Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Dangerous World of "What if..."

Before I begin I have to state that there are two ways "What if" can go. The first is my favorite, and perhaps my dad's least favorite, as I would ask, "What if X happens during Y..." or many different variations of that question. If you are a parent with a child with Asperger's I'm going to say you've probably heard this question once, twice, or more times than you'd like to recall. That being said the other version of what if is much, much more sinister.

This past weekend I was in New Castle, Delaware flagging the USAC .25 Battle at the Bird and on the ride home Sunday night I had lots of time to reflect on the past 11 years. Somewhere past Wheeling, WV I looked up at the stars and I thought back to months right after I got diagnosed that I would go out on the front porch past 2AM and just stare up not looking at anything or any star at all but wondering "What if?"

Many questions would follow my what if, "What if people understood me?" "What if what I wanted to say and how to say it actually happened?" What if people were nice?" And always at the end I'd get to the most damaging question of all, "What if I were normal and didn't have Asperger's?"

Sure, even to this day I have that what if question, but back then that question hung wide open and I didn't have an answer because, to me, the secret to life was simply not having Asperger's. So I guess I did have an answer actually and that was a life fulfilled, happiness, a job, and everything positive in life laid in a realm that was impossible to reach because I had Asperger's.

As we drove further on into Ohio I stared up at the Big Dipper and this was something I'd often gaze at, most of the time unknowingly, back 10 years ago and my self-talk was nothing short of hate. If you could go back and interview me 10 years ago I'd have been honest and I would have told you I hated who I was and I'd give anything to be someone else. This is the dangers of "what if" because, to me, normal equalled happiness and everyone else in this world had life on a string and there were no such things as hardships, misunderstandings, or challenges. Why? Because my self-talk 10 years ago went like this;

What if I didn't have Aspergers? If this were the case I'd be happy. Pure and simple! If I didn't have Asperger's I'd have a job. Oh! how I wish I could have a job. A job would make me happy, but I'll never have one because of what I have. If I didn't have Asperger's people would like me because people don't understand me and I don't understand them. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be scared of other people the way I am because people are random and unpredictable and this frightens me. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I could be loved.

Those were my thoughts on many a countless night in 2004. Depressing? It was and I hope what you read didn't create a sense of sadness in you as that was not my intent. Actually, far from it because as we made it to Columbus and the downtown skyline could be seen I once again played the "what if" game but it was different this time and it went like this:

What if I didn't have Asperger's? Would this make me normal? What is normal, anyway? If I didn't have Asperger's I wouldn't have the job I have and I wouldn't be able to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think and understand the autism spectrum. If I didn't have Asperger's people might not take note of me because I'd fit in and maybe I'd understand some people more, but then again I might not understand myself. In fact, if I didn't have Asperger's, I probably would be scared of public speaking as it seems most normal people are scared of it. Most of all, if I didn't have Asperger's, I wouldn't be me!

Perception and hope go hand in hand and it's amazing what ten years will do. Not everyone has the hopeful outlook I have, but that's my mission as I am adamant that, if the world knows more about us, there's going to be more acceptance and understanding. Back when I stared up at the endless blackness of the Saint Louis night ten years ago this was the only thing I yearned for! This was the motivation to start a project which was one of my most hated things in the world, which was writing, but I had to do something because the what if thoughts were destroying me.

Anyone can play the what if game so I think, and hope, you can relate to this. I'm sure there's an instance in your life that you thought, "What if I took the other road?" or something to that extent. From that point there are an infinite amount of possibilities, but imagine having just one question! Imagine thinking every second of every day about your existence and this thing you have. Of course, I got horrible information when I got my diagnosis so the prognosis was awful, but once the what if road is taken the person who I was didn't matter. I didn't see me for who I was rather I saw myself for who I wasn't. As it turned out I came out the other side, but I know there are others in that place where I was and when I get tired, when the countless miles driven and presentations given add up, I think of this. Hope is important, hope is needed, and awareness and understanding are the seeds to make this happen and as we pulled into the hotel last night I had a new found energy on my mission. It was hard to revisit those thoughts I had from 10 years ago, but I had to share them as there is hope, there is always hope, and it might take some time, but from 10 years ago to today I can guarantee you would not recognize the person from then to now.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron, you can play the "what if" game until the cows come home. And yes, I used that phrase on purpose to illustrate the fact that you are normal but you have Asperger's. Normal. The words has grated on my long before I started working at a social service agency for people with developmental disabilities. So, if you didn't have Asperger's, you wouldn't be any more normal than I am (insert wry chuckle here) you'd simply be Aaron Likens without Asperger's. You can wonder what that person would be like for a long time, but, then again, I can wonder what I'd have been like if I had been born to a super wealthy family with unlimited disposable income at hand. Would I have been a philanthropist who spent crazy amounts of money trying to do good in the world or would I have been a pompous, egotistical person just looking to have a good time? I try not to think about that too often actually as I probably wouldn't be very happy with the answer. Same with you. You can wonder "what if" forever, but fortunately you've decided to focus on "What Is" instead of "What If." I think if you asked anyone who knows you we probably wouldn't have you any other way.