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Friday, November 29, 2013

The Toll

I've often wondered how much I could push my body and I think I have found it. 

The past two days have seen me do nothing more than sleep. After nearly five months of nonstop go I have finally hit that proverbial wall. I don't have much more to say than that as my brain just isn't working. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Have a Good Life"

There are moments in life that stand out over others. I know that's an obvious statement, but it seems, for me, that these moments are not the same as what others would have.

Yesterday was a long day for me. I got home at 1AM Monday morning and just five hours later my dad and I were headed to the Washington D.C. Metro area to go to my aunt's for Thanksgiving. The weather of the drive was not good and once we hit central Kentucky it was rain all the way (I followed the system that gave the Supernats so much rain.)

All along I had it in my mind to stop at the Roy Rogers in Cumberland, MD. I ate there with the USAC staff on the way back from the race in Hagerstown and wanted to do so again. My dad had mentioned his first roast beef sandwich had actually been from a Roy Rogers. Anyway, we get there and before we ordered my dad struck up a conversation with someone that was eating. This person, I guess, was from the area (I came into the conversation a bit late) and was talking about the excess of accidents that were happening due to the poor weather.

We ordered and sat down and the conversation continued on. The fact that there was this conversation was odd for me because I don't talk to people I don't know in a setting like this. And yet, watching it, created a flood of emotions. Who was this person? What was his story? I don't know if empathy is the right word, but I had so much wonder that it was overwhelming.

As we were almost done eating this man and his wife got up and started to leave. They talked about grabbing food for their "girls" at home and he started to say goodbye to my dad when my dad replied, "have a good life" and with that one singular line I lost it.

When the man and his wife left my dad turned back towards me and said, "Aaron, is something wrong? You look as if you're about to cry." and he was right; I was. There was so much stuff going through my mind that I couldn't control my emotions. This was such a difficult time because with that line the realization that this moment was lost to time and that this man who shared road conditions and showed a true caring on our well-being was gone. Will I see this person again? I knew the answer, statistically, was a resounding "no."

I tried to refocus my mind but it wasn't possible. There were other moments in my life like this and the biggest one that comes to mind was when I was perhaps eight years old and so and we were driving back from my grandma's in Nebraska to home in Indianapolis and my dad was talking to this trucker on the CB radio. This conversation lasted for many, many miles and eventually one of us took a exit and goodbyes were said and I knew the finality of this moment and I didn't take it well.

Is this empathy? I truly wondered who this man was that was wishing us the best. Why couldn't I breathe? Was it too much emotions, or feelings? I had to do everything I could not to just break down and this was odd because 15 minutes prior I didn't even knew this man existed and now he was gone. Is this another reason I try to keep my world small? Because, if it is, then moments like this won't happen and moments like that are to the brink of being overwhelming.

As for now, and today, the Thanksgiving traditions of the past 13 years will take place but my mind is still back in Cumberland at that Roy Rogers in the pouring rain with a bone piercing chilly wind. Who was that person? What type of life had he lived? So many questions but the answers will never be told. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Soggynats

Whew! Where were my blog posts the past few days? I normally blog each day at the SKUSA Supernats but the conditions this year proved to be the most challenging conditions I've ever faced. Even though it's in the desert, and it's Las Vegas, we endured inches (yes, inches!) of rain. And not only rain, but the temperature didn't even eclipse 50. To make matters worse I didn't have the proper attire when it started to rain (it's Vegas, who brings rain gear?) but was eventually provided with a really menacing looking plastic suit and rubber boots. First, if I ever wear those types of boots again in my life it will be too soon! Seriously, try working a race which involves 15 hours of standing and running in such boots. It's no wonder that today I can barely walk.

Thankfully, and mercifully, the weather for the mains yesterday turned into a typical fall day in Vegas; ample sunshine and around 60 degrees. This photo I'm smiling for two reasons, one, and obviously, I'm in my biggest Kansas of the year but two, and more importantly, I'm not in rubber boots!

