We’re all put here by what ever force you want to believe in to do something. If anyone told you that you’re one in billions, that your life against the life of others doesn’t hold some sort of merit then someone lied. For some of us we know from day one what our purpose in this world is but for the rest of us, it can take some serious soul searching and years before we realize what we’re meant to do and some unfortunately leave this moral coil before even realizing what their purpose is.
From a very young age I always knew what I wanted to do with my life but I never exactly understood what I was meant to do and how stark the differences the two would be for me in the long run. My goal was simple, I wanted to be the guy that makes all the awesome background music in the video games you play every single day. That catchy little jingle you here when you beat a level or get some sort of bonus, that epic music you hear when you’re against a boss that beats you within an inch of your life, that depressing song you hear when your favorite character dies, I wanted to be the guy that molded your emotions through the magic of music. I’ve always loved music and I’ve always been building really complex arrangements in my head for a long as I could remember. I put music to every thing I saw simply using my head. I was never classically trained to begin with, I taught myself everything I know now. I went to school, got a degree in game design and and plunged in to the jungle known as the real world without a map to guide me so with all of this in my favor what could possibly go wrong?
Two years later finding anything beyond an internship or a summer job would prove to be a trifle difficult. The work force is a dog eat dog world where only the strong survive and if your don’t have the means to swim with the sharks you’ll sink quickly. I became a victim of the same bitter cycle, I can’t get any work because I don’t have experience but I can’t get experience because I can’t get work. I constantly questioned if there was something wrong with me for if anyone sensed from miles away if I was Autistic and decided I wouldn’t be competent enough to do my job. Time passed and I approached the ever so inevitable crossroads of continuing forward or going back to school. I would come across others who would strongly convince me that this was the best idea and that what I was trying to go for was a waste of time. People close to me would soon see going back to school as the only way out and that anything else would be pointless. Deep down I knew there were other options and the idea of school just didn’t sit right with me, it honestly felt more like a gamble than a solution. After talking with my mother and examining my situation I realized that maybe my life was stuck because there was something I wasn’t doing that I needed to to. I knew I wanted to be a video game musician but I then realized that there was something I was meant to do. I realized that I already knew the answer based on all the posts I wrote about myself during Autism Awareness Month but then I realized that I answered this question three years ago during what would prove to be one of the darkest times in my life.
The summer of 2010 started as any regular summer would. I parted ways with my college friends and sat on my ass and played video games as I waited for my summer job to start. During this summer I would face a beast that I buried a few years back, a beast that I thought I parted ways with but made its way back into my life and this time with a vengeance. The battle with my self esteem would be one of the bloodiest battles I would fight and one I continue to fight. That summer I felt extremely incompetent in the eyes of many. I tried really hard to come off as seeming like a normal person but no matter where I went I always stuck out in the worse way possible. I always has people asking me why my voice sounded the way it did (for those who have never met me I talk at a very slow pace with sort of a muffle). I’ve always been very self conscious of my speech and hearing people ask the same question over and over drove me nuts. Sometimes it was even asked behind my back. I’ve always had issues socially so relationships with women were difficult and courting was my ultimate weakness as I struggle greatly with small talk when I don’t know people very well. A lot of mistakes I made socially and incidents where I was bullied or treated differently also continued to haunt me and some incidents that that I buried would also come back to haunt me. It also took me a while to learn complex concepts and some of those who taught me weren’t very patient with how I processed information and came down on me really hard when it didn’t stick well. With all of this in play I began to question my usefulness in the world. I never doubted my intelligence and I knew the struggles I had to endure to get where I was but it was those struggles that would leave me bruised and battered.
For the rest of that summer as all the bad memories and experiences and flaws came back, I would wound up spiraling into a really deep depression where nothing made me happy and I always felt empty and useless. I have spiraled into depressions in the past but this one would be the pinnacle of all depressions. The only person I ever saw in the mirror was a very flawed person who had no purpose in life and if I had no purpose in life then what was the point right? I felt so broken and wondered if anyone would even miss me. They saw God doesn’t make mistakes but that summer I felt like he made the biggest mistake of them all on March 28th 1988. During these dark times I would begin to contemplate suicide for the first time in my life, a series of thoughts that would rattle me to the core. I felt sick for having such horrible thoughts. I would be on train platforms and constantly think of jumping or holding sharp objects and thinking of inflicting harm or thinking of jumping in front of cars. I became afraid of myself and what I might do. The only thought in my head that could prevent me from making such idiotic decisions was the guilt I’d feel from leaving my family behind and leaving a group of friends who loved me greatly. Towards the end of the summer I would partake in a week up in Maine that would probably change my life forever, in a good way of course.
