared.