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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Years Since Katrina

Today isn't the official five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but for me it is. Five years ago today I traveled with my dad into the area hit hardest by Katrina.

When Katrina passed over Florida I already, being an amateur meteorologist, predicted that Katrina would explode into a storm that would never be forgotten. I was, sadly, right.

My dad was doing video work for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at the time and I went along as a still photographer. The year prior I went with my dad to Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola so I was somewhat prepared for what was, but that somewhat was nothing to what I experienced.

The first day we went out we knew that getting into New Orleans would be impossible. The world was watching the incredible images of the roof top rescues, but there was no news out of the towns East of New Orleans. On a hunch, and a prediction that the storm surge was worse on the East side of the eye wall, we traveled towards Waveland, Mississippi.



The roads were difficult to navigate as we neared Waveland due to the amount of debris. The picture to the right may show the impact, but imagine seeing that in all directions for miles!


The amount of sadness that this storm induced will never fully be felt. I knew I had to take as many photos as I could to capture the scene because, unless you were there, words and pictures will only go so far.




The sound down these streets was of a deafening silence. Once the motor to the van was turned off the only sounds that were heard was that of one's own breath. There were no other cars (we saw a couple search and rescue teams, but none were in the area by the beach that we were at), no birds, and no life. We were alone. What had been a beautiful neighborhood with elaborate homes with nice front porches that were protected by high trees was now just a debris field.

At the time, and probably even now, I don't understand and haven't processed all the emotions from that experience. This isn't to say that it was hard for me as I lost nothing in the storm unlike so many people, but I realized that in all this debris, this haphazard pile of rubble, lives were represented. What was a shard of a plate may have been a wedding gift. A toy car may have been a child's favorite toy.

I said the silence was deafening and it truly was. It could have been the most tranquil place because the one time I closed my eyes the silence was of pure peace, but once my eyes opened again I was brought back to reality. The soundless land was a lifeless land. It didn't matter where one looked as there was no escaping the fields of debris.


At this point in time we were the only media of any form in this area. The search and rescue dogs had not been here yet and the primary news outlets were focused on New Orleans. We were first to Waveland and first into the beach area and I still can't believe it was five years ago.


My experience covering Katrina certainly shaped who I am. I know I took things was granted before I went down to take photos, but afterwards I realized just how fast things can change. Again, I didn't lose anyone or anything to the storm, but being in the midst of what used to be a neighborhood and only seeing shards of wood and partial foundations is something that I think would move anyone.
Today is five years. It seems like yesterday that I was living in a world of lifelessness. The stillness and silence is still with me. It was an experience I will never forget and will stay with me forever. I hope that my words and pictures conveys the emotions I felt and gives you just a clearer picture of what was a storm that will never be forgotten.







Monday, August 30, 2010

The Indycar Race and a Trip to Chicago




Waking up on Saturday was a relief as I finally got the camera flash incident out of my system. It stayed with me until I went to sleep, but morning brought a new day.

The time flew by and before we knew it the time to go back to the track was upon us.

My goal during the day was to meet one of the flagman so as we got to the track I stood at the bottom of the stands to try and get his attention, but the ever vigilant usher said I could not stand there. This irked me because for one thing the Indy Lights race was still an hour away so what view was I blocking. Also, being talked to randomly like that made it difficult to think so I made the long walk, and then long climb to our seats.

My heart almost stopped when we got to our seats because I thought I recognized a kid that was sitting near us. Was it? Yes it was; the son of the man who I made mad with my camera flash. I was scared because would he still be mad? What I thought was going to be a dream day quickly turned into a day of fear. On this day he was sitting behind us so as long as I looked forward and watched the race perhaps he would not know who I was.

The Indy Lights race started out amazing, but turned scary when Charlie Kimball crashed and his car took of like an airplane and the car did a back flip. It looked fake from where we were sitting at the entry to turn one. The race was stopped, but the driver was 100% uninjured!

Once the race was restarted the race was non-stop action all the way to the end. Side-by-side was the order of the day and the race was decided in the last few feet.

After the Indy Lights race I rushed down to the flagstand to give a wave of hello to Tom Hansing, who I learned was the primary flagman (you may remember him from the posts at the end of May). I knew that power hungry usher would be there so I made sure to keep moving.

Tom was waiting for the fence to open up so he could get into the infield and as I walked down the stairs, slowly, he finally looked towards my direction and I gave a wave and he waved back so I don't know if he did know who I was, or if it was just a reflex. This question was debated for many hours afterwards.

A couple hours passed and it was time for the Indy Car race. The man I made mad was now seated next to me, but there seemed to be no sense of hostility. This confused me because, in my mind, if someone is mad for a second they were/will be mad at me forever. This concept of being mad for a second is lost on me. I sat next to him holding my breath for an outburst towards me, but it never came and once the race started I forgot all about him.

The action, compared to the night before (ARCA.NASCAR Trucks) could not be compared. Whereas the previous night had many lulls in the action, the Indy Car race was filled with "Oh my!" moments.

Sidy-by-side throughout the field was the norm, and at many time all cars on track were just one second apart first to last. At times three wide would occur and at one point in time everyone's heart skipped a beat when, at 220mph, some drivers went four wide into a turn.

The race was nothing short of amazing and at the end it was somewhat of a relief because there were no serious crashes, but also it was sad because the race was such a special spectacle to witness.

On Sunday we decided to go to downtown Chicago and go to the Museum of Science and Industry. Since I read about the museum in my 2nd grade science book I had always wanted to go but never have. Sunday would change that.

The first exhibit we went to was the weather area and instantly my system was in shock as there was a loud, well, exceptionally loud electrical thing that makes a very loud hissing/buzzing noise. A few minutes later, as I was regaining my composure, a loud boom occurred. I love learning about new things, but this environment was very rough for me to take.

Booms and buzzing stopped and a 12:45 we took the U-505 tour. Inside the museum is an entire German WWII U-boat. Captured off the coast of Africa it was brought to Bermuda and, according to two different tour guides, the capture of it cut the time of the war by six months.

We payed an extra few dollars to take the on board tour and this was amazing because I never had been on a submarine before. It was so cramped and it was hard to believe the tour guide lady that 59 crew served on board.

As we progressed through the tour the tour guide kept looking at Rob in a funny way and at the last leg she kept eyeing him, and then his shirt which was a Vancouver Canucks shirt, and the tour guide said, "Yep, uh-uh, Canucks fan, eh? Well, we won!" And then she showed Rob the "2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champions" pin that was on her over coat. Rob's response? "Next year!"

The tour was amazing and the tour guide was too. If anyone for MSI reads this give that guide (I think her name was Amanda) a raise! I am not one to give compliments so this is a rare rare RARE event.

After the tour I looked at some of the items taken from the boat and it really began to sink in just how old this boat was and the damage it inflicted on so many merchant marines. The task force to take out this sub involved five ships and the amount of names of the sailors that took part was staggering.

Instantly, as we got to the end of the exhibit, I needed to know more. I know in the coming days, and weeks I will do research on that era of history because I do not understand it. I can't fathom it at all that so many people and so many places were at war and the capturing of just one ship turned the naval tides.

As we toured around the other areas I became transfixed with other things and really wish I had turned out to be a scientist. If that had happened though I most certainly wouldn't have this blog so I guess it worked out, but still, that museum makes everything amazing.