A few months prior I was a youth leader in a group run by Easter Seals called “Tech and Media Savvy” along with two my classmates. We taught youth with various disabilities how to make video games as well as showing off some of our work. During this tenure I would meet Colleen, a youth leader at Easter Seals who introduced me to Explorer’s Camp, a one week camp for children on the Autism spectrum. I was a little hesitant at first and even turned down the offer at one point out of fear I wouldn’t be very good at it. My patience with kids had always been spotty and knowing they were children/teens on the spectrum and knowing how I was when I was younger I didn’t think I could handle it. After looking at where everything was headed I decided to give it a shot and see where it would lead me.
The day we left to go up to Agassiz Village (the camp grounds in Maine where we would hold camp) would be the most overwhelming day of my life. I hadn’t met that many new people in a while so it became an overload of seeing tons of new faces and the usual thoughts that raced through my head that always ended with the same questions, what did they think of me? do they even like me? Do they think my voice sounds odd? It was also the first time I’ve ever been that deep in the woods and was far from prepared. I forgot a flashlight and bug repellent and even forgot my pillows. Everything about that first day was super overwhelming even though I never showed it. After a training period where I got to know everyone I can honestly say that the counselors at Explorers are by far the most down to earth people I’ve ever worked with and honestly wouldn’t do the job with anyone else.
The night before the campers came was probably the most sleepless night of my life. I constantly wondered what they would be like and if it would be difficult. I was at a point of no return and had to grit my teeth through a night of really high anxiety. The first car rolled in and I didn’t know what to expect. When the doors open the parents carried out their child who used a wheel chair. He had a great big smile on his face, no fear or anxiety what so ever. He looked like he was ready to have tons of fun and seemed totally thrilled to be there. It’s funny how something as simple as a smile can wipe away the greatest feelings of anxiety. That’s all it took and I went from being a nervous wreck to being totally thrilled. The rest of that week would prove to be one of the greatest weeks of my life. I had the best group of campers a counselor could ask for and we made tons of progress with them (One of our campers who had a fear of water mustered up the courage to jump into 12 feet of water with a life jacket of course and another did the leap of faith at a ropes course, something people have been trying to get him to do for ages and another who was very reserved and almost never interacted much with people broke out of his shell and had the most fun he’s probably had in years and another one of my campers found love which was cute and awesome at the same time, it seemed so real and authentic, even realer than the love between neurotypicals).
The week was so epic that I had actually dreaded going home. This place pretty much became my second home and I would’ve greatly enjoyed having these campers for another week but great things must come to and end. As our bus rolled away I actually had to fight back tears of both joy and sadness, joy that my campers had come so far in such short time and the sadness of having to leave them and the wonderful place that brought us all together. During that course I realized how awesome people on the spectrum are and that there no reason to hate the flaws and thus hating myself was utterly pointless. I made a promise to myself that I would return to those campers every summer for as long as I could and it’s one thing that keeps me going more than anything else. Working with people on the spectrum felt so natural to me and it was the first time in my life I’ve ever felt like I knew what I was doing from the get go. For the first time in ages I felt like I actually had a purpose, a reason to exist and a reason to keep on trucking, even through the darkest of times.
After writing about segments of my life for Autism Awareness month and realizing how much people enjoyed reading them and looking back at everything that has happened in the last three years I finally put two and two together and realized what I needed to do with my life. I didn’t exactly embrace it right away because once again I was brought back to the crossroads of desire vs calling. In a perfect world I want both working with teenagers on the spectrum and perusing my career but I know I may have to choose one but it’s very obvious what I’m being pushed towards, I can only hope the end game will yield great rewards.
Everyone has a purpose in this life. No matter who you are or how well people know you, you were meant to do something great. You may never find the cure to cancer or become a president or become famous but within the context of another’s life, your purpose is greater than you realize. Something as simple as being a camp counselor who is on the Autism spectrum proved to be bigger than I realized. One of my own campers from three years ago is now a volunteer counselor and seeing him grow from a 15 year old who wouldn’t set foot near water to an 18 year old who is now a co-counselor and is very adventurous has been thrilling and at times overwhelming. Everyone will realize their purpose in time. Sometimes it’ll just come to you and other times it takes the darkest of times to find your place in the world but one way or another you will find it. You may not embrace it right away but you will realize it one day.