Monday, July 1, 2013

Here's Why: A Breakdown of the 10th Tee

I wrote my Terror on the 10th Teebox blog just 80 minutes after it happened. With that said I'm not certain if I wrote in a way that wasn't clouded by emotions so for today I want to break down what happened and tell explain the "why's" of the situation because I don't know if I did a good enough job.

My anxiety began when I was told I had to golf with that threesome. Why was this bad? I had been enjoying a nice, lonesome round. To be introduced to three guys who were out to have a good time the way they knew how which was not my own was an instant alarm within me. I don't do well around loud people who are using off-color jokes. This alone would have been enough to make the round miserable.

The true thing I have trouble with around those types of people is that there is no predictability. How loud will they be? Will they be offended if I don't laugh at their jokes? Will they joke with me? Is it a joke? There are so many unknowns with people and even more so with three who are loud.

The downward spiral went faster when I first heard the conversation behind me about combining carts. Remember, the trio had told me they would let me play on so I already had my escape, but now I was going to be stuck with them. This made all those unknowns even realer.  This, I think, would be uncomfortable for anyone. Now, if that's your personality then you'd have been fine, but for a person like me this wasn't a good pairing. On top of that, this was coming at the halfway point. I have never been forced joined at the halfway point. It's different when it's at the start and I've done fine with those, but this was changing the rules of the game in the middle.

I sat there in the cart staring forward listening to every word spoken. My anxiety level was rising by the word as the man was now demanding that the guy in the cart by himself put his bag on mine. My mind was calculating all my possible options. I could've just slammed the gas on the cart and gone to play my ball. Oh, how I wish that would have been the what I had done. But instead, I sat there waiting and hoping.

There was still hope that nothing would happen; perhaps the guy would just leave us alone, perhaps the trio could convince the guy that they didn't know me and I didn't know them and it just wasn't a good fit. Then, I felt the thud of the guy's back on my cart. I turned around, in a state of panic, and exclaimed, "I... I have a form of autism and socializing isn't my thing." This is a major moment in this story as it is so difficult for me, and a lot of us on the spectrum, to express ourselves. For me to open up in public, to strangers, about this is rare. I may be a public speaker on the topic, but out in the general public I don't really express it all that often unless it should come up about what line of work I'm in.

When I express myself it usually is because it is my last resort; the final option. When I said it the first time I really had no idea what was going to happen and my brain had no ability to calculate what would happen if the guy protested. But, why would he protest? I explained what I had and that I was highly uncomfortable. The guys behind me, hearing I had autism, now wanted no part of me (which added to the drama) but the gasoline hit the fire when the guy said, "Look, I don't care. We don't have signs but a lot of places do that we reserve the right to pair you up and take your cart if need be."

I then repeated my first line out of shock, really, as I didn't know what to say or how to respond. That was the last answer I was expecting out of him. The problem now was that I was being painted into a corner and as I drove to Rapid City on Friday I was thinking about this a lot which is why I'm writing on this topic again. At that moment the man put me into a corner with no real way out. I had paid for golf, I had played with no others, I was now being thrust into the back nine with loud strangers that didn't want me and I didn't want them and despite all of our protests we were told that it didn't matter. What was I to do? I didn't want to play with them, but I wanted to continue to play. I expressed myself, but it fell of deaf ears.

I've said so many times that it takes a lot for us to express ourselves and when we do it is done with a great bit of gravity. To ignore it is to put us in a corner to which we see no exit. And, to ignore it and then mock it by giving a lecture and saying "We reserve the right and sometimes in life you've got to do things you do want to."

As I wrote in the original post I was really put into a "fight or flight" situation. And really, looking back, I was. The social anxiety to just go forward was too great and I really had no option to just turn around my golf cart so I did the logical thing, or the logical thing in my mind at that point in time as I quit and I was just going to walk my bag to my car and leave. Only if it would have been that easy.

