Monday, November 4, 2013


I wanted to have this blog talk about my return home after a month and other stuff of that sort but a much more serious topic came up over the weekend. I wondered whether or not to share it, but seeing that I am sure I'm not the only one to endure something like this I felt it right to write about it.

On Saturday my girlfriend and I went to go to see the movie Captain Phillips. While this may seem like a normal event there came a time in the movie that I experienced something I never have before; I had trouble breathing and I began to sweat and get rather hot then cold then back to hot. After all that I began to shake. What caused it? It started with the events of this video.

This video originally showed up in this post about my ordeal in Kenya. I say ordeal because that's exactly what it was. Before I talk about that I should mention, in case you were unaware, the movie Captain Phillips, which stars Tom Hanks as the title character, is based off of a pirate hijacking of a cargo ship back in 2009. While this may not seem to have any connection with what I do there was a moment in that movie that it became more than a movie to me.

If you just saw the video but didn't go back to read the full blog I must tell you that after the camera quits shooting the real drama began. What started out as a minor ordeal became a matter of life or death. More and more kids came to the car and eventually our car was surrounded by a mob. Again, there may not seem to be a connection between this and the movie but somewhere in the middle of my ordeal in Kenya a person stared me in the eyes and said something I've never forgotten.

In the movie of Captain Phillips there are many lines of dialogue between the pirates and non-pirates. The movie had been an intense experience before this line in question was spoken, but once it was I was in a state of sheer panic. That line was something along the lines of, "America, why are you so worried? Everything is going to be okay."

For many, movies are a way to escape the world but at that moment, at that moment when that sentence of, "everything is going to be okay" was said I was taken back eight years as that was exactly what this older teenager who had a rather scary looking blade in front of my face said. Never in my life had I experienced such fear, and I hope that you, the reader, can in no way relate to what type of experience it was and I don't think there are words that would give it justice. Watching the movie, however, brought me right back to the streets of Kisumu in 2005.

The movie progressed and I remained a shaky, teary mess. Also, that line was used several more times and each time it felt as if a vacuum had sucked the oxygen from my lungs. I use the title of this blog as, "flashback" because I don't know what else to call it. I was right back there in that horrible crisis.

When the end of the movie comes about and the Captain is in a state of shock and is being checked over by a Navy doctor the movements and disorientation was much akin to what I experienced after my mere hour. In no way am I saying my situation was worse as the real life incident was a four day event and mine was just an hour. Nonetheless I just began to cry and shake some more as my experience in 2005 felt as if it were right now.

Maybe the movie was just to real for me; it's obvious that there are still a lot of emotions and fears from that experience I had in 2005 and maybe it's something that will be with me for the rest of my life.

There was more to my emotions in watching that movie than just fear and panic. I do not mention this ordeal, usually, in presentations. I may have used it once or twice when a question about whether or not a traumatic experience remained (there seems to be little research on this topic but something I do hear a lot of from parents) but it actually is a major part of my life and I don't give it justice in presentations. I do mention that, after I was diagnosed, I was largely depressed and stayed that way for 15 months. I did find writing 15 months after being diagnosed but also in that 15th month I went to Kenya and had this brush with death.

After surviving this I wondered how and why I made it out. I thought long and hard about everything that had happened on that day back in March of 2005 and if any one little thing had been different I would not be here today. But since I did make it out after knowing I was going to die when I knew that I thought of how big a waste of my life had been I began to think about what I was going to do with my life. If anything, who I am today was shaped by the events on that street in Kisumu, Kenya in 2005. Truly, my dad and I should not have been able to make it out. I don't think that's a stretch and in that hour or so that I had zero power in my life I  told myself that, should I make it out the other side, I was going to take my writing seriously. Up to that point in time I had five of my chapters written in my book, Finding Kansas, and I doubted if there was any validity in my words, but making it out of the crisis I told myself that I didn't care! I was here for a reason and maybe, someday, someone would read my words.

As I mentioned earlier, I honestly hope you can't relate to that movie or my experience and if you haven't there is no way I can describe to you the panic, fear, and the lingering emotions of such an event. However, an event like that changes a person and if it weren't for that event, halfway around the globe, I wouldn't be a writer or a speaker. I just got done with a month that I spoke to over 7,500 people about autism. The future for so many now looks a little brighter, or for others they may now understand more about a family member, and for others they now know that they want to go into the field of autism as a profession. All of that wouldn't have happened if it weren't for the worst hour of my life. It's odd how life can work that way! I just said worst hour of my life but without it I would not be here today in this capacity. I may have to deal with the lingering moments of panic, but because of that I'm reminded about the reasons I'm here. The movie was done with surreal realism, at least from my vantage point, and it's something I don't think I will see again as I've been there; I lived it (albeit for just an hour) but reliving it has given me a new drive. Second chances are hard to come by in life and I was granted one on that day and ever since I do everything I can to make the most of it.

1 comment:

  1. While many times people on the Autism spectrum are described as being emotionless and robotic I have found that there are two emotions that run very strong in some of the people I know who are on the spectrum, including youself. Those are fear and anger. Both of these emotions are the basest of feelings in the human race. Each stems from a survival instinct and probably can never be eradicated from our psyche, nor should they ever be. You mentioned in your presentation several times things that made you very angry and you, like many people, have a hard time putting that anger to rest sometimes.

    I have always disliked when any group of individuals is painted with a very broad brush. And, I'm going to restate this one more time...if you've met one person on the Autism spectrum; you've only met one person on the Autism spectrum. I don't care if it sounds like a broken record, it needs to be said over and over until people start seeing a person, not a condition.