After the museum Rob and I wanted to see more of Chicago, but there was no place to park, and getting anywhere took a long time. Roads were closed and the drivers around me were overly aggressive. I was getting frazzled and after showing Rob the United Center I was at my limit. Perhaps my limit would have been greater if I didn't have so much stimuli from the museum, but after driving by the base of the Sears Tower I turned into a zombie of sorts and when we turned North on Lake Shore drive I was seven miles North before I realized where I was going.

Once I realized that my system was at its limit I told Rob that we were going home. The town was just too busy for me. I love New York City, but there was something about yesterday that didn't allow me to enjoy a big sprawling city. This made me sad because I love the chorus of a city in motion. I love hearing many different languages in a short time-span, but yesterday I was unable to partake in that chorus.

Oh well, maybe I will have a better experience in Chicago the next time. Overall the trip was one to remember with the amazing races and the submarine. I only wish I could have done more, but when my system hits its limit I know not to try and power through it. It took me until I woke up this morning to work through the stress and emotions from yesterday, and as I said before today is a new day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

More on Day 2 and Day 3: A Drive and a Issue Caused by a Flash

I am back at the hotel after a long day, but on my drive up here I realized I missed out on telling you a big part of yesterday.

Yesterday, before getting into the sardine tram to the top of the Arch, I began to panic. Besides the staggering height the tram would take us, I was going to become very close to whoever got put into the same tram as us. I began to panic because I didn't know if they would talk to us, and what to do with my eyes, so I turned to Rob and told him, "Yup, this is a sunglasses moment."

I put them on and the ride was made much easier because without them I would have been totally exposed in my eyes. By totally exposed I mean I would have to worry about every eye movement I did. There is only so much open space in the tram that with normal glasses I would have been transfixed on one spot in space, but even this isn't good because this gets odd looks as well and can be just as uncomfortable as direct eye contact. Of course the sunglasses came out and the process was made easier for me.

Going forward to today we drove from Saint Louis towards Chicago. The drive was smooth and it was rather odd to be driving with a passenger. Truly, as weird as it was to have my space in my house invaded, having a passenger is almost as weird. I have a passenger in my car maybe once every three months, but usually only for short drives.

We got to Morris, Illinois and checked into the hotel, and then drove to Chicagoland Speedway to attend the ARCA race as well as the NASCAR Truck Series Race.

Walking into the stands was odd as anytime I am at a track and not working I feel confused. My eyes instantly became transfixed on the flagstand and I was thinking, hoping, that someday I will command a post like that one on a regular basis.

As the sun went down and the lights came on taking pictures became difficult. I have a camera with me and as the Truck race began my camera was using a flash automatically. I didn't mind this, but eventually the man beside me got irritated and asked, in a harsh tone, "Could you quit using the flash. You know the flash is irrelevant with this lighting!"

I began to fumble the camera (thank goodness I had the camera strap around my neck) as I began to panic. It wasn't the request that frazzled me, but rather the tone. A harsh tone, in my mind, equals a very dangerous situation. I didn't know this person so I was unaware of how mad he actually was. Sure, he helped me earlier when my funnel cake powdered sugar made my black pants look like a checkered flag, but there was no verbal exchange. Now, I was in crisis mode.

It had been so long since I shot anything that I forgot how to turn off the flash. I went to a menu, hit a few buttons, and finally I turned a dial and the flash quit working. I told him I did it looking for some sort of thanks or some sign of deescalation, but none was given. By this time Kyle Busch was in the lead and this man showed his disapproval, but at least my flash and I had long been forgotten.

The fear I experienced in that one tone stayed with me though. This is something I have said, and will say many times because it is important. Emotions take a while to process, and while this is going on the emotion level can stay to the maximum. I was fearful for myself because I didn't know what to make of the situation. It's these random encounters that create the most stress because I have no prior info to go off of. With people I know I have prior knowledge of tones and behaviors. With those that are unknown, well, it is unknown so everything is thought of to the extreme, and with that comes fear and a state of paralysis.

It is now almost midnight, four hours since my flash irked a random person and I still feel nervous. If my flash was hurting his eyes he did have every right to tell me to not use it, but that doesn't change the fact that my reaction was the same. I can't help it, and furthermore those around me can't possibly know the impact of their tone. This is the battle I face every day.

Sleep is almost upon. Tomorrow is a new day and tomorrow night should have an amazing IZOD Indy Car race. Practice today had many three wide moments and I am looking forward to it. I just hope my enjoyment isn't ruined by this fear I am still feeling.

About to Hit the Road/ Day 2

I wanted to do a Q & A Friday segment, but I would not have the time this morning to do it at the quality I would expect so I will make it up next week.

Yesterday Rob and I visited the Arch. I haven't been in it, or around it on the ground, for 15 years. It's weird that I have been here in Saint Louis for so long that the Arch is just there. That means that it is nothing special, but that it is just there; part of the skyline. Experiencing this technological marvel through the eyes of someone that has never seen it made the uniqueness of the Arch special again.

One thing I did not like about the Arch was the tram ride to the top. I never had a fear of heights until I went up this church steeple in Riga, Latvia back in 2008. Being in the tram car that goes to the top (which gives you a sardine experience as tightly packed as people are packed into them) was a nerve racking, muscle twitching, hold on for dear life experience.

The view from the top was amazing and there was really no sense of fear once I was at the top. Coming down though was a similar experience.

So today we are about to head to Chicago for a great weekend of racing. I may update my blog tonight after the races.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Invasion: Day 1

A smile was brought to my face as I wrote the title for this. What will Rob think if he sees this? I mean, I invite a friend a couple thousand miles and then call his trip an invasion. I may call it that, but that has nothing to do with him as it is the space that is invaded and anyone who would come here would also be an invader.

Explaining invasion aside, the yesterday was easier than I expected. I picked Rob up at the airport and arrived twenty minutes early so I just sat and soaked up the atmosphere. I had my sunglasses on and was in paradise as I watched travelers and business folk scurry about either heading to an important business meeting, or being reunited with their families. This was the first time I had my sunglasses on it in that high density of people and I was amazed, truly amazed at the amount of facial and body communications that go on between people.

I never spent much time looking at faces as it is just too much for me, but being an invisible person seated ,wearing sunglasses, and off to the side allowed me to watch with no risk of being interacted with. This lack of interaction is one reason I love airports (the only interaction happens at the security check). People rarely acknowledge that there are other people around them. However, for people that know each other, there is so much communication that occurs that isn't vocal. Eye gestures, facial ticks, posture, and even the way people looked at signs seemed to be ways these people communicated. I was enthralled with it all as I didn't understand it, but I at least saw it.

Rob's plane was late and I was worried I would miss him and not know where to find him. I was still seated off to the side, invisible to the world, when this person with a Canadian Hockey shirt walked by seemingly lost. I will be honest and say I did not recognize him, but I used the logic that there probably not too many people visiting Saint Louis wearing a shirt like that and appearing to be lost.

I proceeded to stand up and follow him just to make sure. I tried everything I could to reflect back to when I was in Vancouver, but my memories failed me. I could remember the boats I saw, and the smell of the Sky Train, and the taste of the hot chocolate at the Aerials event, but my memory failed in recalling him.

Slowly I got closer and he then turned around and saw me, but I think he too was confused as to who I was. I began to walk past him as I thought my next course of action, but his facial expression was one of sureness and that sureness was he knew who I was so I was right and all anxiety of him being lost was gone.

