Friday, December 2, 2011

Life in the Corner

It's been a phenomenal run! The past two months I've been doing presentation after presentation and also flagged the largest kart race in the world. My confidence in doing those things is rising each time and I now have no level of "butterflies" or anxiety before presentations now. In fact, for someone new to my blog, the past two months may be confusing and they may have even asked, "Is this person really on the spectrum?"

Today the run ended. I've said many times that when I'm in my element I can forget that I'm on the spectrum, in a way. It isn't something that is forgotten, exactly, but the daily reminders aren't there. Today I was the reminder was obvious.

This morning, the Saint Louis Police Academy had an appreciation breakfast for those who have volunteered this past year. I've been to the academy no less than 50 times to do my police presentation so I know the building. Today, however, there was no presentation and no "alias" (see my glossary page on the upper right side of the bar if you don't know what that means... At least I hope I included it on that page!) so I was just myself.

The starting point was classroom one, which is the room I've given the vast majority of my presentations. If anything, you could say I became the speaker I am today in that room because my first 20 or so presentations were in that room. Typically, it is easy to give a presentation in that room as I walk in, with confidence, and take control of the room without any hesitation. Today was not a typical day.

I walked into the room and there were maybe 50 or so people there and the seats were going fast. Usually I walk into that room with firm direction and no hesitation. Today I looked about as lost as a person can look indoors. I haven't mentioned it in quite some time on here, but the "positional warfare" was wreaking havoc on my movements. On the outside I may have looked unemotional, but on the inside a storm of anxiety and fear was raging.

After some tense seconds, I finally found a seat that had no one sitting either one seat left or right of it and then a few moments after that it was time to go to the room that had breakfast.

To better explain the breakfast room I did a little diagram on MS Paint. Before you see it I do want to mention that I did spend a "little" time on it and that I also flunked 1st grade art. If I had spent a lot of time on this minor art project the result would have been the same. Also, it's been a while since I did a diagram (I thought just two days ago I need another MS Paint picture) so I wanted an excuse to make one so here goes:
The entry to the room was above the blue box (see, I did say a "little" time) on the left and the blue  boxes represent where the breakfast buffet was. I was about the 10th person into the room so after I got my food the majority of tables (the black O's) were open.

I noticed several people that I recognized, but I did not say a word to them. I got my food and made a bee line to the red O and sat in the chair where the X is. I was as far away from everyone as possible and I had the tactical advantage of the corner.

During positional warfares I often try to isolate myself and corners of rooms are safe havens. Also, I did everything I could do to put on a front of, "don't interrupt me" as I looked with aimless intent at my cell phone. Occasionally I would look at the line of those waiting to get food and I would look around at the tables filling up as people talked with each other in a natural and casual form. I said quietly to myself, "How do they do that?" as I looked in befuddlement.

At that point in time I wanted to be a part of that world. Here I was, stuck in the corner, almost shaking due to the anxiety of such an open ended situation. Usually, I am completely content and happy with my isolation in my private life, but this morning I had one of those times that I could just break through and be a part of the typical social word.

I felt lonely in that corner and I ate fast and got back to the classroom as fast as I could where once again I put myself into a box of isolation. I made no eye contact to save myself from a conversation and in the space I was in I tried to make myself as small as possible as not to be seen. I don't think I had an expression of pain or discomfort, but the emotions on the inside were of such that I could barely contain them.

As the time came from the appreciation certificates to be handed out I wanted to anywhere but there. Where I wanted to be was, perhaps, to be giving a presentation or commanding the flags at a race track; somewhere where the spectrum is something I am talking about and not experiencing in such a gigantic way.

From the academy I drove to my office at TouchPoint which is where I'm writing this now. I've had a little over an hour since the breakfast and have been thinking hard about the last line of the last paragraph. I was starting to fall into the trap of forgetting who I am and just seeing who I am not. While I would love to be a part of that world and at times, maybe, not be so alone, it just isn't who I am at this point in time. I... I am on the spectrum and there's no changing that. That being so I am the community education specialist for TouchPoint and my job is to get as many people as possible to A. be aware of the signs of the spectrum and B. understand the why's and how it feels to be on the spectrum.

I've gone a long time since a socially difficult event happened to me and when I go a long time without it I can, as I said, somewhat forget that I'm on the spectrum. Yes, I talk about it each and every time I give a presentation, but in those it's sometimes like recalling a historic event that isn't felt. Now, however, once again I felt just how strong of emotions can be felt and just how difficult a simple spurt of eye contact in a hall or sitting down in a soon to be crowded lunch room can be.

Today, I experienced life in the corner and during that time I wanted to be anyone else but myself. I was alone and because of the, "everything is now" concept we on the spectrum can have I forgot who I was and what I have done. It is in these times that understanding is key and from once again experiencing it I feel better equipped to talk about it on here and in my presentations and for that I am completely happy being me.


  1. It sounds as if the room was filled with police officers that have 'heard' your presentation. 'Hearing' and 'seeing' are two very different things. I believe that you gave that room full of people the very best presentation of your life without even realizing it!

    I am still very saddened every time you have to go through that though!

  2. If there are some people I know at an event, I will NEVER sit at the corner. I want to be with people I know or be with someone (or a group of people) whom I might not know who approached me. Partly maybe because I don't have as much social anxiety. Partly is because I feel that going to an event (invite or paid for) and not socialize is pointless.

    That's one thing I think you can learn from me. In these situations in my early days of my diagnosis, my occupational therapist firmly told me with events that I have to go to, "This might be a challenge to you. But, I would like to you to try to have conversations with at least three people you didn't know over the course of the 3-day conference." Then, that number was increased to five the following time. After I surpassed that, my OT and I agreed now that I progressed to a point it is no longer an issue.

    But for you... maybe set the bar at the lowest possible- 1! After a while, then increase it to 2... and so on and so forth.

    Don't get me wrong... it is a hard thing for individuals with autism. I had a few times now where I met someone whom I wasn't connected with someone on Facebook or Twitter before. It was a little scary because I wasn't as prepared on what these people like as others I connected before hand. But, that was when my go to questions became handy and the conversation turned out to be super.

    This kind of thing is something that is very hard to problem solve alone. Sure, you may know what the struggle is after seeing it happened over and over. But the solution side of things, you may need others to help you. This is like golf really. Even the elite golfers in the world have coaches. Why? Sometimes they need another set of eyes to look at their golf games so that they can perform optimally on the golf course during big time tournaments.