Monday, October 31, 2022

Halloween Terror

A couple days ago I went to a Halloween Party. It was the first time I dressed up as anything in at least two decades. Minus the prospect of free candy, I've loathed all things Halloween since I was aware of it, and on Saturday my two least favorite things, Halloween and a wide-open social function, met face to face.

I didn't think it would be "that bad". I hadn't been to a party that was outside of family in an amount of time I can't define, but since that time I've presented to huge audiences, and I've stood front and center at the world's largest sporting event with the pressure that is indescribable unless you've experienced it. So, how bad could it possibly be?

Walking into the house where the party was, I was instantly struck by the amount of people. There was no two-by-four in sight, but it felt as if I had taken one right across my head as a fog descended upon my thoughts. The noise, the unfiltered crescendo of voices never ebbing made it impossible for me to discern actual words, and the costumes made it impossible to pick up on the slightest social cues. Ever heard the old adage of a deer in headlights? Those deer didn't have a thing on me!

In a situation like this, it feels as if I become a prisoner in my own body. The flood of adrenaline supersedes comes front and center and the fight, or flight, or possum mode engages and I'm unable to do anything in a timely manner. It's at this time I feel the most alone.

Most alone? Even though it looks as if I shut down, the thoughts on the inside don't slow up. I'm fully aware that I'm locked up, I'm fully aware that I'm standing in an aisle way and people are having a hard time getting around me, and I know that if anyone looks at me, they're going to be a bit confused as to why I'm doing my best gargoyle impersonation. I do know this all, I'm fully aware of it, and on the inside I'm screaming; you can't hear this scream but it's there despite my stoic, blank outside.

These situations are a no-win for me. I don't want to be seen, I want to escape, I wanted my girlfriend to enjoy herself, but my options are bad either way. Admit to how bad I'm feeling and she may feel bad, lie and say I'm fine and I have to endure a pain that shouldn't be felt by anyone.

The minutes went onward and there was no respite. I was still frozen and in the prison cell of my brain I yearned to have what everyone else has. How was everyone else having so much fun? How were they so free? How can I be a public speaker and do it with ease, but a social function like this creates a social paralysis that inhibits my ability to speak?

A couple hours went by and eventually I was able to escape to the car. I was sad. I do what I can at all times to put myself in a position where no one will see the autism in me. I should be okay with it. I, of anyone, should know that I have my limitations that balance the immense skills I have. The exact things that make me shine in the right environments creates the prison I can't escape in others. I should also know that no one is perfect. No one is normal. Those at that party might crack under the pressure I love to experience in the Indycar flagstand, or perhaps they'd freeze up giving a presentation to a large crowd. I do know this all, but in the midst of the storm it's impossible to see the light being hidden away by the clouds. In the midst of the storm the only desire is to either be out of it or to have the abilities of those weathering the storm as if it's the best weather day of all time. It's true, one person's social storm is another person's Chamber of Commerce weather day, and maybe being human lends itself to that hint of envy of "what they have", but it's okay. It truly is. I made it through the storm, my wonderful girlfriend understood the dynamics, and I'm writing this today and letting you in on what it feels like to experience such an event so that, if you know someone on the spectrum, you might have a bit of a better understanding next time there's a situation like the one I experienced and what potentially could be said when words fail us.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Loss of Safety Rating

 iRacing has a unique system to make sure drivers are qualified (somewhat) to drive the cars that they are driving. The system is called safety rating and it measures how frequently a driver has an incident. Go off the track and it is a 1x, spin out and it is a 2x, and have moderate to heavy contact with another driver and it is a 4x. When a driver starts out they have a rookie license and if the driver drives safe enough they will progress up the system and that system goes with a D license,, then C, B  and then finally A.

The rating system works with numbers and the highest a driver can get is a A license with a SR of 4.99. However, once a driver hits A there really isn't anything else to work for. Granted, should a driver go below 1.00 the will be demoted to B. Myself, I've been at A 4.99 for a good while, that is up until the string of races I've had in the past four days.

My past six or so races have been a disaster. If there's been an incident I was either in it or a part of it. Two races I haven't even seen turn two of lap one! Because of this string of crashes my safety rating is down to the 4.50 range and that has been troubling me as much as the 500 iRating that I've lost.