After finding our way out of the parking garage maze (seriously, there is no easy way out of the Lambert parking garage when parked in the bottom. The signs will lead one to a never ending loop of confusion!) I thought of ways to delay our arrival to home. We drove by the TouchPoint offices and then got back onto I-170 and Rob had a scare when a big chunk of pavement got kicked up and just missed where he was sitting and the chunk hit the post of the windshield. It made a big mark so I am sure it had a chance to come through the windshield. Normal things just can't happen around me, can it?

After dinner it was time. We pulled up to the house and I slowly got out of my car. My world, my safe world that no one has seen in many years was about to be seen. My memories, my items, and even the way I arrange my games on a shelf was about to be seen. I was nervous and actually shook a little bit as I did not know how bad this was actually going to be.

As per the usual result the end result wasn't the end of the world as I envisioned it. In fact, not one of my fears came true. I did feel as if a part of my emotions and memories were exposed, but if they were, in fact, exposed Rob made no statement or act that let me know he knows.

So there you have it, day one is in the books and tomorrow we hit the road to go to Chicago and attend Friday night's ARCA and NASCAR Truck Series race with Saturday being the Indy Car race. I can't wait to be on the road once again and can't wait to bring you the stories!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Invited Invasion

Today is going to be a hard day; sacred ground is going to be trespassed on. This trespass is invited though, but even still there will be a sense of, well, uneasiness.

At 5:15 a plane is scheduled to land. On this plane will be Rob (aka on Xbox as Dr Payne) and you may know him as I have mentioned him many times on my blog with his first appearance in my 2nd ever entry, "An International Event".

Rob gave me a ticket to go to the Olympics back in February so I am returning the favor by giving him a ticket to go to the IndyCar race in Chicago this upcoming weekend. It will be a great time, and a great race I hope, but later today sacred ground will be stepped on.

When I was younger I hated, with a passion unlike anything else, going to a friend's house. There was one exception to this, but as a rule I wanted home field advantage. Being home there is control. If the game went wrong, or my friend got unruly I had a place to go. At a friend's house there was no where to go or hide so I liked that advantage, but times change.

As much as I always stayed home, now I do not want people to see my home. I have actually not invited a friend to my house in, get this, seven years! The last friend of any sort to be invited in was Emily when we played a game of Scrabble back in 2003.

Why the change? As time went on, and continues to tick away, I have become a much more private person. Contrary to what you may think because I write and talk on such a personal level I am very private. For a person to see where I live and how I arrange things is, to me, much more personal than describing the "dance of the fingers" or expressing how an usher at a NHL game made me rageful. Those events, and those stories, are a cakewalk compared to what is going to happen once that plane lands.

Privacy, to me, is paramount. Using this medium I have complete control on the content. It is this that allows me to communicate so openly. However, if someone is in my environment control is lost. Questions could be asked, opinions could be made, and it will be 100% out of my hands.

I am interested in why there was such a sudden shift from always needing home field advantage to always wanting to be away when interacting with people I know. Is it fully the fact that I am worried what people will think from how they see where I live? Or could it be that, since I drive, it is easier to leave a place rather than ask someone to leave?

I don't have an answer as to why right now. All I know is that I am a private person and I like people not knowing. Don't get me wrong as there is nothing wrong with where I live. It looks like a room, acts like a room, and after the two cleaning sessions it is truly a room. But to me it is more. There are emotions tied to all items. I wrote my book in that room and have spent many a sleepless night typing away. For me I relive all those events daily, so if a person is in that same place it will be like that are experiencing my emotions and will know exactly how I felt. Who would want that?

The minutes are ticking away and 5:15 will get here before I know it. I will do my best to hide my worries and timidness to this invited invasion, but I was the one who made the invitation so I will have to deal with it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What drives me?

Once a month I restate my mission, today I do it in the form of a video blog:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Where? Over There! Over Here? No, Over There! Over Where?

The title of this blog is something that has been said far too often in my life. For someone that has a great sense of direction I am unable to take direction when trying to locate an item.

Starting all the way when I was really little I had no concept of "it's over there" when trying to locate something. Where is "there"? There could be anywhere and since I see everything at once if there is anywhere I am hopeless at finding something.

When I worked at the kart shop the owner, Greg, one time had me go into the office to bring him his phone. I went from the garage area into the office and instantly saw the whole room. Seeing everything makes seeing small details, like a phone, difficult if not impossible. I stood in the doorway wondering what to do as I know people don't like to repeat themselves, but I was hopeless as to finding the phone. Daunted, I went back to Greg and asked him, "where?" The range was narrowed and I went back into the room with a little clue, and yet still I did not see the phone.

I did not have an exact location therefore I was still seeing the whole picture. This isn't to say that even when you give me precise direction I still may be spacially challenged. My dad says I always failed the "prepositional phrases" section of English in school and even yesterday I showed my lack of skill when my dad told me to take a monitor and put it on the other side of the fence in the alley. As I took the obsolete monitor to the back I put it near the fence, in our side of the yard. How was I to know that the garbage man wouldn't look there? I heard fence and other side and was confused. It did look kinda odd having a gigantic computer monitor sitting in the grass.

Going back to the phone I went back to Greg for a third go round of help and he finally said that he thought it was, "near the computer". This made sense and I went in and looked near the computer. I had scanned near the computer, but now I went by the computer with a fine tooth comb and there it was, a black phone sitting on a white keyboard. It stuck out like, well, black on white and could not have been more obvious, but I was seeing the entire room.

Seeing the whole picture makes the black on white not as obvious. Even when I focus in on something I still see the whole room out of my peripheral vision.

I also have issues with direction because I am learning my perspective is different in my mind than what I am actually seeing. I always have trouble with East/West because I believe I see it in my mind differently spacially. I wish I could describe this better, but I am just learning this about myself. I know this is something about perception and that there is something because I never get North/South mixed up, but up/down is much easier to see than left/right because up/down is easily understandable.

One thing I want you to know is that my lack of ability to locate things is not by choice. I wish I could take spacial direction and execute the find with ease, but that's not the case. It may be the simplest of directions and still I won't see it. Do you think I want to come back to a person and say I can't find something? I hate asking questions of people, even more so when they have already given me directions, so I wish I could simply locate any given item when asked to go for it.

Being asked to do a spacial challenge is an event of high anxiety. There, here, beside, over, and words of those lead to one confused mind as I only see one thing and that is everything. I can look back and laugh at all the times I have gone around a room and scanned over what I was looking for and not seen it even though it was as out in the open, but as much as I can laugh about it I fear the next time it will happen as it will happen and I know I should be able to simply do it, but I can't and it isn't a choice.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Return of Q & A Friday in Video: Have You Ever Had a Classic Aspie Moment?

Today's question: Have you ever had a classic Aspie moment?




Stay tuned for a special edition of Q & A Friday that will run on Sunday.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Xbox Live, Then and Now

I don't know where I'd be had I not got onto Xbox Live back in 2004. Xbox Live is the internet service that allows people to play, and verbally communicate, with other from around the world. Before I got onto it I was able to communicate, but only in short bursts. Conversations, outside of my family, were rare and I had no confidence talking.

The first game I played over Xbox Live was Project Gotham Racing 2 and the first race I was in on that game amazed me. I heard a German, a couple British, and some others that I think were American, but I didn't realize just how real time the talking was.