Right now, as I write this, I'm at the airport about to head home and never have I been so sore in my life. It was extremely exhausting and I impressed myself in the endurance I exhibited. This was probably the most physically, and mentally, demanding event but as always I am counting down the days until the Supernats (and hopefully not the Soggynats) of 2014. Until then I'll have these pictures, and the following videos of this year's event.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day One One Day More

There are few major moments in life that can be relived. In fact, minor events in life are disappearing. Take for instance the closing of Blockbuster Video; my motivation to endure school was to go there every Friday to rent a game or two and now that experience is no more. 

But enough if minor experiences, let's talk about moments that become frozen in time; a moment that becomes a moment that when all looks dark you can think back to that memory and have a smile brought to your face. For the sixth year in a row I got to have one of those moments. 

Today was the start of the 17th SKUSA Supernats and once again I'm the chief starter for the event. It's a huge honor to be in that position and even though I am, perhaps, one of the best in the world at flagging (in the karting world I found out I'm internationally known) it still is surreal that I get the privilege of being the guy at the finish line starting the race and also being the one to greet the winner with my checkered flags as they cross the line. 

As I said, this is my sixth and every year the event gets bigger and bigger. Sure, it's gotten bigger in a literal sense as we have national and international caliber drivers here ( multiple former F1 drivers, several NASCAR and Indycar drivers and over 600 other drivers from all around the world) but it also becomes bigger for myself. Each year I anticipate this event more and more because with each passing year I realize what this event has done for my life. 

My life? How could working a kart race in Vegas have any impact on my life? Five years ago I worked my first Supernats and at that point in time I had little direction in life and no confidence at all. The event that year was rather difficult to work, but I persevered and actually thrived in the environment. I had never done anything like that in my life and the seeds of self-confidence were planted. From that, in the following year, I gave my first presentation and, well, without my first Supernats I can almost assure you I would not be who I am, I would not be a presenter, and I most certainly wouldn't have a blog. 

Because of what this event means to me I get emotional before it each year. As I mentioned, how often can you live in a moment that transcends all others? For me, the walk from my hotel room to the track in the parking lot on day one is one of those moments. I soak it all up; the mass of people walking to the track, the sun that hasn't yet broken the horizon, and the knowledge that I'm about to partake in 13 hours of flagging ensuring everything runs as safely as possible. Today it was so much I literally had tears in my eyes as I opened the doors and stepped out into what was a rather chilly Vegas morning. 

I know it probably sounds odd that something that must people would consider a job, or work, means more to me than it does to most everyone else. I once joked in a presentation that I think I have more fun and enjoyment at this event than most drivers but I don't think that line is that far from the truth. I don't think anyone treats this event as "just another race" and for me it isn't. This event added the final touches to allowing me to be who I am. Without my chance of working this race I would not be in the race spread autism awareness and understanding. It's that simple. 

I might have been emotional when I walked outside but after the morning meetings when I finally stepped onto the finish line (which I refer to as "my office") and I just stood there having to remember to breathe because I was in a state if awe. Despite one of the best backdrops imaginable I was blind to it all. My concentration was on the following hours of on track activity and the knowledge, knowing full well, that five years ago I was nothing but untapped human potential but now that potential has been realized and yet there's still more and working this race will help inspire my other race of autism understanding. So with all this I hope you can see that my living out day one all over again is something that means more to me than most will ever understand. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Emotions to the Power of E


Typically, after I write a blog about a topic, I’ll feel better about it but all day yesterday the thoughts about empathy and other emotions made me rather, well, emotional. Perhaps thinking about this topic brought back thoughts of last December and all the hideous generalizations made about the autism spectrum. Perhaps it’s because I’ve experienced both ends of the emotional empathetic spectrum. Perhaps it’s both.

The title of this blog post, I think, sums it up best on anything having to do with emotions as all things are to the power of “E” which stands for extreme. There is no filter for emotions and whatever is being felt or unfelt is going to be to the strongest of levels. However, as with anything on the autism spectrum, I believe, if we study it enough we will have two answers and both can be right. In fact, in my life, this has held true.

