Ok, this has come up a lot lately in my personal life, not in a bad way or anything, but enough for me to feel it is easier and more expedient to write a list here of my specific behaviors, habits, etc that have resulted in the fairly substantial shift in my view of my own self identity, which let’s face it, folks who know me are curious about, or grappling with, or what not. So, I am going to list some of my rituals, habits, childhood indicators, personal obsessions, and pretty much a host of behaviors I have mostly spent the better part of my life trying to hide from public view, so this will be different to say the least. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, I am still pulling apart certain behaviors I have not really questioned but been ashamed of showing, so I may add to this later. Yeah I know, bad blogging right here, too much information as usual, but valuable to me, and hopefully valuable to others. Also, I have not hit upon specifically hypersensory issues, maybe in part 2.
Childhood indicators: In my childhood there were several very obvious and observable behaviors. Most obvious was my extreme energy levels even without much sleep, as an Infant and toddler I would sleep often as little as 2 hours in 24 hours, often around 4 hours. Despite my seemingly sleep deprivation, my energy levels remained extremely high until about third grade, I have noticed of late a return in energy, so I speculate it was stress, complex PTSD, increased socialization expectations and a few other things that resulted in the increased suppression of a mind that still would like to not have to sleep and despises being tired and fatigued. This led to me being labeled at a young age as “hyper-kinetic” one of many labels I would acquire.
On top of this were the aggressive outbursts, such as temper tantrums that would spiral out of control until in anger and frustration I would smash my head into walls, objects, or sometimes via a charge, people. As my language capabilities increased, increasingly my tongue would get into the mix, I would either rage and say barely coherent things, or often enough I would go cold, say calculated things to inflict pain, or more likely to force them away or make them share it, to this day I think of one habit I formed, and that was to portray my Mother as not being my Mother, I would go cold in tone and start referring to her with snide comments like “Sorry Mrs. Buzby (she has since returned to her maiden name), whatever you wants Mrs. Buzby, etc.” To this day I regret those moments, those harmful words to a woman who always did her utmost best to understand and assist me, much of what I came to value over the years came from her, and it saddens me that in my pain, I so readily and easily inflicted pain on those closest to me.
Some more common physical behaviors were biting, spiting, carrying weaponry, fighting, destruction of property (mostly my own, but not exclusively, my siblings lost a few items of value to them). I also had a dangerous fascination with fire, both as utility and entertainment. I set my room on fire when I was four or five years old for example, I had Raggedy Ann and Andy curtains and a brand new Lone Ranger sleeping bag that I loved, and it bothered me to no end that I still had to have those curtains, so my little logical mind decided that if my curtains were no longer there, then my mother would be forced to buy me new ones, so I set them alight and when it got out of control, having been sent to my room earlier for some behavior that I cannot recall, I attempted to extinguish it one dixie cup of water at the time. It was winter, thankfully for us, the fire chief lived across the road and the small fire department was literally a stone’s throw away, the result was a charred room, and a destroyed Lone Ranger sleeping bag along with the loathed curtains. That tendency to play with fire continued, but I was cautious, I would play with the chemistry set, iron fillings, sparklers, etc outside on exposed dirt, but I still did risky behaviors in the home, I just made sure I had the materials to extinguish it on hand, I would spray perfume and hair spray (old school CFC laden Aquanet) onto the frames of doors and ignite it, putting it out before the paint could bubble, I would light matches and place them on my tongue, these were dangerous behaviors, and because I had ceased truly communicating with folks around me, I think now, it was some preparation, but also a good deal of luck that I did not cause further damage.
Running away, I was the master of running off, not just mad either, when I was four and five I was noted for streaking down the road buck nekkid and having to be chased down, I recall vaguely that it was a lot of fun. But as I got older, when I got stressed I would run, I was a fast lil bugger too, might have been awkward in groups of people, but I could tear through the woods and up a tree with ease. More than once the police had to get involved, I remember in Junior High, my last day playing any organized sport until High School where I tried swim team (strike that, tried Volleyball, got a compression fracture in my thumb on the second practice, called it quits). That last day of little league, I had finally hit a run worthy of mention, plenty of folks on base, we were gonna score well, and I was called out for throwing the bat, I did no such thing, as I moved to start running to the first I led off with the left side of my body, the bat slid naturally out of my hands with the carry through of the hit, it unfortunately had some force still and skittered a bit of distance, not throwing, not an imminent threat to bystanders, but I was called out, and that was it. All those folks let down, and I could not help it, so I took off, and they had to send police with a K-9 to find me, they didn’t, I got caught when I got hungry. I avoided the dog by going up into the trees in the woods surround the school, I traveled from branch to branch jumping with adrenaline fulled humiliation and anger, dogs suck at climbing, and I watched cops go right by me multiple time, totally oblivious to my presence. When I got hungry, I sneaked back and got busted trying to get the attention of another student I believed might go along with things and get me some food so I could go back into the safety of the woods. I was spotted then, and to this day remember clearly the brief conversation, the officer approached me and asked “you the kid we are looking for?”, my response? seemed ever so clever then, but was more amusingly lame “No, I’m King Tutankhamun” was my sarcasm riddled response. There were other times that police and bodies were used to search for me, I feel bad about the waste of community resources, but I was always just so overwhelmed, I could not get folks to understand me in any way, and the need for escape was great. Running away is still my preferred approach these days when overwhelmed, the onslaught of thoughts and possibilities overwhelm me as much as the sensory, where some folks see one or just a few options in a conversation for example, I see many more, I try to anticipate outcomes, I try to ensure I do not make people uncomfortable, I try and suppress my body language, all of these things happen all at once, so I would multitask, something being shown to be not possible, and by bouncing around between things I got lost, confused, and overwhelmed, and when that happened I made mistakes, and when I made them I became humiliated, so my option was escape, to run, I continued doing that in my adult life actually too in some ways.