Here's the thing though, safety rating, once a driver is at the A level, doesn't mean that much and yet each time on the race results screen I see my name with a -.17 safety rating and I cringe. In the back of my mind I know that number doesn't mean anything and yet I don't want to lose it. I don't know, perhaps this is simply human nature in not wanting to lose anything that is in our possession and if so the SR system is designed perfectly.

I am better than I used to be in handling losing rating points. In my first couple months of really being into iRacing a bad race would haunt me for several days as I thought about how hard I would have to work to get it back. Because of this iRacing was more like a job that had a workload that I couldn't complete and that blinded me to the reason why I enjoy iRacing so much and that is the side-by-side racing that it offers. Granted, those two races I've done that I didn't get to see turn two angered me, but thankfully it didn't shake me into a sabbatical this time.

I've used iRacing quite a few times in my blogs and each time I try to translate it into something that sheds more light on the autism spectrum and in this instance I really want to stress the point that we on the spectrum can have a hard time with imperfection or the loss of points on whatever is being scored. I can remember in 7th grade I had a streak for most of the 1st semester of 100% every paper and test in social studies. Grades were never important for me as school was a terrifying experience, but having that 100% streak became important. Then, there was a test that had a couple of trick questions and I missed two items on it and the perfection streak was over. I went from over caring to giving up instantly. I couldn't see that a couple tests each semester had huge amounts of extra credit that would off-set those missed questions because I was so blinded by the here and now.

Moving forward I always have to try and shake off the here and now. In life, if we measure everything based on each singular event then life can get rather overwhelming. I'm guilty of falling into this trap as I always have said, "you're only as good as your most recent..." and with that mentality when the going gets tough there's nothing to fall back on. In the mind of those on the spectrum there is no gray area so truly and also there can be a sense of a "everything is now" mentality so that means, when there's a bad outing, or a race lasts one turn, that is the sum of everything and nothing will be good again.

I hope this has brought a little bit more understanding to the potential reasons why some of us on the spectrum are perfectionists and why a bad outing can cause so much stress. I'm moving forward and I can't wait to get back on the track tonight and hopefully I can at least see lap two in the races I do this evening.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Eye Contact at the Wedding

On Saturday I attended a wedding. It’s been a long time since I was in an open social setting where I didn’t really know the people around me. My girlfriend was there, but the other people at the table I had never met. Thankfully, I was at a table of invited guests involved in racing, but this didn’t help me when it came to eye contact. 

When the conversation got around to cats, and my cat named Kansas, the natural question that comes is, “why Kansas?” To explain, I had to explain that people on Facebook named her after my book, and that led to the natural question of, “why Kansas?” It was in the explaining of that which led to my eye contact going everywhere.

It has been a very long while since I explained in person the reasoning of Kansas and the concept it represents. I knew the words, but in the noisy environment of a room filled with dining guests at a wedding, well, it just wasn’t easy to keep my eyes static. They darted around the person I was talking to without ever actually making eye contact. With each sentence’s end I would move my eyes to the opposite side I had been looking at. I tried to slow it down, but it was all but involuntary movements by this point. 

I wish I didn’t have the awareness of my lack of eye contact because as I tried harder to make eye contact the magnetic repulsion became stronger. It felt as if there were a magnetic field that didn’t allow me anything close to eye contact. It was frustrating, aggravating, and it almost got to the point that I forgot my words. 

Before the pandemic, I had gotten rather chameleon like in these environments, but it was obvious the lack of practice has my social skills with eye contact rusty, and when I know I was capable of almost looking like I fit in, it’a rough experiencing the regression. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

A World’s Collapse

I’ve always had dreams that were a little too realistic and a little bit too much self awareness in them. Recently, as morning nears, my awareness of the world within the dream coming to an end is a bit too high. 

I don’t know how many others experience anything like this, but a couple times in the past week I’ve had a mourning session in the dream preparing for the loss of the dream. It’s odd to have those in the dream aware of their pending demise back to the depths of my subconscious, but that’s how it’s been playing out. 

At presentations I’ve heard from many on the spectrum that share this same heightened sense of dreams. While I’m not sure if this is or isn’t a widespread thing, I can say it’s a bit annoying to feel as if a world has collapsed each time I wake up. 

