There's a fear I have and it is fought each and every day. My goal in life is to fit in, be normal (whatever that means) and to just be. Having Asperger's, however, can sometimes create complications and while the complications are often the major story there is another story in play beneath the surface.
So often I talk about the complication itself but what I leave out is what happens the rest of the time. What does this mean? I've talked a lot about anxiety recently but there is another aspect I have omitted. It's also been a while since I stated this, but I am hyper-vigilant to my surroundings. This vigilance is always on and I am on constant alert for what could create an issue be it loud noises or random social encounters but this vigilance has more than one layer.
I'm now in Syracuse, New York and last night Kyle, the USAC interns, and myself went to this rather busy BBQ place. This alone worried me and yesterday when Kyle said that we were going to eat there my response was, "Is it loud?" Now what type of question is that? If someone is talking about a place to eat isn't the normal question, "is it good?" For a person on the autism spectrum my question wasn't that far out of the ordinary and here is why. I said my vigilance has two layers and one is protecting myself from highly uncomfortable situations but secondly it's to attempt avoiding situations where I might have to explain why I am uncomfortable.
Look, for those that don't have it, and don't have family that are on the autism spectrum, it's a tough thing to explain. Imagine this; let's say you have a horrible fear of going to the dentist and while you're on the chair with all the sounds of the drills and bright lights someone simply asks, "hey, what's wrong?" At that point in time are you going to be able to put into words that could be understood by the person who is asking that question?
So last night, at this BBQ place, we were seated outside because it was a perfect night and to my right was a row of motorcycles. Because of this I couldn't really enjoy the place, the atmosphere, or the conversation. This within itself is somewhat of a crime as I love being in new places because one never knows when they will ever be back in a certain place, but instead of enjoying this my eyes were glued to those walking on the sidewalk as I worried, no, obsessed with a fear to my soul that a person would step up and sit on one of these bikes. Why? There were about a dozen bikes and the furthest one away was at most 15 yards away and I hate loud noises.
As time progressed my fear grew and grew and it had two dimensions. One, obviously, was the discomfort of a starting motorcycle engine. I can remember when I was about six and my friend's dad started a motorcycle engine and I screamed for at least ten minutes. Back then no one knew why, but now I know and I was worried that, if a person started a bike engine, there would be some sort of reaction on my part. And if I had discomfort what would those seated with me say?
The last thing I want is to be noticed. When someone notices I'm having an issue of some sort two things normally happen. The first is "what's wrong?" which is very much like the situation I explained about the dentist and then the second part, if I explain at all, is "oh it isn't that bad." Perhaps saying this is an attempt to make me feel better somehow but it has the opposite effect. I do know, for you (or rather most people) that whatever is creating an issue for me is a non-issue for others but the fact of the matter is that it is an issue for me. Minimizing it doesn't help me. Saying it isn't that bad is, in a way, stating that I am weak. I understand that if I were normal (whatever that is) this noise, light, or whatever would be just another passing moment in life, but that's not the case for me.
Right before the food came out a person sat on a bike and I prepared, and there it was. I know I work at a race track but here's the thing; at a racetrack I have ear protection which truly minimizes the noise. I can tolerate it. Also, the sounds are constant. The issues with random motorcycles are that they are, well, loud but there is no predicting when or when not a rider is going to rev the engine to a fever pitch.
The noise was loud and I grimaced. At this point in time I want to be invisible. I don't want to be noticed, I don't want to be a burden; I just want to ride out this storm. Don't tell me that it isn't that loud because for you it isn't, but for me it is.
This is the reason anxiety can run deeper than what one might think. The episode itself is bad enough but also the fear of how those around me will react. Will they think less of me? Will they think I'm odd and if so, will they say it aloud? I had a purpose when I started this post by proclaiming that I just want to fit in and when something happens, say, a bunch of motorcycles firing up I am going to have an issue with it. All I did was grimaced and try to disconnect myself from the noise, but I did have a look of discomfort. Thankfully no one pointed this out or critiqued the situation and that was great. The last thing I wanted to do was to explain the situation as it was unfolding. Anxiety is bad enough without the fear of social ridicule.