I was intimidated. What could I say? Who was I to them? It may have been online, but I had the same social fears I had as when I was in person.

My dad tried to motivate me to talk as he would watch me race sometimes and noticed I was racing against the same people. My dad would ask me, "Aaron, why don't you ask that person where they are from?" and this struck terror in me. I did not yet know the proper protocol for what one could and could not ask. It's the internet so who know who is on the other end! Will they be mad at me? Yell at me? I doubt they could punch me, but they could wreck my car in the game.

The fears whirled around and I did not ask. I simply wanted to play the game and communications, well, who needs it?

A couple weeks later a game with the name of ToCa Race Driver 2 came out and I quickly began to dominate at the game. Within a week I was the #1 rated driver in the world and it wasn't that I was communicating with others but others with communicating with me. I hate to be rude so I had to answer all these questions from people. And slowly I began to feel comfortable with the practice I was getting.

Had I not been at the top of the leader boards I don't know if I would ever have willfully communicated. Gaining that practice was vital for who I am now. The practice I got was something that could not have been done in person because when I am in someone's direct view I am close, if not, overwhelmed by all the input from them. My mind will think more on all the small movements of the person and the attempt to figure out if that was a cue or not that I don't concentrate on what I should say. With the years of practice over the Xbox I know can communicate with words without thinking all that much.

From those early games I played I still have people on my friends list. I went through my list last night an realized something; I have actually regressed in my conversations online, in a way. In 2007 Xbox made it where a person can just talk within an Xbox Live party. Think of it as a conference call. It used to be you always had to be within the chat of the game, meaning if I am playing Halo I am only talking to people in that game, but then with the Xbox Live party I am only talking to people I already know so I might be playing Halo, but another person in the party might be on Uno.

I am very comfortable with my small group of people I know, but any time one of their friends come in I clam up and it is much like those first few weeks on Xbox. I haven't added a new friend found via a game since the Xbox Live party system. It's made conversing too comfortable and I don't want to leave that safety net.

Is it a bad thing that I don't venture out into the normal chat? I don't know. I have my friends so why would I want more? I never had had a need for a high number, also, who wants to be screamed at all day by sore losers? On the other hand, I have that same anxiety I used to have with new settings and people.

What I have learned from this current situation is that it is very difficult for me to leave that area of comfort. If there is no motivation I will stay where I am at. Back when I got to the top of the boards so many people talked to me that I had to answer. If I didn't answer, people may have got mad at me and perhaps wreck me for being mean to them by not talking.

Once again I am comfortable and am happy with the people I know. I can't convince myself that I should talk to new people. New is unknown. New is a mystery. I can't judge if it will go well, of if it will hurt. I am happy with where I am at as it is safe and predictable. New people are a mystery, and the unknown is scary.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Fragile State

With the sad event of last week (losing Chessie the dog) all other events in my life seem bleaker. In my books I mention many times the avalanche of emotions that can be felt by one event. This may seem unusual to you, but for me it is something I have had to live with forever.

Any time there is a jolt of emotion all other feelings get magnified. Events recent, and events long ago get felt anew. It makes for a roller coaster of emotion and it is difficult. Feeling emotions is something that stretches my limits to the maximum and the results usually see me try to isolate myself. This is the fragile state.

I try to avoid feeling emotions. I look at everything from a logic stand point to avoid emotions. This, however, is hard to do in an emotional world.

When I feel emotions I get tired. Processing them is difficult and they tend to linger around like an unwanted party guest. I get very frazzled and need to isolate myself as much as possible because all stimuli, be it sensory or other people, is magnified. I may be more sensitive to sounds and may be less receptive to other people. I know this about me so I try to avoid putting myself in situations that may, on normal occasions be fine but in this fragile state overwhelm me.

It's a whirlpool of issues when this fragile state happens and one thing I want you to know is that if you know a person on the spectrum and they try to talk to you on an emotional level please make every effort to listen right then and there. Opening up is something that may take me hours to accomplish and the window of opportunity is slim. I have had situations where I hear, "we'll talk later" or something along those lines and, while for everyone else this works, for me I may not be able to do so later. My mind is very combative with itself in terms of emotions and will strive to make every effort to avoid the conversation so if that window is open you should most certainly take it.

In years past when I get to this fragile state I have been asked, "What is the problem?" and I respond with the answer, "everything" because that is what it is. All emotions regarding all events get felt anew like it all happened today. Over time I have noticed that these emotions do ebb, but it may take a week or two. Losing Chessie was hard, but I am still having dreams every night about the Kenya ordeal that I blogged about last week.

I heard a speaker one time say people with Asperger Syndrome have a limited amount of emotions. This could not be farther from the truth! I have emotions, but I try to keep them low, but when the emotions over flow I have a hard time functioning.

From my experiences I want to speak and say that if you know a person that has had an event that has had some emotional trauma to it and the person tries to isolate them self from you this is not 100% personal against you. Being alone allows for a much faster processing time of emotions. I also don't want to hurt you emotionally while I go through my turbulence because I may get a bit "snippy".

I used the word "turbulence" and this is a good word because it is a great example. On a plane turbulence is sometimes felt and slowly, usually, the turbulence will subside. This is what emotions are like for me. These recent events in my life have dampened my spirits, but it will pass. I may be sad now, but it shall pass. Emotions of this magnitude are hard to deal with, but you know, everyone can relate to this so perhaps life on both sides of the wall aren't as different as we think.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Making of the Video Blog

Yesterday's blog entry, or "vlog" entry (I don't like the word vlog) was probably the most difficult entry I have done to date. It wasn't that the material was new, but the medium I was using was new.

I worked on a outline script for three days, and ended up using none of it. A forced script didn't feel natural. In my video I had no words planned and everything was thought of as it came. This is important for me because if I slow down, whether doing a vlog, ahem, video blog or presentation I will begin to analyze what I am saying. At the speed I talk my mind has no time to nit pick at what I have said.

Starting the entry yesterday was difficult. I simply did not know how to begin. I started and restarted at least twenty times because nothing felt right. How does one greet people that he has talked to only in text for almost six months now? I didn't have the answer and it resulted in numerous restarts.

I found this interesting because this level of uncomfortableness is identical to what personal interactions are like. Starting a conversation is something I rarely do and it felt the same way as making that recording.

Another interesting tid bit is that I have not, and will not, watch my video. I have no idea what I said, what stories I used, or if I made any mistakes. I'd like to know, but watching myself, and seeing myself, is something that I avoid at all costs. In my mind I have an image of me and I think I know how I sound, but seeing me and hearing me in reality is a stark contrast. Every time I hear myself I ask, "I sound like that?"

I do plan on having more video blog entries in the future, but I will need to think of what topics to cover that I can do better with the spoken word over writing about it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chestnut the Golden 1998-2010

Animals mean the world to me. For many years my pets were the only friends I had, be it dogs or cats. Yesterday I once again had to say goodbye to a dear friend.

My first meeting of Chestnut, aka Chessie, was a rocky one. When she was a puppy she was a nibbler and she decided she wanted to see what was inside the wiring of an N64 controller. I was most certainly angry, but not for long as how can one stay angry at a golden retriever puppy? It is impossible.


Time went on and Chessie and I had a great bond. For one, I am not that big of a fan of big dogs. I'm not 100% sure as to why and maybe it's that my first dog was small, or perhaps I have a subconscious fear of them because a German shepherd once jumped a fence near my house and took several bites into my legs.