Rituals (Past and Present): This one actually comes up the most in conversations of late, folks wanting to know specifics about the ritual behavior associated with ASD. My rituals exist, but I am extremely introverted and cerebral, many of my current rituals are not obvious to observers unless I really forget my situational awareness. My longest ritual by far is the mental routine I require to get out of bed when I do not want to, it takes me about a good five to ten minutes of laying there and going over and over in my head exactly what I must do to get whatever needs done that day done. When I was in the USAF and school, this ritual was especially important, as a child if someone interrupted me during this important ritual the result was rage, many times I lost my temper first thing in the morning when one of my siblings, sadly often my little sister, would interrupt this and I would charge out of the room trying to enact revenge on the one who kept me from being able to prioritize my day. To this day, I rely on this routine and it is detailed, I mentally go over putting my legs over the side of the bed, getting dressed, attending to hygiene, food, scheduling, etc…and I repeat it a few times to make sure I have it all, it is almost like a required pep talk to make sure I stay focused and get what I need to done.
Another ritual of note is down right gross to most folks, and that is the need to inspect all substances leaving my body. Now, I do not touch, handle, or manipulate these things directly unless it is blood from my chronic picking at things. For example, I utilize smell and vision to inspect my urine stream…every single time I urinate, no exceptions unless I have had a few too many beers, which is pretty rare these days. I always visually inspect a bowel movement before flushing (gotta make sure there are no worms or parasites obvious, yeah hyper inflated probability right there). When it comes to a cold, hacking up a lung, etc. I will inspect the tissue I use to catch the nastiness for color and fold it over when done and move the substance a bit to analyze consistency, this has actually proven to be very beneficial over the years as I can readily identify post nasal drip and coughs related to just a season change (dry cold air causes the snot works to kick in almost 24/7, I hate winter weather).
“Wubby Coffee” over the years in the evening especially, my wife would make me a cup of coffee, the problem is, it became more than just a ritual for me, it became a burden to her as the rare times when she has not fulfilled the request I have reacted with extreme agitation and anger, I have been actively working to dismantle this one, I dislike it now that I realize the nature of it.
Smoking, oh yeah smoking and nicotine addiction is a big one, more than a ritual, a physical addiction, but it was very easily integrated into my tendencies and it is a tenacious one. Nicotine addiction is the least of my issues in regards to this, seriously with enough engagement I can go quite sometime without succumbing to the physical need. The problem is that smoking also gives me a very convenient excuse to escape social situations, it also has what to most would be a drawback, but to me is a sad but definite benefit…smoking decreases my sense of smell and taste, in my case, that is not completely bad and when I have managed to quit for brief periods in the past, smell and taste have been a very difficult thing to deal with, on the upside, I don’t tend to over eat as a result of quitting smoking, I just chew on stuff til my jaw hurts.
Chewing on stuff! Ok, I chew on tons of things, over the years it has become less obvious, but if I pulled down my lower lip or turned out my cheeks you would see the damage from years of chewing on those things. I also chew my nails and skin callouses (I also rub my fingertips in a way that forces the tips over the extremely trimmed nails) ensuring I never developed callouses on those fingers, so they remain very sensitive even today. I also am notorious for chewing pencils until they fall apart, grabbing small pieces of paper (mmm chemicals, yeah that is good) and chewing on them was a habit I had for a long time…but yeah the chemical thing pretty much killed that habit, shame too, blue lined paper was one of my faves. My chewing was so bad in elementary school that when the family was in Philly, I would chew through the collars of my shirts, to the point that my mother made me wear a blue pretzel chew toy to freaking school, yeah big socialization benefits right there (sorry Mom, know ya tried hard on that one, but it twas a painful dud), I can still remember hitting my teeth on the wire inside that pretzel. Honestly, I chewed on so many things, chewed through the cord on my fisher price record player while it was plugged in, nothing like a zap of current to ones pearly whites…did not work though, I still chew, or at the very least grind my teeth daily, and it is a habit that is hard to break.
News, since the age of internet news, everyday I check it, if I don’t check it for novelty and existential threats as I like to say, then I get agitated, the sole exception being when I am camping, camping is an acceptable escape from routine, so I do not mind a long weekend away, I also like the fact that my phone has crappy service too, the electronic leash is not my friend usually.
