Autism: Confessions of a Skin-Picker

 

What’s Stimming?

Stimming is self-stimulatory behaviour. It is repetition of movement, sound or movement with objects.

It’s done for relief and pleasure.

Simplified: Stimming calms or stimulates.

Everybody stims, however, NTs have more socially acceptable stims and are more able to control them.

With an autistic person – stims are necessary to their mental health well being.

We stim to release tension or to stimulate ourselves.

Some people stimulate themselves to feel pain for pleasure, like my friend who liked to pull her leg hairs out one by one using tweezers.

*eyes are watering*

I didn’t know I was autistic until five years ago – so I’ve had forty plus years of generally hiding/suppressing behaviour that I now understand to be stimming..

It started with spinning where, as a small child, I would spin myself around until the butterflies danced in my stomach.  Then came infants school where there were boxes upon boxes of colourful (and tactile) objects that I liked to stroke or manipulate in my hand. Doing this soothed my anxious mind – albeit temporarily. I wasn’t interested in constructing things like the other children. Sod THAT for a game of conkers! I just wanted to sit in a corner and stroke stuff!

Speaking of conkers…

I like to touch them. (NOT a euphemism)

Then came the glue..

You’re probably reading this and thinking, ‘Glue? Oh my God, she’s a glue sniffer!’

Rest assured. I wasn’t (and have never been) a glue sniffer.

I may, however, have had a brief dalliance with Tippex in my high school days..

One of my all time loves is art and that love started in school. However, art was sensory for me. Visually? Great. Smells? Not so great.

I loved the smell of paint. Still do, but not when it’s combined with the aroma of curdled milk, cabbage and dried vomit as was the case in school. That said, I loved to create pieces of art so I forced myself myself to tolerate everything else..

The other sensory issue was that I almost pathologically HATED getting stuff on my fingers..

My mother told me that I was using a knife and fork a lot younger than my brothers were. She presumed it’s because boys are generally slower than girls? I think it’s probably because I disliked the feel of slimy food on my fingers. *shudders* This also explains why I find making pastry so unpleasant, hence, I avoid it wherever possible.

Whoever invented ‘Jus Rol’ has my unwavering adulation.

So, glue..

The first time I used glue – the stickiness made me anxious but I had communication issues so I wasn’t able to ask if I could go and wash my hands. I was starting with palpitations when THIS happened:

The glue dried and I discovered that peeling it off my fingers was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me since Enid Blyton!

I could happily lose myself in a glue-peeling session which made my school day slightly more tolerable.

Note: FFS don’t try this using Super Glue!

Glue-picking was the precursor to my most used stim – skin picking.

Yeah, a lot of my stims are gross.

When I was 21 I got chicken pox. Initially, this was crap because I was pregnant at the time. I was the size of Brazil with spots that itched like fuckery. I remember the one thing that people kept saying to me: ‘WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T PICK THE SCABS!’

That’s like telling Mary Berry to stop baking and become a binman..

OF COURSE I PICKED THEM!!

I especially loved the scabs on my head because I would pull them ever-so-slowly through my hair which was, like, orgasmically pleasurable.

I’ve always picked my spots. And other people’s. Feeling that satisfying ‘pop’ as zit matter is released at high velocity? That’s right up there on the pleasure scale for me. Welcome to the pleasure dome mateys! I literally don’t understand how a person can have a big fat juicy zit and NOT want to pop it? Weirdos.

Downside is: I have scars.

LOTS of scars.

I also pick the skin off my lips. Sometimes with my fingers – sometimes with my teeth. NOT the best of stims if you like vinegar on your chips!

Zit slaying and lip picking are stims I try and save for ‘me time’ because even I know that it’s socially unacceptable to be pecking at yourself in public like a demented pigeon. Even so – sometimes I forget myself..

My bad, motherfunglers.

Rest assured that once I’ve acknowledged my skanky behaviour, I switch to a more socially acceptable stim – like fiddling with my cube/keys/phone/pebble/whatever.

Should I mention that I’m allergic to nickle so when I wear cheap earrings, my skin weeps, then crusts over? I guess you’ll know where I’m going with this so I’ll move on..

My, not gross stims, include rocking back and forth or side to side. I take more in when I’m rocking because I am less focused on my anxiety. It’s a gentle movement but if I’m having an anxiety crisis at home, it’s full on IN YOUR FACE back and forth rocking sometimes combined with manic pacing up and down.

Then there’s my fidget cube. I say mine. I may have nicked it from The Boy because his stim of choice is to chew his nails..

I also use a spinner which I like to spin near my cheek because I like how it feels on my face. No doubt, I’ll probably end up in A & E one day with a spinner-related facial injury..

NOTE: I’m trying very hard NOT to think of the scab..

Next, is my thumb ring.

Yep, I just lurve touching my ring.

Leaaaaaaave it.

I always wear one on my thumb which I manipulate with my index finger or my left index finger and thumb. It started off as me trying to give myself an edgy look? Then I realised that manipulating it calmed me down, so I’ve worn one for years. My current one is metallic rainbow colours so I get visual and tactile pleasure. Win and win!

I also LOVE soft materials. I wear soft leggings and stroke my legs, but not in a kinky way. I love blankets too – especially fleecy ones. They comfort me and keep my extremities semi-warm as I seem to be lacking blood flow in my hands and feet. Plus, under a blanket, you can hide from the world.