For a big dog Chessie was all right. As with most dogs, Chessie loved food and I was her go to source for it. Every dinner she'd be eyeing me waiting in anticipation for mop up duty of my plate. When she was younger she knew I required a sit and and a paw shake from her.


Chessie was also best friends with my cat, Siam. I moved into Chessie's house when she was five so Chessie was introduced to Siam then and the two of them hit it off. I've heard cats and dogs aren't supposed to get along and it's certain that Siam and Chessie didn't get that message because they were always close. Once, I caught Siam sleeping on Chessie's back and when Chessie saw me she looked at me with those big eyes as if to say, "I want up, but what do I do?"


As Chessie got older her movements slowed, but she always greeted me at the door. Sure, she was lying down, but I would hear a string of protest barks if I didn't pay attention to her. Siam always had to come and try to get my attention as well and it was always fun to watch the pet rivalry between the two of them.


Siam passed away on April 10th, 2010 and I truly thought Chessie would slip away quickly after this. But she fought. In May of last year we took in Teddy the Yorkie and this helped the aging golden, but time was ticking.


12 years for a golden is a long full life filled with lots of treats and pets. She was a happy dog and even yesterday, on her final day, she had no look of pain or discomfort and her mind was still sharp. She had lost control of her bodily functions and I was told it was her time and was asked if I wanted to say goodbye.


She was outside near the side gate and I was alone with her. My heart broke as I remembered having to make the decision to do this with Missy the Maltese, and Amsterdam and Siam the cats. There is no bigger reminder about how fragile life is than when one must say goodbye to a pet.


As I leaned over her and began to pet her I remembered all the times she'd bark at me when I came home and how that would no longer be. I told her that she had been a wonderful puppy and she, for a big dog, was amazing. I also told her, with a shaky voice and a tear rolling down my cheek, to be sure to say hello to Siam for me. Chessie instantly perked up, cocked her head, and tried to get up. She failed at her effort to get up, but she tried to inch closer to the gate so I am sure she understood the message and it will be delivered.





Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Final Word (for now) on The Sunglasses Experiment

I have been thinking, almost nonstop, about my sunglasses experiment since I concluded it. I have had so many thoughts that it truly has been difficult making sense of it all. In this entry I want to just write out my current thoughts. I may repeat some stuff that I already wrote, but I'm hoping with writing about it again it allows me to get some new insights.

The #1 thing I wanted to discover was the difficulties with eye contact and which way of the road is it difficult. Is it that I am looking at you or is it that you are looking at me? My conclusion, right now, is that it can be either depending on the situation.

Random eye contact with a stranger may initiate a random conversation. It may start a whole script of ,"hello, how are you..." and those are very difficult for me. Therefore I will shy away from eye contact for this reason.

For people I know, or come across on a daily basis (think Taco Bell staff) eye contact is difficult for reasons that are different. To make eye contact with these people creates so many thoughts. When I had the sunglasses on and my prolonged eye contact with the Taco Bell cashier I was almost drowning in my own thoughts. There was a rush of emotion and I was confused by this. More information came in than could be processed. Yes, I believe I felt emotions such as empathy, but at what cost? If I, at my current state of being, had that reaction to everyone I would have no time to process my own thoughts because I would be constantly bombarded by these rushes of information.

There was a key line in that last paragraph in that I said, "current state of being". What I meant by that is that I do hope to continue wearing the sunglasses because I am wondering if I will eventually become desensitized to such rushes of information.

Eye contact with people I know was discovered to be difficult as well. This is because, I discovered, eye contact with those I know lets them in on my thoughts in my mind. If I am looking somewhere, or at them, they surely will know what I am thinking. Since I struggle with realizing that, "I think therefore you know what I am thinking" isn't true the only defense I have against this is avoiding eye contact. If you don't see my eyes directly you can't possibly know what I am thinking.

I was hoping to learn that there was simply one stumbling block to eye contact, but that is not the case. The mystery behind it is deep and has multiple reasons depending on the situation. Because of this I don't know whether or now I can call what I did a success. I answered some questions only to discover that there are more questions that currently can't be answered. I discovered that I am more comfortable behind the glasses, but other people seem to talk to me more with them on and because I use the lack of eye contact as a defense the mirrored glasses negate that.

Again, was it a success? I don't know. I hope I provided some insights as to the difficulties behind eye contact and even though this is the final word for now the thinking will continue and I will still wear the sunglasses. This isn't a short term deal and over time I hope to be able to provide you with some more thoughts on this topic.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I live for days like today!

Thank goodness I was not disturbed last night by the two dogs I have been watching! I was worried because I needed my sleep as today is an important day; it's a presentation day.

Days like today are the best days of the year. Today I will be driving to Kirksville, Missouri to give my presentation and I've never been there before which is a plus (I love seeing places I've never been).

Days like today make everything worth it. If my story and concepts makes just one person understand the spectrum even a fraction of a bit then it is worth it.

I know I've said it many times, but understanding is the foundation of hope. To know that in just a few minutes I will be on the open road headed to a presentation has me smiling (I don't smile without a big reason to smile).

Today will be a long day. I drive up, give my presentation, and drive back, Mapquest says it is 210 miles each way, and typically, after a presentation, I am extremely tired after a presentation.

Presentations make me tired, but to give the presentation in the style that I do I must put so much thought into not thinking. Once I start talking I talk at a fast pace to not allow myself to critique my words. If I can figure it out I will post a video on here next week giving you a small example of a segment of my presentation (several people have requested a video blog so who am I to deny the will of the masses?)

Today will be a good day. Long, but good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Stillness of Night

It may be 7 in the morning, but my day started over four hours ago. I am currently dog sitting two dogs and let's just say, well, I was awoken by one of them and could not go back to sleep.

Being up in the middle of the night brought back many memories of what my life used to be like. Before I started working at TouchPoint my sleep hours were a bit odd. It was commonplace for me to go to sleep at 5, 6 or even 7 in the morning and wake up at 1, 2, or 3 in the afternoon. I often would joke, when I was awake before dawn, that, "Oh, so that's where the sun rises." because day break was rarely seen by me.

It was an inconvenience to be up so early, but it worked out because I have planned several blog entries and I got caught up responding to e-mails from some readers as well as some messages on Facebook regarding my blog. Furthermore, I felt relaxed as I was the only one awake in the house.

Back in 1995, when I was homeschooled, I loved to get out of bed at 3 in the morning because I was the only one awake. My mind is so much at ease during those wee hours because I don't have to process what other people are doing. My mind is hyper vigilant in terms of tracking noises and people. I may not respond or look like I am keeping track, but each footstep and each door closure is heard, analyzed, and processed. Over the course of the day all that processing takes a toll, but in the middle of the night there are no noises and it is nothing short of freeing.

If it weren't for my wacky hours I may have never started writing. It was the isolation that gave me the confidence to write. I didn't have to worry about someone asking me, "What are you writing?" and there was no chance someone would read my words as I typed them. I don't want to sound like I want to be alone 100% of the time, but those hours of being alone truly helps me make sense of my emotions and allows me time to just be without thinking about everyone else.

Again, I don't want to say I want to be an isolationist, but it is so taxing to constantly process each minute thing I hear. In the still of night there is peace because of this. In the winter, when it snows (which isn't often in Saint Louis; we just get freezing rain) I would walk outside and stand in the street and just listen to the stillness in the air. At 4AM there are no other noises outside and sometimes I could hear the snow hitting the ground. Being the only one outside made me feel as if I were totally alone and I was the only one taking in the beauty of the scene, but then a car would drive by or someone would be leaving their house and my tranquility was momentarily interrupted.

