Friday, December 18, 2015

The Aspie Traveler Day 9: The Day After

How does one simply move on after the events of yesterday? I know I had a hard time and sleep did not come easily. For the first time in my stay here I was up past midnight and adrenaline was still pumping through my system. I did allow myself some satisfaction in the way I handled myself and the way I didn't externally panic during the event, but afterwards and even now I'm shaky and overly alert. 


As with each other day on this trip i awoke early, but this was due to a nightmare. It was obvious as to why this occurred and at the same time going back to sleep wasn't happening due to the ferocious polar storm happening outside. In the US last winter the phrase of the month was "polar vortex" and if I hear that again I am going to laugh because I'll tell you what a polar vortex is; it's a storm that drops the pressure to 28.9 (that's akin to a strong category one hurricane) with winds reaching 50 and blinding snow. This weather outside was a perfect symbol for what was going on within my body. 


I had breakfast at 6:30 and mercifully I went back to sleep around nine and my friend at the hotel was gracious to allow me to stay in my room until after checkout as my plane wasn't scheduled to take off until 7:44. This time in the early afternoon was a reflection of the events and my life. 


It may seem I'm fearless in doing this series but I'm not. I have a great deal of social anxiety. In any environment I am overly keen to possible problems be it something minor like knowing someone is going to come up to talk to me to the severe things like walking back to the hotel at dark and seeing a solitary figure walking and fearing that I'm about to be mugged. My world, actually, is an extremely scary place and when I'm home it does take a great deal of strength to simply cross the barrier of the front door. That being said, when major events actually occur, it reinforces the fear I deal with and it shows the world is, actually, an awful hideous place. 


Have you seen a change in tone from just two days ago? Two days ago I was singing praises about how awesome the world is and now I'm saying it's hideous. What gives? This is the lack of middle ground thinking those on the autism spectrum may have. I'm either all in or all out; all for or all against and for once I was all in on the world and with just one encounter I am in fear again. 


So what happened? What made this event so catastrophically dramatic? It was the randomness of it. My social skills are chameleon like; I avoid most encounters because I've been able to plot ahead and see where the foot traffic is going. I know how to weave about prospective conversations and I've got the timely "reach for phone and answer it even though it isn't ringing" tactic down pat. I've had to learn these things to make the everyday grind tolerable. Can I handle a random conversation? Yes, I can but I prefer not to. However, on this trip, I was starting to open up and when this man joined me at the table I thought, "well, what luck! Another person I can talk to and enjoy it. This is swell!" Okay, okay, I didn't use the word swell in my thoughts but I didn't see this random event as that; random. This was now the welcome norm!


Back to the randomness; the conversation was normal and then, suddenly and fully unexpected, it took that turn. I'm rarely taken off guard like that. While I can't fully facial expressions I am a barometer for social tension. I can sense passive aggressiveness 600 nautical miles away and if the environment is tense so am I. It's odd I can sense this so great but it's been a must to prepare myself because I can't read, exactly, when the proverbial powder keg is going to blow. In this pizza place incident there was no warning, no indication; it was sudden and could not be predicted and that is the part of life I struggle with the greatest. 


Travel, as I've said, isn't just about the places one goes but it's also about discovering one's self and I was reintroduced into my greatest fear. Secondly, I now have to deal with the after effects from this as, for one, I'm stuck in that moment. Over 24 hours have passed but in my brain I'm still at that table knowing I'm about to die. I wish my writings didn't take this turn to the level of seriousness it has but this is life, this can happen, and it did happen. The second aspect that I'm going to have to deal with and do everything I can to quell is the fear of it happening again. 


When I was younger I was told a lot of my fears were irrational to which I could always have a debate to prove their validity. I was afraid of storms, storms can kill, the fear was paralyzing. If one were to look at the true odds of being killed by a storm it is rare, but my comeback was that it could happen. One in a thousand, or a hundred thousand, or millions it didn't matter because it could happen. So too, now with social encounters, I know the random aspect to the extreme like yesterday can happen. I've known it could happen and my event in Kenya in 2005 proved this all too well. 


What am I getting at with all this? The first is I'm going to have to be stronger than I've been to put aside the doubt and fears. When I was headed to the Hammerfest airport today I was extra attentive in the cab looking for potential dangers which as we got halfway to the airport I realized this was asinine because there wasn't much traffic out due to the storm outside of dedicated dog owners walking their huskies. Lots of huskies! Anyway, and secondly, the other part is just how much strength it takes for myself, and others on the autism spectrum, to handle normal everyday life. Try it sometime; try going through your day analyzing every potential danger. Try and, as you walk down a sidewalk or office hall, calculate every possible encounter and what's going to be said. Try to hear every noise in your environment and analyze it for potential dangers. After an hour you'll probably be exhausted but now imagine this at all hours and often times in the dreams as well. 


Does every person worry? I'm sure, I'm not going to argue that, but the thing I've discovered venturing to the top of the world is that these defenses I've built up are there for a purpose. Maybe there were signs this person was going to be unstable. I had let my guard down in opening up. Again, this is the all or nothing system; I'm either full on red alert or I'm naive and over trusting. 


As for my day today, I spent four hours at the Hammerfest airport deep in thought and also worried because flight after flight got cancelled due to the storm and I was concerned that my flight would join that same fate. Tomorrow's forecast didn't look good either and I head home on Sunday and if I got stuck in Hammerfest for two days I would have a long ordeal trying to figure out how to get home. An hour prior to the scheduled departure there was an announcement and at this airport English is not given and I saw people give looks of disgust so I panicked figuring I would be stuck there forever, but then the departures screen is played said, "delayed to 2002" and at the same time an army of vehicles started to tend to the runway to deice it as freezing rain was pelting the ground. 


There handy been an aircraft in or out all day and when the plane we were going to be on landed there was an enormous cheer by the 40 or so people in this small airport. We got on and we were off to Tromsø where the connection would be tight, like five minutes tight but thankfully these airports are small and they held the plane and I got on and was headed back to Oslo. 

It seems like a year ago since I left Oslo though it's been just two days ago. In a way it feels as if I'm returning home which is saying something. Even though the awful episode happened yesterday it appears as if the strength I said I would need is already there. I thought about cancelling the rest of this series as I already have my next trip planned, but how could I quit now? There's a world out there and my discovery of it, and myself, has only begun.

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