Today is a big day for me as I will give my presentation to the parents going through TouchPoint's Parent Training program. This doesn't seem like a big deal as about once or twice a month I do this, but today the presentation will put me to a total attendance of my presentations to 10,000.
Yesterday was TouchPoint's golf tournament and I played in it. During the day I had a great time and had many conversations with the person I was playing with. It was a relaxing time even though my play wasn't all that great. During the round I thought, "Wow, I haven't had a blog post in a while that was about something bad that happened to me." By bad I meant something socially discomforting and it's funny how when one thinks of something it soon happens.
10,000?! That number is so high it is unimaginable for me. 10,000! It's such a high milestone for me because I was the kid in school that was all but unable to read anything aloud and was beyond horrible at presenting a project to the class. As I've said many times, "if you would have told me three years ago that I'd be a public speaker chances are I would have laughed and then said, 'that's the cruelest thing you could tell me because that is something I will never be able to do.'" Then TouchPoint happened.
After the round of golf was over there was about an hour span between playing and when the dinner and auction would take place. I wandered the halls of the Meadowbrook Country Club trying to find a comfortable place to simply be but none was being found. I was walking past the bar when I sort of got wedged into the wall because I couldn't get past a couple people and there I remained as the noise of the room crept up and an odd mix of fear, wonder, and anxiety hit all at once.
It's been almost three years since I first sat in as a consultant in the Parent Training Program. At that point in time I was an author and could verbalize my ways to describe behavior on the autism spectrum, but I had no skills in speaking or presenting. In fact, I present at all in that first program, but there was a grandmother there that got me on the speaking roster for the MNEA conference later that year which would be my first presentation as an employee of TouchPoint. A couple months after that I began a couple months as part-time presenting at the police academy and from March of 10 I became full-time.
I was paralyzed to a degree I haven't felt in a while and my back was to the wall. No, really, I was wedged into the wall and I was doing all that I could to try and become one with the wall. As I was doing this I was looking around at the ease which all were conversing. Person A got introduced to person B and they began talking like they had known each other for years. Person C bumped into person D and they exchanged hellos and off they went talking about anything and everything. I asked silently, "How are they doing this?"
After starting full-time the amount of people at my presentations started off slow. I can remember in that first year a presentation in the extreme Southern part of the state that had three people at it. Regardless of size of the audience I give the same attention in making sure that every presentation is the best presentation ever because there is only one number that matters and that number is, well, I've already said it, "one." I may be hitting 10,000 today but each 1 out of the whole has been the most important because each one represents much more than I may ever know. Each one has a story, emotions, and a life. Each one may be, or knows a person on the spectrum and there will be times where they, or a person they know will be unable to simply state, "This is uncomfortable, I need help."
"How are they doing this? How are they able to concentrate?" I asked this because the noise in the room was like hearing every note of a symphony at the same time. So many people talking at once and the volume just continued to escalate. My body was not enjoying this at all and each heartbeat I had felt like a major earthquake in my body. I don't know the length of time this went on, but with each passing minute I felt smaller and smaller and weaker and weaker.
Today is 10,000. Today for over the 250th time (I need to look it up to see the actual number sometime in the near future) I will stand in front of an audience and state with full confidence and ease my story and that there is hope. Also, I will do this all with a sense of humor yet at the same time stating, "If you see me outside this arena, this forum that I present in you may not recognize me."
"So I guess this is the part that people don't recognize me." is what I was thinking. To have gone so long without an episode like this sort of perhaps blinded me to just how difficult it is to be on the spectrum. I mean, on my nearly 45 days on the road there wasn't one episode of difficulty worth noting. Except for one bit of eye contact issues in New York the whole trip went episode free. And yet, here I am with my back to the wall at a function for where I work being completely unable to move, talk, or feel comfortable.
TouchPoint has given me the backing to have my voice heard.
As the minutes past on I have to admit I was becoming quite envious of everyone else and that I'd have given anything for those around me to see me for what I can do and not how I was at that second. This is one of the hardest things to endure and explain; I mean, one moment all is well and perhaps all is even thriving and the next I have my back up against the wall, unable to move, out of fear and being paralyzed on the inside. This is what the world needs to understand! This isn't a choice and trust me when I say I wanted to be a part of what I was seeing around me but when I'm being flooded by anxiety which is causing an increase in my heart rate and even surges of adrenaline I can't simply take part. It's at these times that I am trying to be myself that I feel the most alone.
Today is 10,000 and I am so thankful to work with people that do understand. Last night in the midst of a social crisis a coworker came by and asked, "do you want to find our table?" I heard the words but it took me a moment to process what it all meant. Since the room was so loud and I was dealing with so many emotions I didn't instantly understand what was asked, but when I did I said, "sure" and off we went. After having several minutes removed from being stuck like I was I slowly returned back to normal and was able to speak again. It's stories like this that keep me going because, if there was no awareness then what would those around me think when something like this happens? Last night was a reminder not only of the challenges I face but of what others on the spectrum face. Without awareness and understanding there's a chance that such a situation like mine last night would be treated differently, or perhaps those around me would mock such a behavior. In those experiences that this has happened to me in the past I can say there is no desolate island in the middle of nowhere that is more isolated than the feeling that this creates.
For one reason or another I am able to speak to a crowd when I present. Yes, if the audience sees me outside the presentation they truly might not recognize me, but I'm okay with that. Maybe I need an experience like last night because it just fuels the passion. Today may be a milestone, but I hope it's just the first of many. Thanks to everyone who has heard me and here's to the next 10,000!