What I want to get at, if I haven't, is that it is hard for me to drown out all the exterior sounds and movements I hear. I live life unfiltered and those nights, like the night I had thanks to a dog, let's me have a break. It's been so long that I forgot just how much I need it and the amount of effort it takes to keep up the strength to sustain daily functions without becoming overwhelmed by all the sounds of life.

I don't know when I will have another sleepless night. I'll be up early tomorrow, but that's because I've got to drive to Kirksville, Missouri for a presentation. I'll look forward to it though, whenever it may be, because through that stillness I am able to think, unabated, and make sense of the world and myself.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Game of Risk

Saturday evening a game of Risk was played that I don't think any of the participants in will forget. This game was played over Xbox Live and was a perfect storm of a game. While the game itself was amazingly interesting, it was the game below the surface that was truly intriguing.

I have loved games since the dawn of time, or at least since I knew what games were, and I seem to excel in games that require strategy and verbal skills. It's true, I have the hardest time going into places are ordering, or having an open-ended conversation in person, but if a game is being played I come alive. If we play ever play Monopoly just think this; if you want me to shut up just accept the trade because I don't take no for an answer.

The game of Risk on Saturday night had Rob and Travis (both of whom I met in Vancouver) and Zach from Chicago. There was also a random fifth person in the game and in all reality this fifth person didn't stand a chance.

As the game started I got a message from Travis asking if I wanted to finish 1-2. You see, alliances in Risk are paramount. If you don't know the game the object is nothing short of world domination. The last one left wins. Timing of attacks are key and minimizing losses are critical. With an alliance one doesn't have to protect their flank as much and this alliance with Travis was great. What he didn't know was Rob sent me the same message and I sent a text to Zach to make an alliance. I had an alliance with everyone. Maybe I have watched too much Survivor!

The normal game of Risk over Xbox Live is 45-60 minutes. When we hit 45 minutes in this game all five players were still in the game, but the random fifth dude was slipping fast, and using my cunning and deception I was able to get the K.O. blow on him. Knocking a player out is important because you get their bonus cards. Get three bonus cards that match and you get a massive troop bonus, and this bonus kept me alive.

Stalemate. After we got down to four players the game was deadlocked. I had all of North America, Rob had Europe, Zach had South America and Australia, and Travis had Africa. The only thing that changed during the next dozen or so turns were territories in Asia. Nobody had the force to take on another person without heavy losses. If two people go at it a third person will come in and clean up the mess. The rule in risk is to never be the first one to make a move unless you can clean up everyone in one turn.

I was in a pickle. I had an alliance with everyone and everyone kept me alive early in the game so I couldn't attack anyone's main area. I had the most troops by far, but I couldn't make a move.

Because of the stalemate the amount of troops in the game were quite inflated. The highest I had seen before was 117, but over time Zach and myself had over 600! Imagine having that in the real life version (or having to manually dice roll).

Rob made a tremendous move on Travis using logic I had given him the day prior (sorry Travis!) and Travis was knocked out. Travis kept sending me a message telling me to attack Rob and I gave the unclear timeline of, "in time". I had an alliance and couldn't attack. My only goal was to let everyone else duke it out and then I'd have the easy win. I also didn't want to break that alliance because, for one, break an alliance once and then an alliance will never have any merit ever again, and secondly, someone would get mad if I did.

The troop numbers were increasing and the world was in a perfect harmony of sorts because nobody could really accomplish anything. To put an end to this I put an embargo of sorts on Zach. You see, to get a bonus card one must take at least one territory per turn. Zach had 600 or so troops protecting Australia, but that's all he had. I took territories surrounding the other territories and put 100 or so troops on it and his 600 could not reach them.

I didn't see this as breaking my alliance. Eventually Rob was going to suffer the same fate and I was hoping to eventually make a path that allowed the two of them to go at it. Zach though took my embargo as an act of war, and perhaps rightfully so, and it was game on. It had to happen at some point in time or we would still be playing that game. I had over 1,000 troops when Zach started telling Rob that he would come after me so I decided to go after Zach.

Remember what I said about the key is to not make the first move? I forgot about that and made the first move. Sure, I knocked Zach out, but I forgot that, while Rob had 350 less troops than I did at the start of my turn, losing 400 like I did gave Rob an easy mop up victory.

At the end of the nearly 4 hour game everyone was shocked to learn that I had an alliance with all of the players. Each thought that I had an alliance with them and only them. It was easier for me to do it this way, and I needed to do it this way, not only for a better chance to win, but I would be unable to choose who to align with.

People can takes games personally and if someone got singled out, well, they may get mad. What I did on this game was to assure myself that, for one, nobody was going to attack me, but secondly I was hoping that I would not make anyone mad. Defeating people I don't know is a blast, but defeating people I know is not because I can never judge if they will stay mad.

I'm sure the four of us will play Risk again, and I'm sure the fifth person that gets joined up will not have much of a chance, but how much will my word mean? Zach has said he's going to put a post-it note on his television that says, "NEVER trust Aaron on Risk!" but will he follow through with that? Will everyone do this? I'm not sure, but I hope they do because I want another super long game. I get lost in the game and it's amazing, it's just the back-stabbing at the end I don't like. Well, I lied, I do love it. See, no one is going to trust me again :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Need to Know (No Matter How Irrelevant the Fact May Be)

Something has been bothering me for quite some time now, decades to be precise. I don't know if anyone else has ever been troubled with this, but I know I have spent much time dwelling on it and researching it. Despite the many hours of research I still have no answer. I haven't talked to too many people about this because each time I state this thing, this enigma I want to know but nobody has the answer to, I get called a, "flag dork".


Auto racing and flagging have been in my blood since, well, as long as I can remember. I flagged my first race when I was 12, but even before then I wanted to know where the flags came from. Why is it that green means go? Who said that the white flag means one lap to go (unless you are in Europe then it means there is a slow moving vehicle ahead). Why is there that difference between the two continents?


One of my first things I did when the internet came about was to research the origins of the flags, but there was no answer. The most famous flag of all, the checkered, doesn't even have a clear past. Was it from horse racing in the late 1800's when women would cook a meal for all in attendance and to show the meal was ready they would wave a checkered tablecloth? Or was it from France and bicycle racing in the 1800's? Or was it from checkpoints? The answer may never be known.


I did read once that the green, yellow, and red flags, as well as their usage in stop lights, came from the docks of Dover, England and the way they would flag ships in. I haven't seen this on the internet in years and may have been wrong, but again, this just shows the mystery surrounding the flags.


I wouldn't be me unless I wanted to know the most obscure fact, and I have been puzzled by this forever. I just haven't been puzzled, I have spent countless hours trying to come up with the logic behind this, and anytime there is something that can't possibly be known I will spend more time trying to figure it out. What is this obscure thing? I have always wondered about the blue flag.


The blue flag is used in races to signify that a faster driver is coming up behind. Normally used when the leader is about to catch a car that is almost one lap behind, the flag lets the driver know that a faster driver is almost there. Depending on the series the flag may mean to not impede the leader's progress, or in other's it simply means you can be nice if you want to be, or you can make it hard on the leader.