When it comes to empathy I’ve done both; I’ve been overly and I’ve been cold and cut off. This story isn’t in my main presentation, but when I present to students I talk of an incident in 4th grade in which a fellow student, whom was the best kicker for kickball and I was the self-appointed chief umpire, and I had an interesting encounter. This kid always played and never missed a day until this one day. Being routine oriented I sought him out and he was by the door we were led out to go to recess. I approached him and right as I was about to ask him a question he looked up and saw me coming and said, “Oh… yeah… um… My dog died this morning.” If there were ever a time for empathy that would be the time, right? However, my response was one of, in which I sort of looked around in an aloof manner, and I said, “Oh… oh… um… Do you want to go play kickball now?” It wasn’t until three hours later that the emotions of his statement were processed and registered that I understood that my response was not exactly the best one.

Then, just five years ago in 2008, I had another incident of an apparent lack of empathy. My mom was getting ready to go to this two-day, indoor car race in Fort Wayne, Indiana held each year between Christmas and New Years and she was in the process of getting her shoes on when she took a step backwards, tripped over a ball, fell, and slammed her head on a table. She was knocked out and, as I say in my presentation, if you could freeze time and go back and be a witness to this you would probably think I was the most cold, callous, heartless individual in the whole wide world. What you couldn’t see, however, was what was going through my mind which was an extreme amount of “What to do’s.” I was essentially paralyzed by my own internal emotional response which coupled with my fear of doing the wrong thing that I was relegated into doing nothing.

Again, with anything, at least with me, whatever is felt is felt to the extreme. If you give me a scale of 0 to 10 on what I am feeling I will either be at a 0-1 or a 9.5-10. Middle ground doesn’t exist and there was an incident at the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster race that I showed a high level of concern unlike the previous two examples.

It was in our youngest class and I was displaying the halfway sign (a rolled up green and white flagged in a crossed manned) which at this race, being a street race and being in a potential impact zone, I rarely looked behind me towards turn one. During this race, after the top five had passed, I heard this loud thud and I looked behind me and saw a kart upside down up against the starting lights. I threw down my flags and radioed into control in a voice of high concern saying, “Control, serious crash, stand by.” I then ran full speed to get a condition of the driver and I was so worried that when I got there, as the visible signs of damage on the kart showed that this was going to be bad, that the driver was going to be severely injured.

I don’t know if I’ve ever ran faster in my life and all the while I never looked behind me. My sole concern was the driver and had another incident happened behind me sending a kart my way I never would have known. When I got to the incident the driver was practically swimming out of the hay bales and I knelt down and gingerly asked, “Are you okay?” I say gingerly but my voice certainly had a hint of quivering in it as I was sure this was going to be bad as I have never seen a rear of a kart so badly mangled. The kid’s face shield had been knocked open in the crash and he looked up at me and said, “Yeah… yeah I’m fine” which was hard to believe because he had tears coming from his eyes but without my asking he immediately explained, “but I’m very allergic to hay… Achoo!” I was speechless as he sneezed a couple more times but I led him to the finish line where he stayed for the rest of the race and I asked several more times, “Are you sure you’re okay?” by which at the end of the race I think he was glad to get away from my repeated questions.

As I fly to the world’s largest karting event today I’m reminded even more of the emotions I felt in that incident and it’s a great contrast that in two stories I was the classic image of the autism spectrum; cold, seemingly heartless and yet in the last story my level of concern, which I doubt I could ever properly convey, was about as high as it could be.

After writing what I’ve got so far this morning I still feel the same as yesterday and I still don’t know why. I want to say all the right things and explain it to perfection and I feel I haven’t. I don’t know if there is anything more important that understanding that, “if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one” and that the way it plays out in each person can be radically unique. However, what is within each person, seems to be to the power of E. Middle grounds, grey areas, and things that aren’t concrete are in scarce rarity. If something is felt it’s going to be near a level of unfiltered chaos. If something isn’t felt then it’s going to be to trying to imagine what blue is like without ever knowing or seeing the color.

Speaking of the power of E, I’m going to be in my ultimate Kansas for the next five days as the SKUSA Supernats are about to commence in Las Vegas. This will be my sixth time as the chief starter of it and while these next five days are the five most physically and mentally demanding they are my favorite five days of the year. As with anything, if I enjoy something I don’t just enjoy it but the feeling of bliss is extreme, but in this case the scale is broken. I look forward to these days all year long and they are here! I’d like to write more but my 2nd flight (I wrote this in the air and have posted this from the Salt Lake City airport) is just about to take off. Again though, I feel there is so much more here, so much more to say, but right now I don’t know how to say it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Empathy

A study mentioned on another blog was making the rounds heavily on Facebook over the weekend and several people asked me my take on it. The article mentions that people with Asperger's may not, in fact, lack empathy but may have too much of it.

My first reaction to anything is to always state that, "if you've met one person with autism you've met one person." However, for myself, I've written many times about this topic that will be in later books I've written. One concept is, "The Denial of Self" in that I do everything I can to distance myself from emotions such as empathy.

Now why is this? Why is there this need to distance? The title concept of my 4th book is, "Life Unfiltered" which, I think, is the best way to describe it. This concept applies to most things in life be it sensory issues or emotions. When it comes to emotions I am very much a barometer of what the room is which this is unique because I am not a good judge of emotions; however, once emotions are understood then the impact becomes great. Here's another good question, is the lack of being a good judge a learned trait such as the avoidance of eye contact or is it simply that reading faces is not a strong point?

I can remember many instances in my life where empathy towards others proved to be overwhelming. The first was any time my brother and sister would have any sort of quarrel. If they did I think I did nothing but scream for at least a dozen minutes. The second was in 4th grade when we were learning about a Native American tribe and we watched a video of them dancing to which most of the class started laughing and cracking jokes. This infuriated me and I'm glad it was the last class of the day because I was a sobbing mess shortly thereafter as I felt bad for those who were mocked despite the fact that those people would never know what was said in that 4th grade class.

As with most things on the autism spectrum there seems to be little middle ground. This is an all or nothing system. Either emotions/empathy are not understood or the sensation of those will be overpowering. This, however, is where the, "if you've met one..." line comes in because I think each person has a different degree of emotions it will take to break through the threshold of understanding.

The other aspect which all this applies to is processing. Perhaps this is the core issue in nearly everything and would lead to the "life unfiltered" state. Anyway, if emotions and empathy can be avoided a big, big chunk of processing is avoided. When empathy is felt it feels as if nothing else matters in the world. Allowing outside emotions in creates a thought process that is hard to break and the processing that goes towards it makes doing other tasks highly difficult, if not impossible. On top of that the ability to express emotions, for us on the spectrum, is typically difficult so we become like a sponge soaking up all around us without the ability to express.

When I end my presentations now I explain that I want to find a couple of my teachers to say, "thank you" to them as back then, and even now to be honest, my ability to express emotions is often not there. I describe like this, "Imagine the part of the brain where emotions are felt to the part where they are expressed are very much like an interstate highway with 32 accidents and 97 brick walls lining the path. It certainly wouldn't be easy to navigate from point A to point B." So what this all means is that emotions are there, it's just hard to go the point where expressing them easily is.

While I've been writing this I've been torn on if attempting to distance myself from the world, or rather others in terms of emotions, is part of this. If so is this something learned? Is it like touching a hot stove in that once you've touched it a few times you're going to learn to be careful? If life is truly unfiltered does one then need to learn how to make filters of their own? If this is the case does this then give us more of a clear reason as to why online gaming is so popular among those on the autism spectrum? Think about it, it's harder to be a barometer of a room when all visual aids are gone. Also, people rarely, I think, will be online in the midst of a crisis therefore the emotions of now are gone.

All in all, as with most things on the autism spectrum it would seem, any study just leaves more questions than answers but one thing about this which is so important is that it counterpoints the media frenzy from last December in which so many 'experts' proclaimed, "ALL people with autism/Asperger's have no emotions, have no empathy, and are incapable of caring." I knew this was about the most wrong thing I've ever heard and with this study we have to be careful not to now have the opposite effect and proclaim the word "ALL." Remember, and I've said in multiple times in this post but in my opinion it is the #1 most important line about the autism spectrum you can remember, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Video of Radio

For those not in Saint Louis the rado interview I did today was taped. Here it is...


