Easterseals Arkansas Ambassador Aaron Likens is a notable presenter and author of Finding Kansas. He took two years off from writing following some personal inner struggles but is back after landing his dream job in 2020 as one of the starter/flagmen for the NTT INDYCAR Series.
Aaron is blogging nearly daily now and looks forward to raising the level of autism awareness. We are happy to partner with him on this journey.
Fear and Game Night
One of the main concepts later on in my book Finding Kansas is the concept of "Alias". In my presentation, I compare this concept to the movie/book Catch Me if You Can in that I've noticed I can be comfortable in playing a role because it isn't directly socializing. At presentations, I'm the author/presenter guy that seems to know what he's talking about and at racetracks I have the alias of an official. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I haven't had many excursions into a realm that I am out of my aliases, and I have to admit I sort of forgot what it felt like. That is, until Saturday.
My girlfriend invited me to a game night that took place in the day. I agreed to go but as the hours drew near, I began to panic. Meeting her friends was something I knew would take place at some point in time but as we got in the car and headed towards her friend's residence I began to panic.
Why the panic? It was twofold. The first was I hadn't met anyone new in an excessively long amount of time. Secondly, my girlfriend I think had yet to see me in a fully socially paralyzed state. What would she think? My fears about what she would think were without merit, but when you've lived your entire life and others become confused as to why one minute all is well and I can have the whole room's attention and then with just one change the ability to reply with one-word answers becomes confusing is, well, it's difficult to be aware of this even if I know those around me will understand.
We neared the place, and my pulse rate was up. My girlfriend tried to prepare me and described who would be there, but I hadn't heard any of the words. My adrenaline was spiking, and each step I took to the front door felt like long, strenuous miles. I had the thought of, "Isn't this grand? Talking in front of 1,500 people is easy, meeting five other people is as daunting as climbing a 1,000-foot-high brick wall without ropes." Overdramatic? Maybe, and as we knocked on the front door and several seconds went by, I almost sarcastically said, "Well, looks like game night is canceled so we best head home."
The front door swung open, and the next few minutes are all a blur. Greetings, however, were said and then a flurry of drink and snack offerings were offered to which I declined all and then I stood in place. Oh, if you could've seen this scene! I was standing on the exact spot I had stopped as I ascended the stairs and I stood… and stood… and stood some more. I was over-encumbered in anxiety which was amplified by the fact I realized that this shouldn't have been this drastic of an emotion. It's difficult when frustration over being frustrated adds fuel to the situation.
After an unknown number of seconds or perhaps minutes, my girlfriend suggested we go and sit on the couch. I looked to my left at the placement of it and knew this was her way of saying she understood. You see, this couch was on the end of the room which eliminates some of the processing that goes on. Another concept I speak of a lot is "positional warfare" which essentially states that I have a difficult time understanding what I should be doing in the space I'm in and standing out in the open leaves a lot of processing as to which way one should be facing and what posture to have and where the arms and hands should be. Being on a couch on the end of a rectangular room? This offered a positional advantage.
As soon as I sat down there was relief. I had already forgotten the names of the people that I had been introduced to when I was standing awkwardly in the open of the room as my brain had no ability to retain information at that point, but slowly the adrenaline ebbed and the constant self-talk of, "hands?! What to do with the hands? Um, left, no right, no cross the arms! Wait, crossing the arms is an aggressive stance! Wait, no, only if there's a forward slant."
Conversation began and I was able to partake in it now that the internal storm was over. It wasn't long before it was suggested we do what we came for; it was time for games! My heart instantly was at peace because within a game all is known even if the game is unknown such as Throw Throw Avocado. Nothing breaks the ice such as throwing a foam avocado at another person's face whom I had just met.
A couple more people arrived as we got to the end of the avocado game and all the internal drama I had was gone. It was as if the first stage of this day had not happened at all. Through the shared activity I felt right at home and was at ease in the space I was in.
Trying new things and meeting new people has always been a challenge for me and it probably always will, but it's amazing how much easier it can be if there's understanding of those around. My girlfriend was awesome and at the end of the games, I didn't care that she saw me at my most awkward and ineffective state. Everyone has his or her own challenges and mine just happens to be overtly obvious when thrust into an open social environment. She knew this, and I survived it. Looking back on it I don't know why it was such a challenge to begin with. I say that, but odds are next time I'm in a new situation that I don't have an alias to go by there will be a blog post that goes along with it, and with the understanding of those around I'll get through it and then fully enjoy myself once the storm of adrenaline has passed.