The flag's meaning itself isn't that hard to understand, but it is the way

it is presented. In Europe the flag is usually a lighter blue than the blue we use in America. There is one major difference, and this is what has troubled me for years, here in America we do have a blue flag, but our blue flag has a stripe on it. Not only that, but depending on the series and flagman the stripe may either be orange or yellow.




Proving that I am, indeed, a flag dork I have a blue flag with the yellow and orange stripe, but where on Earth did that stripe come from? I know it is an insignificant fact and most people that watch racing have never even wondered why, but I have and have spent many hours on it.




What my experience here shows is that when something falls into that area of interest, what may seem to be the most silly of thoughts or questions, are the most important questions in the world. Racing has always been my supreme interest and I would ask my dad, when I was really young, questions that may have seemed "off-center" much like this 20 year struggle wondering where the stripe came from. It may seem odd to you, but to me it is the only thing that matters. To laugh off the question, or to say it is irrelevant is minimizing my thoughts and ideas. I can't really help what my mind will and won't become fixated on.




I remember in 4th grade we were given a fun worksheet that had some concepts that were odd, such as, "Why do we drive on a parkway but park on a driveway?" For a person like me these things gave me a headache because I look at them logically and there's no logic in the reasoning behind that. I believe I asked the teacher for the next week to tell me why the parkways and driveways were the way they were, and each time she said she didn't know, but a couple hours later with my mind still trying to comprehend this, I would ask again hoping that the magical answer would be given. None was ever given and I hadn't thought of that until now so do you have that answer?




The mystery of the strip may never be known. Somebody, somewhere, at some point in time made a flag that looked like that. Did that person know of the solid blue in Europe, oh, wait, which came first, our stripe of their solid blue? I never thought that before, I just assumed the blue started in Europe.



Oh boy, here I go, today is going to be really productive.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Continuing Saga From the Produce Aisle

Maybe I need to start a 2nd blog that chronicles my daily trip to the grocery store because each trip seems to be giving me more than enough to write about. Once again, what should be a anxiety free experience turns into an event that leave me angry and hurt. Okay, so I'm not starting a 2nd blog, but here it is, another story of my morning carrot run.

Is it so much to ask for? All I want is to get in and out with the carrots without seeing a shoplifter get roughed up, or to be asked questions I can't process. I want eye contact to be at a minimum and to get out of the store rather unnoticed. Today was not one of those days.

My trip to the produce section was smooth. I could have hit a snag as there were about four people all at once converging on the door, but I sped up my walk and beat them all to the door. This was important because I never know the protocol for letting other people in. Whoa! Revelation! I have a fear, a pure fear of getting to the door at the same time as someone else. Why is this? Well, I now know (in case you are wondering, I had no plan to write about this nor did I know this before I wrote "whoa!")

When I was in elementary school in Indianapolis we had a field trip to Connor Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. The staff at Connor Prairie, if I remember correctly, all play the part of someone from the 19th century. Ask them what a television is and they will say, "what's that?".

Entering one of the houses, as our class was in a line, I walked in and the man in the room instantly threatened me with a stiff beating with a cane. I was shocked and scared and didn't know what had happened. To me, the threat was real. I know I froze and the man, in character, said, "Boy, you never walk into a room before a girl, ever! You deserve a beating disrespecting a girl like that!"

If you read my book you know about my concept of "Firsts" in that whatever happens first always has to happen. Using this concept, since this man threatened a stiff beating everyone may threaten, or follow through with the threat should I not follow the proper protocol on door entry. Perhaps other kids would know that this man was simply playing a part, but I took that, and many more things, literally so this was real and the fear has lingered on.

I'm glad I, once again, used writing as a therapist, but door entry protocol wasn't my story (although I'm sure that concept will overshadow what actually happened today).

I grabbed my carrots and walked from the produce area towards the checkout area. I turned the corner to head down aisle one and noticed a lot of managerial types stocking the liquor aisle. At the end of the aisle were three men all talking and the path was blocked.

I continued to walk, hoping with all my might, that the way would part and the path would clear. I struggle to make it known that I wanted through. Saying, "excuse me" is something I have rarely, if ever, done. To me, saying that is so rude because I am interrupting their life by saying it. At least that's the way I feel when people say it to me and, remember, I think therefore everyone else shares my thoughts.

I neared the men and the path stayed closed. There was a small gap between the single man on my left between him and the freezer, but the gap would be way to close to try to get through. I slowed my walk down and stopped and the man that was blocking me didn't take notice. The two men on the right saw me, but the man on the left didn't respond. This confused me because I could see his eyes, but perhaps not everyone has the peripheral vision I do.

I stood there, waiting, hoping I would be able to just sneak on by. Each time the man looked my direction I made a motion as if I were starting to walk, but the man didn't catch on to my prompt that I wanted by.

Yes, I do realize that all I had to do was to speak to get on by, but I was afraid. In events like this talking, or rather being the first one to talk, is hard if not impossible. Should someone talk to me I will be able to respond, but probably just enough to end the conversation. I "shell up" like a turtle and go into protection mode because my mind is doing so many processes on what is going on and the emotions that I feel that I need to protect myself from more thoughts, this is why I am unable to talk because if I do more processes will have to be made. And, I am afraid the person will get mad and if they do, well, then there's many more processes to be done and always the threat that the person will hit me (I am such a positive outlook on others, don't I?)

I was still a prisoner in the liquor aisle and I made the motion to try to get by at least half-a-dozen times. I could tell the 3rd man, the one on the far side, thought this to be funny. Imagine, a person wants by without saying anything and he keeps trying to but can't. He started laughing and he didn't inform the man that I wanted by.

Five seconds later the man who thought it was funny finally had compassion and he angrily tapped the man that was impeding my path to get out of the way. I was free from the blockade, but I am still not free from the emotions I felt. I now feel tired, sluggish, and sad from this and it will take me some time, maybe hours or perhaps the entire day, before I fully process and disperse the emotions of fear and anxiety from my system.

The solution is simple, but impossible. How do I train myself that it is okay to say, "excuse me?" Maybe in my life I made someone mad when I said excuse me and it could be a similar experience to that man who threatened me at Connor Prairie. Whatever the case maybe I don't know it as of now, all I know is that this grocery store has more drama than a soap opera and more excitement than a Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sensory Input as a Relief

Four hours have passed since the events of my, "Hypervigilance" article happened. I am tired, and still feel as if my arms have more adrenaline in them than should be legally allowed by law.

As I was thinking about how I felt, I determined that this feeling of overall tiredness is something I feel rather often. This past weekend was a rough one for me in that regard. I slept, but woke up tired and stayed tired all day.

These feelings I can say are due to thought and input. When my mind is stressing on something or trying to predict what will happen in the future I feel this same way as when a stressful event occurs in my presence.

Is there something that can counteract this sensation? Perhaps there is because the racing chair I got and built on Friday gives me an interesting and somewhat confusing sensation.

The first time I sat in it on Friday I felt relaxed. I, at first, just thought it was the sense of accomplishment, but the feeling didn't go away. What was this feeling? Being relaxed is something that is, for me, only felt when I am in an intense game, or traveling in my car or destinations that are far, far away.

On Sunday, when my body ached due to just being exhausted, I sat in my chair and noticed how clean it felt, and the pressure it put on my hips. As the picture shows (this is not my chair or room, the picture I had, well, wasn't all that good) the sides wrap around. There is pressure, but it isn't overly apparent that it is there.