The devastating blow came when the man then said, "What's so difficult?" It's somewhat ironic that another post last week, my Open Letter to the Ignorant was ran because I think, in that post, I wrote that the normal person has no idea how much strength it takes for me to just leave the door each day and when things do get difficult to minimize it, to ask it a condescending manner, "What's so difficult?" is to minimize everything that I am and to erase the person I try to be. It may have been three words but those three little words, at that moment, made me feel as inferior as I had ever felt.

I don't know what the normal person's reaction would have been, but I was overloaded beyond any of my ability to withstand so I collapsed in place. Logic was now gone; nothing was right. I couldn't go forward, I couldn't go backwards, and now I was being mocked.

After the fact, and even now, I very much am disgusted at my response of the situation. This is the trap that is so easy to fall into as I think to myself that man's exact words, "What's so difficult?" Why can't things just be easier? Shouldn't I just be able to be normal? Shouldn't I just be able to not allow things to affect me?"

So there I was, kneeling down with the trio getting out of there as if I were the plague, and the man who started everything vanished as well. I was alone; unwanted, misunderstood, and I was in a world of my own within a cold world. Then another worker showed up and asked if there was a problem to which I was no instantly able to respond.

In times of heightened emotions it isn't easy for me to simply answer the question and it took more seconds than what normally it would for me and I think he picked up on that as he then asked me, "Do you know what Asperger's Syndrome is?"

My brain is always calculating and I usually can predict, to a certain degree, what will be asked but his question was the last one I expected. I stuttered and then responded with a cold, factual, "I have it" to which he explained about his grandson. I don't think I did a good job explaining the importance of this in the original post and that was just how important it was to have someone that understood just what it was that I was feeling.

Think of it this way; if you had a major problem that other people saw, witnessed, and somewhat even mocked you for it what would be the #1 thing you'd want most? For me it is understanding. Without understanding I am what I fear I am and those questions I asked earlier about, "being normal" are louder. When there is understanding, well, no price tag can be put on that. It doesn't take much, but the fact that he was able to explain his grandson's intelligence but severe issues to anything remotely resembling confrontation made me feel just a tad bit more... human.

It wasn't so much that he said, "I understand" but he was able to back it up. So often people may say, "I understand" with no knowledge and nothing to back it up. That's almost like saying, "What's so difficult?" Yes, I didn't explain this well the first time, but that ranger's calmness and ability to explain and relate allowed me to breathe once more.

Moving forward in my life my passion for raising understanding once again has been multiplied by a level that is unmeasurable. The emotions I felt, the self-loathing and feeling of not mattering and being irrelevant were ones I will never forget and I know that what I went through is experienced by someone somewhere each and every day. It was one of the worst experiences of my life! One way or the other I'm going to find a way to get to more people and to raise understanding to more. I know I do a lot as is, but I don't think it is enough. I started on this journey just over four years ago and the first person I told what my new passion as I realized racing cars was not the career that I would be having I said, "The new race is to raise awareness..." and those words hold true. It truly is a race because if we can get the understanding out there just one day sooner, just one day then, well, maybe a person can avoid what I went through and if we can do that, we might just be able to win this race.


  1. Short of going up to every living person in the world and explaining what Asperger's Syndrome is and how it should be dealt with, I don't know how much more you can do. You do official seminars all the time but you are constantly doing "unofficial" seminars every time a situation like this arises. Sometimes people can be led to the water and made to drink and sometimes they have to be hit over the head with it. And sometimes, you'll never be able to make them see the light. (Again, sorry for the overabundant use of metaphors. It's how I normally talk)

    But Aaron, know this. If someone were to say to me, "I have Asperger's" or Autism or PDD or something to that effect, I can honestly say "I understand", at least better now than I could have a few months ago. And that's thanks to you and your words. Don't ever think you're not doing enough. Sometimes we can give our all, and it still won't be enough. But you ARE, without a doubt, making a difference.

  2. Aaron, thank you for raising awareness. The race you are running may save my son from difficult moments such as the one you experienced.