I hope tomorrow morning there isn’t this sense of loss. The figment’s final moments aren’t in dread, but of a goodbye that’s definite and final. Going throughout the day there’s a nagging tug on the subconscious level that’s aware of the finality of those lost. I know they were just my imagination, but with the clarity of my dreams it always feels as if there was a true loss. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Chair

There’s this chair… actually it’s a recliner and it’s been with me since 1997. It’s old, a bit worn, and it’s best days have long since past. However, I’m not sure if I can let it go. 

There’s a new chair awaiting its turn to replace it. “In with the new out with the old” is not something that is easy for me. Items often hold a sentimental feeling for me that’s strong. It’s known that those on the autism spectrum may have, as the DSM says, “an inappropriate attachment to objects” but I argue that language because it makes perfect sense. 

I remember the day I got that chair. Okay, so it wasn’t supposed to be mine exclusively, but it’s the most comfortable recliner in the world. I got it three residences ago and it’s made every move since. Twenty-five years is an eternity in recliner years (is that a thing?) and it is, I think, the only thing I use on a daily basis that was with me before my diagnosis. 

You see, that’s the thing; it bridges every era of my life together. It was there in the before, the middle, the present, but now I’m not so sure about the future. The back of the recliner is so old the back cover is coming off exposing nails. I know it’s time, but how can I just let go?

I never understood the scenes on Frasier where Martin refused to let that old chair go. It was the plot line in several episodes, as Frasier tried his best to get it to its new home of the junkyard, but now I do. When you’ve had such highs, lows, and the mundane experienced in the same chair it isn’t just a chair, it’s a conduit for years, I mean a couple decades of life and as I sit and stare at it now, I can’t imagine it not here even though I know, for the safety of skin and cat, it should best make its way out of here so a new, fresh recliner can take its place and create a new life of memories. That’s much easier said than done. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Decision Lines

I don't remember much from elementary school geometry, but one thing I do remember is the concept of a line. A line has a starting spot and then has an infinite path in one direction. Even back then I associated with this concept in terms of decision making.

Making decisions on a choice has never been my strong suit. Where to eat, where to go, what to watch, and any other smallish decision is often a long, drawn-out marathon of mental anguish. I've always been envious of others in the apparent level of ease that decisions are made. I mean, how does one just simply make a choice? It gets even harder when a choice has been made and then a change in mind occurs. 

It's amazing to see, for me, how others so effortlessly change their minds. Myself? That choice is much line a line in geometry that has been made in a specific place and time and the line goes for all eternity. How then do others deviate from this line? 

I've always been at a loss at how others proverbial geometry is much more a criss-cross all over the map of decision making. Any decision or conclusion I've come to has been an extensive amount of thought, and when a plan or choice has been made that proverbial line stretches forever, so if there's any conversation about deviation, it's much like trying to change something that always has, is, and will be.

This is another way to describe the difficulties in change. Even on things of the smallish level. Within a day there isn't just one line going one direction; it's a dance of thousands of lines and if one line gets moved, then all the other lines have to be reorganized and it can cause a cascading crumble that crashes the system. This is why things that are small can be big. This is why a small change at school can create much larger issues, and this is why a small change on the way to pick up some books can create anxiety that is difficult to understand.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Death, and the need to inform


Going back to a school presentation I gave at some point in time I was asked one of the most direct and precise questions.

I know it gets old with me saying this, but I wish you all could see one of these school presentations and the empathetic and compassionate questions that get asked. If you want hope for the future go no further than seeing 400 5th graders wanting to know about the autism spectrum and their breadth of knowledge. In this presentation, though, I called upon a student and they asked, “Yes, would a person on the autism spectrum handle a death of a family member differently than a person not on the autism spectrum?” This would be a heavy question to be asked at any presentation be it to parents, law enforcement, but at this age group I knew my answer had to be perfect because I wouldn’t think questions regarding such a topic are common in a school.

In the flashes in my brain as I tried to formulate an answer I thought about deferring the question, but then I thought about the situation of the person that asked it. I didn’t know if they either had the diagnosis, realized they had the diagnosis, or had a family member that had the diagnosis. This made this such a slippery slope because I was also unaware of how many in the assembly had actually gone through this and the last thing I would want to do is upset anyone, but what if this; what if this person had either just learned from their parents or doctor that they had it or perhaps they connected the dots about and figured that they had it and what if sometime in the not so distant past there was a loss in the family and the reaction they had was, perhaps, a non-traditional response? If this were the case my answer had a lot riding on it because what if they had been mocked or ridiculed by a seemingly apparent lack of emotion and on top of that didn’t understand why they had the response they did? With my logic there was no dodging this question and it had to be answered in the most tactful and perfect way possible.

