Sunday, 20 March 2011

An Asperger's Man Goes Paintballing

Yesterday I did went paintballing. A friend decided to organise a piantballing day and booked a number of tickets. I wasn't sure whether to go at first. I was nervous about doing an activity which has the potential to cause a degree of hurt and potential injury, especially as I did not know exactly how paintballing worked, apart from the fact that you're shooting at each other with guns loaded with paint dressed in a safety outfit. However I was definitely keen on the social element of the day. Most importantly I knew that it would give me something to talk about in the future, something that might help me to relate to other young people better and help me not to become old before my time. I have learnt over the years that to succeed socially it is best to say 'yes' to as many new experiences and opportunities as possible (within reason), as it broadens your perspective on life and enables you to join in more conversations and share your experience.

I was picked up by a friend at 7:30am, very early for me to be up on a Saturday morning. Usually I overprepare myself for things. However on this occasion, for some reason I thought this was just a morning activity. When I heard in the car that this was an eight hour day I was a little nervous as I hadn't brought any lunch with me, and that's something I like to be in control of.

The Feeling of Weakness

Another thing that made me nervous before the event and made me anxious early on in the day is finding myself in the weak position of not really knowing what I am supposed to be doing. When this happens, I am liable to feel like I am retreating back into the 'special needs' zone which I have been battling to move away from, needing help from others in understanding what's happening, highlighting my weaknesses and feeling vulnerable towards someone saying something that I may find humiliating. Although I survived the day unscathed, both physically and emotionally, I did find myself feeling a little lost after getting out of the car and arriving, knowing where to fill out our registration forms, where to post them, where to get out safety clothes and equipment, what I needed, having to ask people lots of questions etc. However I got through it well enough managnig to pull of a level of competence, and fortunately the venue sold pizzas so my lunch was sorted too.

The Paintballing Itself

Another thing I was nervous about was if I was going to make any serious mistake and unwittingly break any of the rules and get told off, which would be an enormous humiliation which would have shock me for the rest of the day. I was a little anxious after reading the consent form which made a reference to the rules and dangers involved (don't hold us liable, you paintball at your own risk etc). At about 10:00am once everybody was ready and had been put into teams, we were all called for a brief introduction explaining what was going to happen and presented with the rules. Listening to the instructors shout loudly with strong warnings about breaking rules gave me memories of uncomfortable moments of doing large games events in my school days, the kinds of things I tended to opt out of.

The most nervous part of the day was when we first left the 'safe zone' and walked into the 'danger zone' with our helmits in place, collecting out guns. The sound of guns being fired, as we were being directed to the area of our first game, got me in a bit of a panic, and I felt on the verge of saying that I cannot cope, and walking back to sit out of the games. However I did my best to listen to the instructions and managed to somehow play along, surviving the first game.

It must be noted that I wasn't aware exactly how the day would be organised until around about this point, when I realised it would be made up of several games with two teams playing against each other, lasting around fifteen mintues.

One problem I had was understanding the games and the rules and object of the game. It was explained in about two minutes without any demonstration, and I simply was not able to picture the whole thing being done this quickly. One problem was that when you were shot you were supposed to walk towards the 'dead zone,' but this 'dead zone' wasn't marked clearly, the staff pointed to where it was but when you're out on a large battlefield, how can anyone be expected to remember where the dead zone is? Another thing I noticed was how some of the other guys on my team, who I did not know, immidiately after the game was explained, started discussing tactics on how to win the games and where to shoot. How do they digest the rules of the game and visualise it so quickly as to be able to do this?

In the end my game plan was simply to survive the whole experience unsacthed, both physically and emotionally, never mind winning anything. During the games I spent most of my time hidden in the castles or behind trees, tagging along with the friends I had on my team, just trying to look like I had some idea what I was doing, and where possible follow others going to the dead zone when I had (or thought I had) been shot. I couldn't always tell if I had been shot or not, as I couldn't see everything properly with my mask on, but I would give myself the benefit of the doubt if I thought I had, just to make life easier for me. Hearing the combination of bullets being fired and instructors shouting instructions from a distance during the games made me feel a little uneasy.

An irony I found was that we were told not to shoot anyone in the face. However in most of the games opposing teams were facing each other so you couldn't aim for their backs, and you were too far away to avoid their face or be able to target anything really (maybe that's due to my lack of any shooting experience - we don't have the 2nd ammendment in the UK).

However it was not a bad day my any means. It was a positive day socially, as doing these kinds of activities helps you to interact with others more easily, despite the fact you couldn't idenify people so easily with masks on. But the most important thing I got from it was the knowledge and experience gained from paintballing that will hopefully lead to more conversation opportunities and a greater awareness of such things. If I go again I would be much less nervous and far better prepared for the day. But would I go paintballing again? Maybe if someone give me a big enough incentive to do so....

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