I'll begin today by talking about yesterday and Monday. First, the blog you read yesterday was actually written at 11PM Monday evening. My original plan was to go from bowling to Osage Beach, but I felt like I needed to write the events of that evening right away. Writing is my way of coping and by writing that I slowly began to come back to normal.
After writing that I left home and made the midnight drive to Osage Beach. The drive itself was a rather tense one as Missouri Route 42 from Rolla up to middle of nowhere Missouri is a roller coaster in the day time, but at night it is downright scary! I kept saying, "Oh dear... DEER!" as I was sure I was going to encounter one with my windshield. Also, cats, raccoons, turtles, and many more animals were seen.
Thankfully I made it without incident and without falling asleep behind the wheel and once I got to the hotel I realized I'd be presenting in the same area as I did when I spoke at the Missouri Police Juvenile Officers Association conference last year.
I laid down for bed after a long and tense day extremely tired but as soon as my head hit the pillow I was wide awake. Sleep would not come until 3AM and my wake up call at 6:58 was way too soon.
Getting up was the one thing I didn't want to do, but it had to be done. There was a presentation at hand for the Real Voices Real Choices conference.
Once I was out of my hotel room I wondered what everything meant. I mean, two horrific experience happened to me within four days of each other so why am I here? Who am I to say what my experiences are?
As I walked towards my car to park closer to the place where I was speaking so I didn't have to carry my books for an obscene distance I truly was hating on myself. "Why can't I just be like everyone else?" I said aloud in my car.
It wasn't a long drive, but it was an angry one. Once again, even though I wrote it on Monday, I forgot who I was. When I forget that I am on the spectrum that is when the true self-hatred hits. When I blame myself and tell myself I should be able to be, "normal" on a whim that is when I get depressed. Why? Because I can't be what I am expecting; normal is something I am not.
I thought back to the conversation I had with James on Friday night when I said that, "This shouldn't happen to me!" And he simply asked, "Why not?" The events at the bowling alley Monday night were of the same course of events. I hated myself, no, HATED (needed to make that point stronger) myself because of what happened to me. I was confused as to why my body reacted the way it did. I kept thinking I had a choice in my reaction, but it wasn't until I started getting my books out of the car, and seeing my own book cover, that I realized it wasn't a choice at all.
At many presentations I am told that either a son or daughter are in complete denial about being on the spectrum, but yet their self image about their issues is very low. I understand this as when we ignore what we have we and we try to be what we perceive the world expects us to be we will usually fall short. Acceptance of autism is vital I now believe. This isn't to say that when one accepts that they should never strive to be something more, but at the same time to expect to not have issues like I experienced this past week is a trip down a one-way road towards frustration.
Eventually I made it into my presentation room and I was having trouble staying awake. I had only 12 hours of sleep for the past three nights, traveled 800 miles, flagged two days of racing, and had one of the worst nights of my life and yet here I was about to give a presentation to about 100 people.
While the room was empty (I was early) I sat down in self-reflection. I stared up at the screen with my opening slide that was on it and once again it all made sense. Truly understanding is the foundation for hope because even me, well, even I forget that I am on the spectrum. Why I say understanding is the foundation for hope is that there are times, especially after a traumatic experience, that I may forget what I have. When this happens it is the understanding of those around me that are critical to minimizing the length of the ordeal.
I used strong words in that last paragraph about me, and for myself I just get upset, but for others on the spectrum their reactions may be much more severe than my own and it is there that understanding with those around them that are CRITICAL. As I began to contemplate this people started filing in for my presentation and I began to get nervous because I only had 45 minutes instead of my typical 75-90 to speak, but it had to be done.
With all that had happened I got up when it was time and despite being more tired than I had been in a long time, I started my presentation as usual with, "Hello, I am Aaron Likens and I am the Community Education Specialist for TouchPoint Autism Services..." and as I said it I stressed the word "Education" because from my experiences regardless of how sad or angry they make me my passion, and job title is to educate, and yesterday was one of my finest hours.