Other kinetic rituals: I have a few odd kinetic habits, but a few actually qualify as ritual behavior as well. For example, I pace…a lot, if I am thinking I am ideally pacing, another reason I have trouble getting my ideas out in text, can’t pace and type at the same time and that just sucks. Besides pacing I also engage in hip swaying, I kinda think of this like John elder Robison’s back and forth, I do it often without even realizing it, just swaying back and forth every so slightly, I find it very soothing. When sitting I will often rest my leg so it bounces due to pressure on the nerve, this is a habit that many folks find distracting and I am constantly called out on, which usually results in me finding a reason to no longer hang out or share a location with folks, I get very agitated if I cannot engage in these things, they are soothing and grounding behaviors, but they become rituals when I become agitated at their disruption.
Mirror Practice: I am constantly practicing facial expressions or even dialogue in the mirror, I model my facial expressions and adapt them, folks often comment on how emotive my face is, it should be with all that practice, I tend to over express things because once again I dislike ambiguity, it has caused me a great deal of pain over the years. On the plus side, in person it lets me get away with breaking taboo and using scene violations because I can communicate very well with my face, even to those not usually adept at reading them if I know I need too, also helps I spent a year in 6th grade, really got to practice those emotive communication skills there. Anyhow, pretty much everyday at least once or twice I catch myself doing this, I actually start doing it without any thinking about it at all, it is not until I finish whatever thought my subconscious was modelling in the mirror some days that I realize I was doing it at all. Up side, now that I am less depressed and arguably less stressed (though still overwhelmed usually), my facial muscles have relaxed more and it is pretty damn funny the faces I can make now, moving eyebrows, asymmetrical facial expressions, etc. so, it is pretty neat, but if you read the obsession section below you will read more on the drawbacks in regards to my fear of judgment and theater.
Personal obsession: A great deal related to this is going to be under Human Context and communication, I have spent years trying to holistically understand humanity writ large and at the same time find the means to reduce my understanding down to something understandable and testable or at least decent enough to prove of actual use. I still speculate I may have gone towards more hard science had I not had my visualization issues that inhibit my ability to do math and had I not suffered so often for nothing more than difference at the end of the day. So currently I am trying to take my insights as well as my new found understanding of self and expand it, as it expands and I continue to connect the dots I am seeing more and more patterns that I had missed mostly because my own logic had been flawed, my troubleshooting and problem centers hijacked into obsessing about what is wrong with me, etc. This is what I would consider my life’s work, a mix of philosophy, neuroscience, and anthropology.
I am also obsessed with art too, but I stopped doing it for almost two decades in any real form (save fantasy maps), after thousands of man hours spent trying to learn and draw realistic images that are more than a rough sketch or contour line drawing, I kinda gave up. So I am mucking around with abstract, but I feel it is ambiguous, I dislike that, maybe I can use it to raise Autism awareness, thought about writing a few emails to see about getting an Autistic Art Auction going or something, such as some profits to the artist but most to non-profits that help raise awareness. Seems like a decent idea, but like so many other ideas of mine, I will most likely never follow through, I already see issues with monetary variations, self esteem, production values to draw the most attention, and it seems overwhelming in it’s complexity, I do realize that most of that comes from me more than the reality on the ground.
Being judged, yes I obsess about being judged, I live in fear of reprisals for unintended actions, I feel a great deal of my coordination and neurological issues are very closely rooted in my repression of natural and comfortable body movements as misunderstandings over and over and over again over the years has left me hesitant to allow my body to act in a relaxed and genuine way. It was not always like this, I did a lot of theater as a child, my proudest moment was doing a full length version of “Auntie Mame” as young Patrick (and his son), but I let that go to my head sadly and ceased doing school productions, and then ceased acting in general after a few promises went unfulfilled and it just became yet another thing folks could find fault in. I lack the resilience to stand firm in what I enjoy, I am working on it, but that once substantial self confidence was long ago beaten into submission, and I do not think local theater with crowds of folks who might actually have lives that intersect with mine or my family’s as being all that desirable, that and I am a bit scared to do it, I know how deep into character I can get, I know that even after watching a movie I can take on accents and mannerisms of the people portrayed in the movie, on one hand that may be an enviable skill, it happens in conversations too, my Brother and Mother also do it, but my brother and I are the worst, we talked to some Welsh girls regularly one summer and come the end of the day my brother and I both had such garbled accents I am sure my Mother ended up with a huge headache hehe. I think I relate well with Daniel Day Lewis’s acting approach, I think it is immensely exhausting to immerse oneself in another personality and internalize it to a point that it in a way becomes you, it is a scary thought to think of one’s self identity as that plastic and malleable, so I find the thoughts about it uncomfortable. Not to mention odd and unsettling behaviors for folks I would work with, so unless there is locally produced a film that needs a guy who still uses a cane (I know I can stop that someday, I just have to find other ways to cope with over stimulating crowds and movement)