Have I mentioned I love school presentations? I do, but in the midst of a storm like this the love isn’t from the thrill of it but of the sheer importance of what my words mean. I deduced there was something of great gravity to this question as it was too perfect and too precise, but how to answer it? I played it out once again on what could lead to that question and I figured the best reason was that they had gone through it so I explained it this way…

I spoke to the whole group but my words were directed towards just one student when I said, “Can a person have a different reaction to a loss in a family? Most certainly and those not on the autism spectrum may go through the same thing, but for a person on the autism spectrum there may be an abundance of emotion or perhaps an apparent lack of emotion. Now here’s the thing; if you read enough literature on the matter or hear the news enough and hear a misguided expert you may read or hear it stated that ‘a person with Asperger’s has little to no emotions and simply doesn’t care.’ If you ever hear or read that know that this is false. We have all the emotions in the world but the catch is this. Our brains, from the part where we experience emotion to the part where we express it is much like a river except it’s completed clogged upstream and navigating from point A to the point where we can express it is difficult and sometimes impossible to navigate. With all that said can there be a different response? Most certainly yes, but emotions can be difficult to navigate and much more difficult to express so those around us think we don’t care when deep down we are hurting but have no idea how to tell anyone.”

With that answer given I could breathe again, but only just. I was on the brink of tears myself hoping my words had some merit and if my fears of why it were asked were true I hoped my words offered some solace and as the presentation wrapped up and I was driving home I couldn’t shake this question. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked, “My child has Asperger’s but they don’t know it. Should we tell them?” and I’ve always given a wishy-washy answer which I felt to be true. Each person is going to be at a different development stage and each person is going to take the news differently. Some won’t care, others will take it as a badge of honor, others may fear the label, but in it all, should a case happen like this question, and a person does seem emotionless in a time of a great loss, and those around ask, mock, or get angry at the behavior that person that has the diagnosis is going to be dealing with something much more than the loss itself. This isn’t to say the loss is going to be minimized; quite the contrary as for many days, weeks, months, or maybe even years the mourning process will never truly take place because that person is going to be stuck on the fact that they were told they were supposed to behave a certain way or have certain emotions when, in fact, they might have but didn’t show it. Now, if the diagnosis is confirmed and it is explained to that person and the family the whole sequence I described would play out much differently and perhaps a better support system could be in place as those around could just possibly understand that just because there is no outward emotions doesn’t mean the inside is hollow.

That student’s question is going to be with me for a long time. I’m going to play and replay it many times hoping I answered it rightly, but I also now I may give a stronger answer when asked, “should I tell my child…”

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Trip’s End

The sun has set on my road trip. It was a fantastic 17 day journey and a type of trip I have missed dearly.  

As a child, I’d wonder with awe about the open road. One of my favorite things to do was to scour the road atlas and imagining what the places in the various states were like. I usually laugh when I hear “people on the spectrum lack imagination.” I may have lacked imaginative play, but there was no shortage of imagining what driving across the Great Plains would be like. 

Of course, this trip wasn’t just a trip for the sake of a trip; I did have the kart race in Fontana and a vacation with my girlfriend in Rapid City. I also saw my mom in Nebraska. It’s odd; I hadn’t been down some of these roads in 11 years and yet, until I went back down them, they felt as if they were in the present until I saw them once more. 

It’s difficult to know of things changing. I do what I can to try and not be aware of change. Change is bad and so long as a certain gas station on the side of the road I liked isn’t known to be closed, it’ll always exist in my memories. Once I’m aware though, it’s very much like it never existed at all.

This trip is over and all the places I stopped at will be etched in my memory  maybe in a decade I’ll have a similar route and if I see change, it’ll make the memories of this trip like they didn’t happen at those places, but for now I can smile knowing that everything is still there. There is no change, and things are the way they’re supposed to be.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Diagnosis Revisited

This trip is almost coming to an end and I did make tremendous progress on my next book. I’m writing it in Chronological order and it is about my racing career and life story. During the past week I eclipsed a total word count of 50,000 and my most recent chapter was about the events of my diagnosis. 

