So even though I am listed as the author of this blog, I am once more relying on people who live the autism experience 24/7. M. Kelter is (I hope) one of my friends whose blog, invisiblestrings.com, is one of the most poignant and funniest I've ever read (especially this piece). The saying goes: when you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism (i.e., don't generalize). M explains what having autism is like for him in this blog post. I am indebted to him for this.
"a very incomplete list of autistic experiences; no particular order
June 1, 2018 by m kelter
Putting your ear against the fridge in your kitchen to listen to the motor because the longer you listen to it, the more you constantly hear new sounds as the fridge-noise teases apart into increasingly distinct sub-noises that basement away into ever new components that your ear can’t stop chasing. Lost in the grocery store again, the one you’ve been going to for years. You can’t line up the spaces in your mind, so you follow the paths nowhere, your shopping cart pulling you in wrong directions like a ghost ship. The signs above each aisle just tell you which aisle you’re lost in. Pausing in the store to caress the soup cans, the ones that have those wide ridges, because your fingers remember that shape so specifically and they like the tactile reminder. At any given time, clearing your mind and trying to list every sound you can hear, repeating the list every so often, running through it again, over and over, until the list grows so long that you forget the initial sounds, leaving the list without a beginning and it never has an end and you cycle through it for a few hours until your mind finally wanders elsewhere. Your arms feel uncomfortable, like they’re a little too far away from your body, so you pull your elbows against your side and try to feel whole and the effort makes you physically anxious so you breathe and relax your arms until they feel too far away again, so you pull them close and so on. In conversation, you hear the words of the other person but it takes your mind a moment to understand the meanings, not of the words, but of the sentences and the broader conversation, so you listen and memorize the words and run them together in a loop, in your mind, until the meanings kick in and it makes it hard to actually hear what’s being said due to the mental effort involved. The distraction of the effort gives the way people sound a murmuring quality, like you’re conversing underwater and you can tell words are being said, but you have to concentrate to understand them. It often reminds you of when you were little: you and your siblings would play a game in swimming pools where you would all dive under water and someone would shout a phrase and you would hear it bubbled and distorted and then you’d swim up, above the water, and we’d have to guess what had been said and that’s kind of what people sound like all the time. You watch that film so many times you can repeat all the lines, but even then the film is inexhaustible. Every run through, you spot something you’d never noticed before, some stray gesture or novelty of vocal inflection, so you watch that one part of that one scene over and over, the newness of the thing you’d missed so exciting. And the newness ever ends, you keep finding more stray bits. You keep watching to see if there’s ever an end to it all, and there’s not, so you keep watching. You listen to that one song so many times…etc. You read that one book so many times…etc. You’re on social auto-pilot, listening as someone talks to you, trying to understand what’s being said, and you hear yourself responding with bland placeholder statements and you know you’re just saying these things because of the auto-pilot in your mind…because you’re too busy processing the conversation to know what you really want to say, and you hear the bland things you’re saying and you get mad at yourself and you feel embarrassed about how confused you are. You stand there and masticate words into a bland paste and nod like a robot. You shop at thrift stores mostly because you don’t have a lot of money but also because previously worn clothes have softer threads. Lights burn, make your eyes feel like over-used muscles. It’s less of a sharp pain, more of a soreness that makes your head feel heavy. You’re tired all the time from lights. Nothing helps with this. Sunglasses slow down the process of getting fatigued in the course of a day, but not by much. The things that help, the sunglasses and dark rooms, none of it helps enough. Every day is a dull ache purgatory. You like the people you like because your conversation runs purely on tangents and the people you like don’t mind. You’re circuitous with your words, but in your head you know it all bundles together into one big thing and it’s confusing for others, even for yourself, but the people who listen to the tangents and don’t seem annoyed, you feel like they’re okay to talk to. In your life, you’ve found about four people like this. Teaching yourself eye contact routines…learning them by watching others and memorizing the timing and then practicing it for years and then feeling embarrassed by the need to practice something so basic, getting okay at it over time, realizing that the routines just make you feel more weird and distant. Teaching yourself body language…learning it by watching others and memorizing the patterns and then practicing it for years and then feeling embarrassed by the need to practice something so basic, getting okay at it over time, realizing that the patterns just make you feel more weird and distant. Going to therapy and telling the therapist that you had to teach yourself the routines and patterns for how people are, which leads into this long, funny sort of conversation about coping strategies that work in the short term but are dark and treacherous in the long term and now what? Feeling something and capturing that feeling with an expression, which can be a word or a thought or a gesture- it can be writing or noise or stimming- it can be a lot of different things- and it’s just that feeling made more whole through expression. the stimming never ends. some of it is outward, some of it is inward, but it’s always one continuous thing that never ends. stimming is your second pulse. you hold your fingertips to the window during storms, feel thunder radiate through glass. that’s you stimming and the world stimming back. it’s world code for “you’re nothing”. constant fatigue from the sensory overload. you wake up tired and what energy you accrued during rest, it evaporates as the day chisels into you. mostly your eyes, but your hands are busy like ants, your antenna vibrating with impressions of what’s going by. your body an endless tourist with permanent jet lag. facial expression for strangers, blankness for the ones you trust. waiting more fully than most. you can tell. the waiting room feeling every second of the day. when people talk, you hear the shapes of the words more than the content, at least initially. the word shapes form into rhythms and you like those, but the meanings get lost too easily. your own word shapes sound like meanings, but are mostly just the empty rhythms."