Also, people trying to sell you PVC windows. Or God.

Going back to pastry, I was once informed that cold hands make better pastry? So it’s a shame that I dislike the feel of it on my fingers or I could be the pastry queen of the North by now, no?

I get that I have some gross stims. I mean, picking my skin is pretty, er, what’s that word the young un’s use? Ah yes, ‘minging’ but it gets me through the day and through life. It’s not like I sit in Costa flicking my skin into people’s skinny lattes is it?

FYI, I am picking my lips right now as I’m editing this post for the 135th time.

Finally, people may tell you that stimming is offensive or unacceptable. The problem is with them, not you. Stimming has a purpose. It is part of the armory that we need to exist in this world. For this reason (and many others) it is perfectly acceptable to tell them politely, but with conviction, to eff off.

Me? I stim to calm myself and because it feels good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senses Working Overtime

I’m hypersensitive.

It means that I experience the world in an overly-sensitive way both physically and emotionally.

Hypertactile

For me, this means that I feel discomfort at the slightest touch – cue Five Starr with their MASSIVE shoulder pads. A hand on my arm can feel like a punch if I’m sensitised enough. Sometimes OH will touch my arm and I recoil as if I’ve been shot. I can see how this affects him but I’m unable to reassure him that it’s me, not him, because I struggle to verbalise how I feel.

I also can’t tolerate certain materials which are itchy and scratchy.

Aren’t they characters in the Simpsons?

Many of my clothes have ended up in charity bags due to them irritating the crap of me. Shoes, the same. I don’t like to feel as if I am wearing clothes, see. Sounds kinky, I know, but what I mean is that materials have to be soft and not constricting..

It’s been trial and error over the years. Like when I knitted myself a mohair jumper. I know, I’m an idiot, right? It took months to knit the bastard thing. I wore it once and chucked it straight in the charity bag because I itched like a dog with fleas. Lesson learned!

After decades of buying the wrong stuff, I’ve finally settled on leggings, tunic top and boots in Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer is jeans, tee shirt and a pair of Converse hi-tops.

Not forgetting my beloved cardigans, one blue, one black, with pockets which I wear ALL YEAR ROUND!

Hypervision.

This means that I see what most people don’t. This can be annoying AND wonderful.

I see details that most people miss. This came in handy when I worked as a packer in a pharmaceuticals warehouse because I picked up on subtle differences in packaging, IE, counterfeiting.

It also means that fluorescent lights give me migraines, as does sunlight and the blue light emitted from computers and tablets.

Hyperhearing

I used to jump EVERY TIME the school bell went and without looking up I could tell which teacher had entered the room by the sound their shoes made. Some shoes were soft and and pleasing whereas others were squeaky and f**king annoying. My maths teacher in secondary school had a particularly irritating squeak in his right brogue and he was wearing the same pair when I left four years later..

Traffic also annoys me and don’t start me on emergency service sirens. On a good day they are LOUD. ON a bad day, hearing nee-nars makes me want to rip my ears off and sling them in someone’s privet. I also hear low level buzzing noises that nobody else can. Only thing is that since I developed tinnitus, it’s hard to work out what is actual buzzing and what isn’t..

I used to be able to hear a bee fart in the next street but over the years I’ve lost hearing in one ear. This is both good and bad. It means that the other ear over-compensates – which is disorientating. I do have a sexy hearing aid courtesy of the NHS but it amplifies sound too much and increases my sensory issues, so I hardly ever wear it, hence I say, “Eh?” and “What?” a lot.

On the other hand it helps when my tinnitus is giving me gyp.

The reason why autistic people have hearing sensitivity could be due to differences in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is the area that deals with auditory processing. Or it could be that responses are learned. I don’t think they know for sure why it happens..

By far, the biggest problem with my sensitivity is that I feel too much. Swiss researchers, Henry and Kamila Markram argue that the fundamental problem with Asperger’s is ‘hypersensitivity to experience’. Rather than people with Aspergers not feeling enough – the Markrams say that it’s actually the opposite and they feel too much. That’s definitely true of me. I’m both physically AND emotionally sensitive. Unkind words really hurt me. They scar me. You just can’t see them like a physical one.

If I see a homeless person lying in a doorway, I hurt for them. The down and outs. The underdogs. Life’s rejects. The weirdos. The persecuted. I hurt for them ALL. Emotionally I am a wreck of a human being and my sensitivity is the reason that I try and stay away from the news because I get overloaded with people’s pain. I know that most people see things on the news and feel empathy but it doesn’t haunt them forevermore. That’s the difference.

I HATE how people lie and deceive. To put your faith into someone only to be betrayed is soul destroying. Having been officially diagnosed as autistic, I understand how my vulnerabilities have been exploited over the years. People sense I’m different but they mistake silence for weakness.

Here’s the thing..

It’s NOT weakness.

Can you imagine how hard it is to exist in an increasingly sensory world?

To constantly feel that you have to adapt and camouflage yourself in order to fit in?

To live your entire life in a state of anxiety and having to make choices between everyday situations in order to lessen the stimulus?

To live like this EVERY SINGLE DAY takes strength my dears.

Neurotypical people do those things without thinking whereas I have to think about almost everything I do, even how to breathe when my anxiety is bad enough.

I guess that my problem is that I am just too sensitive for this world.

“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” Emille Autumn ~ The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls.