Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lindenwood University Next Week

I'm very excited for my presentation at Lindenwood University next week. It will be on May 5th from 6-8. For more info visit http://www.eastersealsmidwest.org/Resources-News/Media/Press-Releases/easter-seals-midwest-announces-speaking-series-featuring-autism-ambassador-and-author-aaron-likens-9523

Monday, April 27, 2015

My 1,200th Post: Who am I?

Here I am at my 1,200th post and after my post on Friday I find myself thinking, "who am I?" This may be one of the traps of Asperger's and why daily life can be so frustrating.

So who am I? On one hand I'm a phenomenal official at races with my flags and I just worked two fantastic events the past two weekends and raised $2,000 in the process for Easter Seals Midwest. Also, I'm a public speaker with more presentations given than I could ever imagine with speaker numbers not in the hundreds or thousands but the tens of thousands. Speaking on a stage is easy for me and I can command the stage and make it my own. But then there's the side that most do not see; the side that may be difficult for those that see me on stage to believe and if it weren't for my writings you'd nevertheless ow about the struggles.

These struggles, like when a sensory episode happens, are devastating because I become so hard on myself and thoughts of, "why can't I just be normal" float through my head. These thoughts are never productive and just lead me to become lower and lower on myself. But why wouldn't it? If things like speaking and flagging races comes easy to me, so easy that for myself it is effortless, then how can something as simple as drums, or something as simple as a vague comment bring everything to a crashing halt? Who am I; this confident presenter or a person whom has some skills but is defined by the challenges? The challenges here can do just that; define me. In the midst of the darkness it is easy to let the challenges become the label and definition of who I am and instead of seeing them as hurdles to conquer they become the burden that weighs me down.

I'm thankful I know my diagnosis because imagine how confusing it would be to be able to do certain things excellent and have other things simply be impossible. If it weren't for this I'd be confused with who I actually am because I'd have no one to blame but my inability to simply man up, step up, or just get over it. As big of a struggle Friday night was it would be tenfold worse if I didn't know.

Every person has challenges. No one is perfect. Challenges can do one of two things; they can either be a mountain that is hard or impossible to climb and is rather intimidating or it can be that crushing weight that defines an existence. Most of the time I see it as a mountain and whilst I always attempt to make the climb there are times when ground is lost but it's here that I must look at if it's worth the effort to continue the trek upward, or is it time to pack up and give up?

So who am I? I ask this a lot and someone else used this question when chatting I me yesterday and it inspired this blog today which made it fitting to make it my milestone blogpost. My answer is that I am fighter. I may have setbacks, I may lose ground on that proverbial mountain, but the trip upward must always continue. I've experienced the sensation of giving up many times last decade. It may seem like the easy option because it's easy to convince one's self that it's too difficult and failure is the only outcome therefore why is it worth the effort to make the climb? That's who I am; I was about as depressed as possible but I now know there's always hope and it is worth the effort regardless the difficulty. Will there be challenges? Most certainly yes, but that's what life is and I hope my words and presentations continue to reach those that need to know this.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Sensory Disaster Fiesta Style

I'm in San Antonio for a USAC .25 race and last night we went downtown to try this Mexican food place. Now before I get to that story I have to say that I should've been careful on what I wished for because two days ago I stated that I was going through a writing funk and the world went about by giving something major to write about.

So anyway, there were six of is including myself and we parked and got out and it was odd just how many people were about. This wasn't typical Thursday night crowds and as we started walking the way of the restaurant I heard it; the sound of music playing. It just wasn't music, but live bands and these bands were heavy on my nemesis. It was drums. If you didn't know, and I haven't written about a sensory episode in a long, long time, but drums create the worst feeling possible within me.

What can I do? There are five others and the last thing I ever want to has happen is to have a difficulty like this be one of two things; I don't want it to be visibly apparent that I am uncomfortable and secondly, if it is visibly apparent I don't want to have things altered on my account. I hate this! I hate it and when this happens I hate myself because I feel as if I should just be able to overcome it.

We walked closer and I thought I was going to be able to overcome it and not have any issues, but the closer we got the intensity picked up and the adrenaline began and my heart rate picked up and all my nerves went into this hidden violent frenzy. On the outside it looked as if I were a bit nervous, but on the inside I was burning.

Closer, closer, and when we got next to the stage my fists were clinched and I think I had some twitches going on, and what started out as a nervous look descended into a look of obvious pain, and I knew this. I didn't want anyone to know the pain that was going on but at this level there was no hiding it.

We got through the stage and turned a corner and there it was! Another stage! Again I had to endure the sound of pounding drums and when that stage was passed there was yet another. This was now about the worst of situations and as we got to the place we were eating the entrance was confusing so we had to walk around the building and pass stage after stage.

What can I say during this? To see so many people reveling in the party atmosphere is depressing for me at this point because I have so much envy on top of all the pain I am experiencing. If you want to know the time I envy normal the most it's at these points in time when I'm witnessing normality and yet experiencing the greatest of hardships of being on the autism spectrum.

Here's the thing; unless you've experienced a sensory episode like this I can write it out, I can explain how long it takes to lose the adrenaline from this, and I can explain the shame that is felt but unless you've experienced it my words will only give you a slight glimpse of it all. I didn't ask for the adrenaline, nor the pain, and I know those around me are having no issues so why does it have to be so difficult for me?

We eventually found out that this was the Fiesta festival and there were people absolutely everywhere. People enjoying themselves without having any issues like I was having. I felt awful that my issue was visible my the group I was in. And yes, they understand and were warm and accommodating, and consoling but still I feel as if I should just be able to overcome it. I mean, I went to Europe by myself and navigated being in a place that I didn't speak the language and I even for lost after midnight and there wasn't even an iota of fear and emotions that I was experiencing.

It took thirty minutes before I was back to somewhat normal and when we left I got to experience the whole ordeal anew. The self anger was doubled as all that I've written about came back. I forgot everything that I was and I just looked around and saw happiness while I was going through this sensory episode. Thankfully, I had someone with me that completely understood and did an amazing job on keeping me as calm as possible and reminding me that there was a reason for this. In the midst of self-hatred she told me that I wasn't, "being ridiculous" or, "awful" as I kept saying. That may not sound like much, and I may not have acknowledged it, but that was huge in keeping me from feeling the extreme level of self-hatred.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Struggle of Writing

I've always gone through writing phases and right now is no exception. I know my blog hasn't been the most entertaining of things the past two weeks and the reason as to why is simple; writing isn't easy!

Truly, right now, writing just isn't coming to me naturally. When I said phases I mean that there are times when I can fire out post after post without effort but then there will be a time that the effortlessness will turn into a struggle and that's where I am now. 

What created this pickle? For as great as the past two months were this is the trade off. I had so much direction and adventure that it'll take some time to get back into the normal routine. It will happen, but just beat through this time and I'll get back to my great writings. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Cool Experience

On Sunday after round two of the USAC .25 national series the Circuit of Americas allowed all the racers to drive their cars on the big track. Typically, the largest track these drivers will see will be just .1 of a mile, but on Sunday they took their cars onto the same track that F1 races at. A video was made...


Friday, April 17, 2015

Part 2...

My post for Easter Seals National that I shared earlier in the week was actually a two-parter. To read part 2 go to http://blog.easterseals.com/i-wish-my-classmates-knew-i-had-autism/

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fever Effect 2.0

Last week at this time I was rather ill. I had awoken at 4AM feeling slightly sick and it was downhill from there. I will gladly spare you the details of the symptoms outside the fact my fever was as high as 102.5 which I haven't experienced in a long time.

Why bring this up? For one this bit of sickness made me have to cancel my first presentation of my career was had spanned 624 presentations without missing one over 5.5 years. I was proud of that stat but now it is just a thing of the past. Secondly, I want to reference a previous blog post which has been one of my more read posts and that is "The Fever Effect". In that post I stated that, "when I have a fever I am calmer and things seem to make more sense because my brain slows down." However, last week this was not the case.

Last week I was not in a good place. I was sick to the point that I couldn't even sit up in bed and I haven't been that sick in over nine years, but despite three hours of sleep my brain was able to go full bore into panic mode about everything. The negative self talk that was experienced in my fourteen hours of misery was brutal.

As previously mentioned, a fever was typically a time of clarity and I've had many, many parents share this same observation with me about their children on the autism spectrum. Instead of clarity, though, I was experienced unfiltered fear, panic, and self-loathing. Maybe this was just a culmination of having such intense thoughts over two months of the writing I've done, or maybe it was just exhaustion, or maybe it was neither of those; whatever the root cause was and is irrelevant because what is relevant was the agony my mind was creating. If anything, I can compare the way I felt back to the time I felt hopeless in my life after my diagnosis. My mind convinced me I'd never achieve anything again, I'd always be in isolation, and happiness was a word that wasn't included in my dictionary. Rational thoughts? No, but in the fever induced frenzy my brain had created that didn't matter.

As evening kicked in I started feeling a little better, not much, but enough that the painful thoughts ebbed. By midday the next day I was recovering nicely and then it hit me again; they were almost like aftershocks from an earthquake as I once again had to cope with the dire thoughts I had the previous day. It didn't help that I knew I would be missing my first scheduled presentation, but the thought process began to repeat itself over the weekend and it wasn't until Monday that these thoughts went away as I presented once more.

I have new material to talk about now when asked about the fever effect. It had been something, while not celebrated, had something that was never seen as a major negative, but this past time was as opposite as possible. Perhaps I now know that if I've had one fever I've only had one fever and while most of the time I feel at ease I now know I can become equally as active and overthink everything.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Blog Series Upcoming

I've been in a writing funk on my blog. I so enjoyed the tasks of Finding Kansas Revisited as well as The Aspie Traveler that it's been hard to write in my typical manner. Also, I've written more on my blog in just over four months than any other time in my life. That being said I need another project and thankfully for all I've come up with one. 

Next week I'll be working on Finding Kansas: The Lost Chapters Revisited. When my book got rereleased there were many chapters that got cut so here's what I'm going to do; I'm going to run the cut chapters AND do a revisited response to it. This is going to be a daunting challenge, but I look forward to it and hopefully by midweek next week the posts will begin. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Celebrating 20 Years in Motorsport

In the midst of Finding Kansas Revisited and my Aspie Traveler Series it was lost that just over a week ago I started my 20th season involved in being a motorsports official.

When I first started assisting Frankie, the Saint Louis Karting Association flagman in 1995 I never would've imagined that I would have flagger at a quarter of the tracks I've been to. I've been coast to coast several times, I've flagged races that had Indy 500 winners, F1 World Champions in it, and countless future champions who I'm sure you'll hear about someday.

But 20 years?! I don't know if that says I'm highly dedicated or if I just don't know when to quit, but it's odd to think that the time I've spent flagging is four years older than a driver can race in the USAC .25 series!

I often get asked, though, "Why do you do it?" I do spend quite a bit a time on the road, but as I picked up the national USAC .25 series and the SKUSA Pro Tour I've grown so much as a person and this has made me a better writer and a better presenter. Also, I love the challenge! Most people, I'm sure, would shy away from the SKUSA Supernationals which can be 14 hour days with constantly 40 karts on track and my radio traffic in your ear than most people hear ambient chatter in a day, and I'm sure most people would shy away from a USAC .25 race where at some tracks there will be 10 cars on a track that has sub five second lap times! It's a lot to take it and the challenge is great and perfection isn't something to strive for, it isn't something to be desired, it is required because as being chief starter, head flag, or whatever title a person calls it I've ultimately have the flags to do something when a call has been made, or if there's situation ahead. My reflexes are always put to the test and it's something I await all week to get to do.


In the past year I've been able to merge my real job with this flagging thing I do with The Blue Wave. I hope someday this is a flag that is used at all levels across the country, but as with everything we've got to start small, but the support I've had at tracks, the donations from this flag, have made the journey all the more worth it.

After 20 years I do have to wonder, "What's next?" What's the dream? What am I aspiring for? And the obvious answer is that someday I want to flag the Indy 500. That's been the goal every since the picture at the beginning when I was 12, or the day that Duane Sweeney gave me his checkered flag when I was seven, but if that never happens I am still enjoying the journey of today. I don't do this for the pay, or the fame (haha!) but because it's something I'm for one reason or another exceptional at (other people's words, not mine) and I want to create as safe of an environment as possible for those on the track. Sure, I've got style when it comes to the way I display the flags but what makes the USAC and SKUSA series so fulfilling is the challenge and the closeness of the action. Next Wednesday night on the CBS Sports Network the SKUSA Supernats from last year are going to be broadcasted and if you watch take a look at how close I am; I'm on the racing surface. This creates a high level of communication between myself and the drivers and in a way is a throwback to the way it used to be WAY BACK in the day, and it's this purity of the sport I enjoy so much.

Someday I'm sure I'm going to celebrate 30, then 40, and maybe even 50 years and thinking about this I go back to when I began with Frankie. He had been flagging since he was in his teens and he told me stories of midget races at tracks that have long since been forgotten, and motorcycle races where you'd be hard pressed to find any information on the internet about them, and he even flagged boat races! Being involved in motorsports was something he had always done, it was a part of him the way it is a part of me and I sort of feel bad now writing this because I was the reason he lost his position. Sure, he was in his 80's, going color blind, and standing in the 100 degree heat all day wasn't ideal, but the club never had another person until I showed up. I say this because if I reach 60 years in the sport (if they still use flags in the future... yeah, I'm looking at you F1 with all your fancy lights!) I'm sure I'll be off at some track on a weekend when it will be suggested that I have an "assistant" and I'll talk about the time Michael Schumacher crossed my finish line, or the time I got to be an honorary starter for practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500, or the time I was displaying the white flag and all the karts on the lead lap pulled in so I actually had to retract the white for two laps! Oh, I'll share the stories but I'll know what's going on, and I'll know that it's about to be my time to display my final checkered (hopefully can still do the double then) but I know whoever is assisting me will be listening to my every word the way I listened and learned from Frankie.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Special Pages

For those that are interested I made navigating and reading my two series so far this year into easy to get to pages. This is for my Aspie Traveler Series

And this is for Finding Kansas Revisited

Monday, April 6, 2015

Post Script: Amsterdam

It's now been a full two weeks since I returned from Amsterdam and the thoughts and experiences I had are still being processed. I feel the writing I had during that week was my best material in years and I've actually dreaded writing again because how can I top that? How can I write anything that has anything close to the relevancy of the difference in eye contact, or have a blog about bacon, or an adventure the likes of being lost after midnight?

Those are fears I've had in terms of writing, but another thing is that I learned one cannot run away from emotions. My trip was born out of a breakup but emotions loom and linger. It was one thing to be halfway around the world in a self-imposed bit of isolation but it's an entirely different beast to feel that way at home. It could be that I know there's an adventure out there, somewhere, but the words I first read when I got diagnosed keep running through my head. I know they're false, I know there's hope, but at this moment in time I'm chasing normal harder than I ever have before.

If you don't know what chasing normal means it's this; first, there's no such thing as normal. It's a myth, a fallacy, however it is something every person aspires for. Now, if you start chasing normal the first thing that happens is that you will forget every bit of person you are because you're only going to see what you're not and then, no matter what, you will never be good enough. That's sort of where I am right now.

Should you go through my blog archive you'll see this is pattern and about every 3-5 months I've blogged about this very thing. This has been coming and I think my trip eased it, but it's here and it's  rather ferocious in its ability to bring me down.

Back to the trip though. I have had time to think about it and beyond a doubt the experience was a resounding success. I knew I'd write a little, but in just a week I had over 15,000 words! And those words weren't filler either. It's got me thinking on how can I make the next event like that bigger and better. To be honest I actually have already came up with an idea that may be my biggest writing challenge and greatest life adventure to date but I'll share that all in due time, and it may be a while, but I know I'm capable of great things no matter what this negative self talk born out if chasing normal says.