I’ve told the story well over 1,000 times in presentations. I’ve spoken about the knowledge that something was different and the horrible information I received on the internet due to my doctor giving me no information at all. The emotions writing it was intense. 

For myself, presenting allows for all the pain I went through to be worth it. As I wrote the words about the hopelessness I experienced, it was difficult to maintain mental clarity because the after effects are still there. 

I’m realizing that my life has been in three segments: there was before diagnosis, after diagnosis, and accepting of diagnosis. The accepting aspect isn’t in regard to acknowledging it, but accepting it’s a part of me but it doesn’t have to define me. 

Stages two and three are not linear. There are times I will recede back into being in the simple “after diagnosis” stage and this is when I play the “what if” game and “only if I weren’t on the spectrum…”

I don’t know how others who are diagnosed later in life handle this. I also hope others don’t experience the level of trauma I experienced, but I know it’s okay to feel bad at times. Writing the chapter of the diagnosis made me realize this. 

Trauma stays with a person and when in the darkest of depths, those moments will stay with me. I cannot help this, but as I figured out that there have been three stages in my life I know that I’ll make it through back to acceptance.

I can’t wait for you to read this book. It’s still a bit of a ways away, but from the darkest of depths to the highest of highs, perseverance is a trait I never thought I’d use to describe myself, but I am here. The road wasn’t easy, but it most certainly was worth it. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

To make a mistake

There I was, driving down I-80 through Wyoming. I had punched in the hotel’s address well before the sun came up, and I was anxious to get to sleep. I still showed four hours from the hotel as the sun sat behind me in the west. 

I began to get confused, however. I had been down this road in 2011 going up to Casper and I strongly remembered going north a couple hours out of Park City, Utah and now I was surely someone deep within Wyoming. 

The worry passed. I tried not to think of it. Maybe my gps was taking a different way. Perhaps I didn’t recall the path.

Another hour passed and I finally looked at the destination. I was correct in that I was headed to a C town, but it wasn’t Casper I was headed to, it was Cheyenne!

The mistake occurred when I used points to get a free room. It did “hotels near” and for some reason 90 or so miles was considered near. 

I pride myself on not making these type of mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that major. My drive tomorrow is only 45 minutes longer, but there’s still a part of me that’s irate myself. 

Getting over errors can be difficult for us on the spectrum, even if the error is inconsequential like this. It isn’t a choice to dwell on it though as it’s simply there.

I’ll still get around to telling you of the Casper concept even though I stayed In Cheyenne. Even writing that left a sour taste in my mouth. I mean, how do I miss the mark that badly? Ugh! And the day started off so good with amazing scenery. Hopefully sleep will allow me to forget, move on, and put the misplaced towns starting with C behind me. 

Sadly, I have to drive through Casper tomorrow. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Nighttime Drive Up 93

As I continue my snaking road trip, a couple nights ago I drove from Vegas to Ely on US 93. I've always wanted to, since I learned about it, drive down US50 to Eureka, Nevada as that rod is dubbed, "the loneliest road in the US. This wasn't quite as remote, but wow, was it a ride!

I don't know why I'm attracted to remote places. I've been to some out of the way places, and making the drive drummed up that sense of adventure that I've missed. 

Traffic was sparse, and as the sun fully went down behind the mountains, the stars and milky way were a spectacle. 

I'm onward to Casper, Wyoming now and I'll talk about my Casper concept in details in the coming days.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Dreams and Writing

Thursday and Friday of last week saw a writing explosion for me as I’m working on my next book. I’ve been working on this book for 14 months but have had zero success in momentum. Meaning, before my road trip it was maybe a chapter a month which lends itself to nothing productive. 

When I began writing Finding Kansas in 2005, I noticed an uptick in dreams. Some of these dreams actually became concepts in the chapters! Once again, my dreams have become more realistic and it’s a bit daunting to go to sleep due to the amount of thought that they create. 

I wonder if there’s a connection? I’ve heard from others on the spectrum at presentations that, compared to others at presentations who aren’t on the spectrum, that our dreams can be more vivid and lifelike. I’ve got no clue if this is a thing, but in my life I can attest that, when my subconscious is working a lot, the dreams at night become more. 

I shall see if this continues when I complete the book. I’m nearing 50,000 words and I’m excited for this book to get released because it’ll have a strong cross market appeal.