Tonight at Webster

For those in Saint Louis here's the link for info on tonight's presentation http://events.webster.edu/event/author_aaron_likens_building_a_foundation_of_hope

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On the air

In Saint Louis tomorrow I'll be on KSDK Channel 5 sometime between 5 and 7 AM and then at 7:50 I'll be on the McGraw show on 550 KTRS. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Haircut to Remember

I'm back on the road (already) after my national tour but there's one thing about me that has been somewhat of a challenge and that is I feel I am only as good as what I'm doing now. What I did last month or last year, to me, doesn't count for that much. Because of this it is hard to take pride in what I do because, as I say, "I just do it because it needs to be done." And perhaps, if I had a different mindset, I wouldn't be who I am. Anyway, last month I may have spoken to over 7,700 people but my most recent stint as Autism Ambassador occurred at a most unusual place and that was while I was getting my haircut.

The experience started like any other as I was in my positional warfare (I haven't spoken about this in some time, but essentially this is a concept that states that I am uncomfortable no matter what posture or position I am in and this often occurs in social situations) and the lady who was about to cut my asked the question I fear the most, "How are you?" Typically I'd struggle with this answer pondering the fact on if this was a legitimate question of if it were a empty hello where a person doesn't actually care to hear how one is doing. As exhausted as I was I had no problem stating the fact that I was exhausted which brought up the follow up question, "how can you be exhausted, it's morning?" to which I responded that I just got back, a week ago, from a national tour.

From there the conversation shifted towards my work and my career and I mentioned that I'm an author on the subject and the lady cutting my hair already knew quite a lot about autism already which, for me, gives me a lot of hope.

While she was cutting my hair I easily shifted into "Alias" mode (Wow, I'm using a lot of concepts today. What "alias" means is that I am able to play a role much easier than I am at being myself. In a social situation that is wide open and I'm just me I have no idea what to say because there's so many possibilities a conversation can go, but if I'm playing a role, such as Autism Ambassador, I know what to say and how to say it.) and all in all it turned into a impromptu presentation.

It felt weird being told I should be proud, to which I mentioned that it's hard, if not impossible for me to feel that, and then out of nowhere another man who was getting his haircut mentioned that he had overheard my conversation and had a grandson who has Asperger's and was also on the police force and wish I had been able to present at the Academy 25 years ago.

What I thought was going to be another typical experience getting my haircut was quickly turning into one of the more meaningful presentations I have ever given and I had no idea I was going to give it. The big thing for me is that the person cutting my hair was able to say that, "if you've met one person on the autism spectrum it means you've just met one person." Think about that! I told her that 10 years ago a conversation, like the one we were having, would be rare because people just didn't know about autism the way it is now. Between her, the man, and another stylist the thirst for knowledge about the autism spectrum was obvious and in my presentation, when I speak about autism awareness 10 years ago I say, "autism awareness 10 years ago is no where where we are today and 10 years from now I'm sure we will be much further than where we are today" and after my unexpected presentation in a chair getting my haircut is any indication I think we will be much further than any of us expect 10 years from now.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Neighbor I Never Knew

When I moved into my place earlier this year I blogged about the issues I had with the sound coming through the walls from the neighbors. My home is a connected townhouse with thin walls and it was a major issue but over time I haven't written about it because, well, I haven't been home for a good chunk of the year.

One of the biggest issues I had was with my neighbor to my east that would listen to classical music starting around 4AM. He always had it a such a low volume that the only audible sounds were that of a muffled base. And when the dee-jay (does anyone refer to classical music on air talent as DJ's?) would come on his voice was on par with the adults from the Peanuts cartoons. For some this might not be an issues, but having hyper-sensitive senses led to many a night without much sleep starting at 4AM.

I think letters were sent out about the issue and the noise went away in the morning. I still could almost imagine the noise every morning just out of habit, but when I got back from my tour last week I saw a new for sale sign at the entrance to my housing area and thought nothing of it. Then, two days ago, I looked closer and saw that the address was that of the classical music at 4AM loving neighbor. I walked by the place and the realtor key contraption thingy (yes, I do believe that is the technical term) was there and I looked through the back window and there was no sign that a person was living there. The neighbor I never knew was gone.

Why do I say I never knew him? Because I never once saw him. I heard his voice through the wall once and the only thing I know is about the classical music. You might think I feel a bit of relief now but it's much different than that as the feeling I'm experiencing is remorse, in a way. This is just a great example of Asperger's. How so? In the two places I live I've never once had a conversation with any of my neighbors. Much like I say in my presentations, I do everything I can to preserve the 4th wall. I won't reach out, I won't say hello because of the high level of social anxiety that it creates so my tactic is to remain invisible.

