Saturday, August 11, 2018

All About My Stims

Like some other women in their 30s and 40s, I'm starting to realize I have traits associated with the autism spectrum. I'm pretty sure I don't show enough traits to qualify for a diagnosis. If I did, that wouldn't be a bad thing. It would explain a lot, actually. I think I fall in the gray area between neurotypical and autistic.

One of my newly discovered traits: stimming. I say newly discovered because I didn't realize my lifelong habits had a name. Now that I know about stimming, I've been re-framing many habits and incidents in my life in that context.

When I was in daycare/preschool, I chewed on my lips. I chewed to the point where my lips would bleed, and someone at the daycare decided to intervene. Every day, when the other kids went to snack time to enjoy graham crackers or celery with peanut butter, I was pulled aside with a staff member who smeared Vaseline on my lips and the skin around my lips. With my sensory issues, it felt awful, but I was threatened with not getting my snack if I wiped or licked it off. When I did get my snack after this daily torture, the food took on the slimy texture of the Vaseline with a funny taste. The tactic didn't work. It only made me miserable. To this day, I still sometimes bite at my lips, or rub and press them together.

When I was a bit older, I played soccer. My parents say that while I was on the field, I systematically plucked hair from one spot in the back of my head until I had a bald spot. They took me to a hairdresser who styled my hair to hide the spot. I remember one such appointment, when I was told why my hair was being cut in this way. I also remember my confusion because I had no memory of pulling out my hair.

I was an obsessive nail-biter as a child. My mom told me, with exasperation, that I bit my nails because that's what my dad did and I had picked up the habit from him. My nail-biting resulted in teasing from my classmates until, in sixth grade, I made a conscious decision to stop.

Over the years, the nail-biting morphed into knuckle-cracking and picking at my cuticles. Now, as a 41-year-old woman, my cuticles are often ripped and sometimes bleed from my constant picking at them. I find that if I keep a small bottle of nail and cuticle oil handy on my work desk, I can spread the oil over my cuticles that satisfies my stimming need without the self-harm.

I also play with the hairs in my eyebrows, especially when I'm concentrating. One time, a few years ago, I overheard two of my co-workers laughing about this habit of mine and mocking me for it by imitating it in an exaggerated way. They didn't know I could hear them. I didn't say anything because, well, I'm not great at advocating for myself.

Another habit I've picked up recently is to press a hand firmly to my breastbone, just below my neck. The pressure helps me concentrate, especially when I'm under stress.

There's probably more, but those are the main ones.

In my research, I've found a lot of women like myself. It helps me to read about their quirks because it makes me feel like I'm not so uniquely weird. Maybe someone else will come across this post and feel the same way.