Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Feeling of Fear

It's been a while since I talked about dreams and each time it comes up at presentations people are always astounded to find out that I remember my dreams, all of them, in photographic detail. I love dreams as a good chunk of my book chapter and blog posts come from them. However, once in a rare while I will have a runaway dream, or more commonly known as a nightmare. I had one last night.

My dreams are very realistic and it's always funny when I have one that isn't because my dream self will call out the world and then I realize it's a dream. Last night I had a very realistic dream going that got interrupted by a nightmarish scenario; the civil defense sirens were blaring as a storm was rolling in and those around me would not seek cover and I was stuck with them and couldn't get to cover.

The fear in my dreams was bad enough that it woke me up to which I awoke to a surge of adrenaline. I also began to hear everything as if it were amplified. My senses were in overdrive and it didn't help that my place was making more creaking noises than I have ever heard before. With each noise I wondered if there was an intruder in my house, or if there was a storm outside. What started as a mild bit of fear was snowballing into a pure state of panic.

This has been a common theme throughout my life. When there is a small bit of fear my body goes into a hyper-defensive mode that begins to analyze everything and then fear it. There seems to be no middle ground on this; everything is either all fine or I am on the brink of fleeing for my life. Granted, I have never fled for my life, but that's what my body is telling me to do.

So, if you had every nerve telling you to get out of wherever it is you are, how could you possible maintain a sense of social properness? That was one of my problem in school. It seems we on the autism spectrum are good barometers for tension and we pick up on any oddity that is occurring. When something different happens we escalate into a near panic mode trying to make sense of it all. And we can notice very subtle things such as, when I was in kindergarten the fire alarms went off but I noticed that the office staff too came outside. This was only my third or fourth fire drill and yet I noticed that they usually stayed inside therefore this wasn't a drill therefore, in my mind, chaos and destruction were about to unfold and I wanted to be anywhere but there. (In case you are wondering there had been no fire, but there had been a bomb threat to the school.)

Perhaps this reaction to fear is in place because we are poor social judges. Because I have a hard time reading situations and emotions my body compensates by jumping to the worst case situation every time. And when I say my body jumps I truly mean it; I don't think, "okay Aaron... get afraid in three... two... one... PANIC!" Nope, it doesn't happen that way. It's more like a light switch with an instant result and I begin plotting defense and/or escape.

You would think after 29 years and having my fear be right only once that this would have ebbed a bit. However, that isn't the case. I've done a better job and not showing my emotions, or giving into the fear, but it is still there whenever it happens. So just keep this all in mind; I'm sure not everyone on the spectrum has the same reaction I do, but should they be aware that there is no choice for this; it's an automated defense and when it is triggered the only thing I'm focusing on is trying to protect myself from whatever dangers my mind thinks is lurking.


  1. Aaron, thank you so much for sharing this. My 6 year old boy who is also Asperger's and so similar in his interests to yours that I would think he's read your book before I did - he was in tears last night over a bad dream he'd had the night before where the electric had gone out in his school. He didn't want to go to sleep last night because he was so afraid of having another nightmare. He is also just as you described - having problems controlling himself in school, and has shown particular dread of the fire drills. Thank you for helping me appreciate what he's going through. I feel this is so relevant, I'm forwarding this article to his teacher and school psychologist to help them gain an insight as well. Thank you so much for all you do.

  2. "You would think after 29 years and having my fear be right only once that this would have ebbed a bit".

    Regarding this comment in your blog Aaron-you are who you are and that is what makes you such a great person!!!

  3. The Feeling of Fear

    Respect dude since you have to put up with so much