Remaining invisible, of course, leads to having no idea who is around me and I'm left wondering who that man was. What was his job? How old was he? Where did he go? What was the inspiration for classical music before the sun had even considered cracking the horizon? I'm also left wondering if other people have these thoughts about those around them?

My neighbor I never knew is gone now and while my sleeps will now be uninterrupted I'm left with this sense of emptiness; as if I should have somehow said hello, or learned something about him. In the end, though, this will just be one more person in my life that was around me and I'm just left with questions and not a single answer.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Delayed Wall

It took several days but the trip has now caught up with me. It's a weird feeling, but this is rather common with me that when something ends right away, like a month long tour, I don't really feel tired until a few days after. I know, weird, and in my later books which haven't been published I refer to this as the "time-lapse."

Another thing that might be playing into this hitting of the proverbial delayed wall is that I also had the Captain Phillips movie experience on Saturday and yes, five days can happen for time lapse.

I know this was always confusing for my parents because if something happened, whether it was a major social episode or a major change, I would seem unaffected for several days and then out of nowhere would experience a flood of emotions or would feel a massive dose of tiredness. Right now I am experiencing a little bit of both and because of that I'm going to keep today's blog short as I've got to save my energy for a presentation tonight.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Island Myth

After spending a month on the road presenting to schools and listening to many stories I have learned that the myth of the island is alive and well. While often times the thought of an island conjures up thoughts of a tropical paradise this island I refer to is alone, desolate, and thousands of miles from anywhere. In other words, it's the most lonely place in the world.

When I got my diagnosis 10 years ago I went to that island, metaphorically speaking of course, and it was the worst trip of my life. Each and every day I was on the shores of that island silently yelling wondering if any one would ever hear me or see me as I knew that I was alone in this world. Think of this; think about what it would be like to know beyond a shadow of any reasonable doubt that you are alone and that not a single person in the world has ever felt what you felt or dealt with what you are dealing with. This is the island that many people on the autism spectrum feel as if they're living on.

There are others that live on these islands and it isn't isolated to those on the autism spectrum but also family members. For a student in school who has a brother or sister that is on the autism spectrum they may also feel as if their life is something that no one has ever gone through and that no one can relate to what it is like.

So how do I know that this island is still alive? Last month I spoke to over 7,500 students and I heard many stories from those on the spectrum and those who have siblings, but there's a moment in my presentation that truly lets me know just how vast this island is. At some point in my Q&A segment someone usually asks, and if no one does and time is running out I'll ask it myself, "How many people have autism?" To answer this I start with asking the audience, "Okay, by a show of hands, how many here knows someone or knows someone that knows someone that is on the autism spectrum?" What do you think the show of hands would be? Do you think that students would not want to admit to knowing someone on the autism spectrum?

The next 10 seconds are priceless as, from my vantage point on stage, I can see the desolate land of the island vanish as it's a guarantee that at least half the room will have their hands up and most of the time it's at least three-quarters. What was thought of as something that only they know about and no one else does quickly turns into something that isn't taboo or isn't isolated to just them but something real to everyone. An eerie hush comes about as everyone, students and staff, look around to see just how many people have known someone that is on the autism spectrum. After that hush people seated next to each other whisper, others gaze around the room with an apparent sense of disbelief, and after that the questions asked become much more intimate and real. Those on the spectrum, as they ask a question, proudly proclaim that they do, indeed, have Asperger's or autism, and the island myth has vanished and they know, as everyone knows, we're not alone.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Flashback

I wanted to have this blog talk about my return home after a month and other stuff of that sort but a much more serious topic came up over the weekend. I wondered whether or not to share it, but seeing that I am sure I'm not the only one to endure something like this I felt it right to write about it.

On Saturday my girlfriend and I went to go to see the movie Captain Phillips. While this may seem like a normal event there came a time in the movie that I experienced something I never have before; I had trouble breathing and I began to sweat and get rather hot then cold then back to hot. After all that I began to shake. What caused it? It started with the events of this video.