I have been playing around with the thought that the issues I have are all centered around the processing portion on my brain. It is like my feelings and emotions of events are felt, but they never can go away as they stay in one spot. It is like this until there is some form of sensory input that sort of distracts the brain and allows for information and emotions to be properly processed and filed away instead of staying all in one spot.

I was talking to Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint Autism Services, about this and he asked me if I wanted to do another science experiment. I said, "sure" and he suggested that I try out the squeeze machine.


The squeeze machine is a device that Temple Grandin came up with that allowed her to calm herself down. I have always been hesitant to use it because I don't like the thought of me laying down exposed in a machine like that. I was assured complete privacy so I decided to give it a shot.

I was amazed at the amount pressure the machine can give, but for me the maximum amount of pressure did nothing but give me the sensation of being squeezed.

After some thinking, I thought back to my racing chair and realized that it may not simply be pressure, but the amount of. I started to slowly press the knob that controls the amount of pressure and I found an amount that gave me that feeling of relief, but then it was instantly gone once I exceeded that amount. I tried to get it back, found it, but once again lost it.

I go back to the saying that, "If you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." because what gives me that feeling of relief is different from other people that use the machine.

This concept has fully intrigued me since I first thought about this earlier today. What is it that creates that feeling of relief? I don't know much, if anything, on the way brains work, but from my own personal experience it feels like the right amount of pressure creates a distraction in the brain that breaks the non-stop processing that is always occurring.

By the time I checked out and left the grocery store this morning, I was twitching and twirling my belt loop. The release of stress experienced by the simple motion of twirling my belt loop has gotten me through many stressful events. But why?

Again, I fully believe that it moves the activity in the brain and frees up that part of the brain that processes input. Many things can do this, some of them perhaps aren't the best of things. On Saturday, as I pulled up to the house from going out to get food, I dropped my phone underneath my seat. As I was digging for it my finger was cut by glass that still hasn't been removed from my car from my run in with a horse two years ago.

When I cut my finger on that glass it hurt, but then there was relief. It hurt, but the sensation distracted me, but then I started feeling anxious again when I had to go find a band aid once I pulled the small piece of glass out. Yes, it hurt when I did that.

Pain has provided a relief, when I get really stressed I will push about my sinuses, but that feeling isn't as strong as the feeling I experience when I am in my racing chair. That chair provides the right texture and pressure and is a perfect fit. I'm sure each person's sensory bliss will be different, and could be radically different.

I did 30 seconds of research on this topic and the results seem to be divided. I personally don't care what research studies show because I know first hand that there is something to this. Most of the time I am tired and edgy because my mind is just fatigued from dealing with all the normal input of life, but when I am in that chair there is a relief that is not common. Life seems easier, things make more sense, and I can deal with the emotions that normally stay with me but don't go away.

There's more to this, I'm sure, and each person who has experienced this may have a totally different story than mine. I wrote about an event that was highly freeing in April, http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/sensory-bliss.html that was caused by riding in an inner tube on water.

Again, there is something to this and maybe there is a study out there that has already verified this. If so great, if not there should be because there is something here, and I know after my morning I am waiting with high anticipation to sit down and allow that chair to swallow me so I can just be without all the thoughts and fears. I can't wait to just be.

Hypervigilance

I had my blog post planned today and I knew what I was going to write about and the points I wanted to covered but life decided to intervene and throw me a curve ball at my morning stop at the grocery store to get carrots.

What happened this morning reminded me of all the times and event like this one happened. It's odd, in a way, because I am horrible at determining another person's emotions but I will be the first one to know that something isn't right in an environment.

Everything was going smoothly as I walked into the store. The sunglasses were on and I didn't see anyone from leaving my car to the produce department. I grabbed the carrots and proceeded to the checkout area.

As I turned the corner my heart rate increased instantly. Something wasn't right as I saw many management types surrounding an individual. I didn't know what it was, but I knew what it wasn't and it wasn't normal.

There is a safety in normalcy. From my earliest years I exhibited a knowledge of what is and isn't normal. If there is any change in my environment I will instantly know it. Case in point, when I was in kindergarten we had what sounded like a fire drill. This was my 2nd fire drill ever, but I knew something was wrong. In the first fire drill the office staff and principal didn't participate, which I found to be hypocritical (rules are meant to be followed... by everyone) but on this 2nd fire drill everyone including the office staff, cooks, and custodians were outside. I knew something was wrong.

It turned out the school had received a bomb threat, but at that young age I already was showing signs of a heightened sense of environment, or if you would want to call it this, a hypervigilance.

Going back to this morning, I neared the circle of managers and saw one of the managers grab the person who was in the center and, almost violently, grab into the man's pockets throwing out a toothbrush and dental floss onto the floor.

I didn't know how to react. I have never seen a shoplifter busted, much less get roughed up a bit and I didn't know if this man was going to burst out in a violent rage. My mind started playing out many scenarios, but as afraid as I was I kept walking towards the checkout counter which was passed this scene of crime. I wanted to be anywhere but there and I, once again, hated the fact that I was right.

Everyday is a struggle because I am constantly, well, afraid. Changes in my environment are signs that something like a bomb threat of shoplifter are in my surroundings. Most times I am wrong when I sense change, but I have also been right many times.

In 2004 my dad and I were returning from Lithuania via Frankfurt, Germany and as we were taxiing on the runway my heightened sense of hypervigilance kicked in. I noticed the way the flight attendants were walking about and the way one of them was talking on the phone. Furthermore there was a flashing red light that I had never seen flashing further up the aisle. Something was wrong and I was sure of it. What it was remained a mystery but that didn't stop my mind from conjuring up many different events, most of which left me dead. In the end it was the simple fact that our plane was, indeed, on fire. A small air conditioning duct had caught fire and if we had be up at 36,000 feet it would have been bad, but we went back to the gate, the fire was put out, plane inspected, and off we went.

This morning I walked passed the scene because the only checkout counter open was #7 and that was passed this scene. I held my breath and thought of all the bad things that could happen to me. The man who had been the man caught stealing started throwing money onto the floor and the man I assumed to be the manage started yelling at him.

Nothing sets of my alarms more than a harsh tone of voice. I believe that nothing good ever comes from a loud voice because the events after it are always tense. In other words loud voice equals bad event and is a warning sign that something bad is about to occur.

The manager started pushing the man towards the office area, I mean shoving him and pushing him hard in the back, but then they turned around and the manager threw the items onto the checkout counter that I was at. At this point in time I was getting my change from paying for the carrots and I heard the man screaming that this shoplifter was not welcome at this store, the store across the street, the pharmacy across the other street, and a whole host of other stores in the area. On top of this the man who tried to steal was wearing his work shirt and the manager swore he was going to get this man fired and, on top of that, make sure he never has a job in Saint Louis, "ever again!"

With each stern word I heard I became more fearful. By the time I had my change I was nothing more than a walking shell of a person because all cognitive thought was turned off. I was hurting and afraid for reasons I don't fully know. I was just an observer to something and all these words and stern postures were not directed at me, but I still was afraid and I started to shake as I passed through the doors and out of the store.

Almost 100 minutes have passed since this happened and I can still feel the heightened pulse and the anxiety in my arms. Events like this don't happen often, but from each one I have experienced my fear grows more. I am often wrong in my hypervigilance when I am sure something bad is about to happen, but then comes an event like this. I hate when I am right.