This video originally showed up in this post about my ordeal in Kenya. I say ordeal because that's exactly what it was. Before I talk about that I should mention, in case you were unaware, the movie Captain Phillips, which stars Tom Hanks as the title character, is based off of a pirate hijacking of a cargo ship back in 2009. While this may not seem to have any connection with what I do there was a moment in that movie that it became more than a movie to me.

If you just saw the video but didn't go back to read the full blog I must tell you that after the camera quits shooting the real drama began. What started out as a minor ordeal became a matter of life or death. More and more kids came to the car and eventually our car was surrounded by a mob. Again, there may not seem to be a connection between this and the movie but somewhere in the middle of my ordeal in Kenya a person stared me in the eyes and said something I've never forgotten.

In the movie of Captain Phillips there are many lines of dialogue between the pirates and non-pirates. The movie had been an intense experience before this line in question was spoken, but once it was I was in a state of sheer panic. That line was something along the lines of, "America, why are you so worried? Everything is going to be okay."

For many, movies are a way to escape the world but at that moment, at that moment when that sentence of, "everything is going to be okay" was said I was taken back eight years as that was exactly what this older teenager who had a rather scary looking blade in front of my face said. Never in my life had I experienced such fear, and I hope that you, the reader, can in no way relate to what type of experience it was and I don't think there are words that would give it justice. Watching the movie, however, brought me right back to the streets of Kisumu in 2005.

The movie progressed and I remained a shaky, teary mess. Also, that line was used several more times and each time it felt as if a vacuum had sucked the oxygen from my lungs. I use the title of this blog as, "flashback" because I don't know what else to call it. I was right back there in that horrible crisis.






When the end of the movie comes about and the Captain is in a state of shock and is being checked over by a Navy doctor the movements and disorientation was much akin to what I experienced after my mere hour. In no way am I saying my situation was worse as the real life incident was a four day event and mine was just an hour. Nonetheless I just began to cry and shake some more as my experience in 2005 felt as if it were right now.


Maybe the movie was just to real for me; it's obvious that there are still a lot of emotions and fears from that experience I had in 2005 and maybe it's something that will be with me for the rest of my life.

There was more to my emotions in watching that movie than just fear and panic. I do not mention this ordeal, usually, in presentations. I may have used it once or twice when a question about whether or not a traumatic experience remained (there seems to be little research on this topic but something I do hear a lot of from parents) but it actually is a major part of my life and I don't give it justice in presentations. I do mention that, after I was diagnosed, I was largely depressed and stayed that way for 15 months. I did find writing 15 months after being diagnosed but also in that 15th month I went to Kenya and had this brush with death.

After surviving this I wondered how and why I made it out. I thought long and hard about everything that had happened on that day back in March of 2005 and if any one little thing had been different I would not be here today. But since I did make it out after knowing I was going to die when I knew that I thought of how big a waste of my life had been I began to think about what I was going to do with my life. If anything, who I am today was shaped by the events on that street in Kisumu, Kenya in 2005. Truly, my dad and I should not have been able to make it out. I don't think that's a stretch and in that hour or so that I had zero power in my life I  told myself that, should I make it out the other side, I was going to take my writing seriously. Up to that point in time I had five of my chapters written in my book, Finding Kansas, and I doubted if there was any validity in my words, but making it out of the crisis I told myself that I didn't care! I was here for a reason and maybe, someday, someone would read my words.

As I mentioned earlier, I honestly hope you can't relate to that movie or my experience and if you haven't there is no way I can describe to you the panic, fear, and the lingering emotions of such an event. However, an event like that changes a person and if it weren't for that event, halfway around the globe, I wouldn't be a writer or a speaker. I just got done with a month that I spoke to over 7,500 people about autism. The future for so many now looks a little brighter, or for others they may now understand more about a family member, and for others they now know that they want to go into the field of autism as a profession. All of that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the worst hour of my life. It's odd how life can work that way! I just said worst hour of my life but without it I would not be here today in this capacity. I may have to deal with the lingering moments of panic, but because of that I'm reminded about the reasons I'm here. The movie was done with surreal realism, at least from my vantage point, and it's something I don't think I will see again as I've been there; I lived it (albeit for just an hour) but reliving it has given me a new drive. Second chances are hard to come by in life and I was granted one on that day and ever since I do everything I can to make the most of it.