Hello again! Apologies for my tremendously long hiatus (I exist in a perpetual losing battle with procrastination!) but hopefully there will be some more posts coming out soon to make up for it. So, this post is one I’ve been planning for a while. It’s going to be quite similar to my last post about being in Spain — it’s another one about my experiences going to a new place, and how I dealt with things like anxiety and stimming on the journey there and some interesting things that happened once we got there.
The trip itself was incredibly enjoyable. Part of writing these blogs means I get to look back on my own previous experiences, which offers a nice opportunity to self-reflect and also allows me in hindsight see just how much more I can cope with nowadays. In the past, journeys to new places, especially on public transport, could be very overwhelming and stressful for me, as there are so many uncertain variables. But this time, I was quite confident getting on the train with my mum there to help me, and for the most part was able to stay nice and calm despite all the bustling and the noise. It just goes to show how with time, and with the right strategies in place, you can become more comfortable approaching anxiety-inducing situations, even if the physical elements like the noise and the sensory stimulation are still difficult. Comparing this trip to my trip to Spain, which I wrote about here, the train station was certainly much easier to navigate than the airport — the ticket booths are right in front of you, the platforms are much more clearly signposted, there are arrows on the floor, etc. — and because the train station was smaller and more enclosed, without so many windows, it was easier for me to get my bearings. Having my mum there also helped a lot — she is absolutely my rock and can keep me feeling safe in practically any situation. And so I was quite happy just sitting with my noise-cancelling headphones on, waiting for the train. Once we got on and sat down, I felt even better; now I just had to sit in the same place, and there’s less uncertainty when you don’t have to move around.
Of course, we still had to change trains, but I managed fairly well, I just stayed close to my mum. Overall, the journey was fine, and once we got to Hull we were quickly found by my friend and her family. My friend is very chatty and I have a good time with her, partly because she is good at carrying a conversation and I am good at listening — having someone who is happy to talk is good for me because it takes some of the pressure off of me to try to come up with things to say. Moreover, she knows all about my Asperger’s and is very understanding and patient if ever I don’t understand something she’s said, or if I say we need to go somewhere else because its too loud.
On the whole, I had a lovely time staying in Hull. As I have undoubtedly mentioned in a previous post, having a person who you trust with you can mitigate anxiety, and so as me and my friend went around Hull I was confident that she would be able to help me if anything unexpected happened.
There was, though, a notable instance at a restaurant which I think is worth mentioning here as it relates to my ASD. One night (we stayed in Hull for a couple of days) we all went out for Thai food. The restaurant had lots of interesting decoration to look at and varied lighting, (i.e. it was rather visually stimulating) and naturally, as it was new place and I was fairly excited, I started stimming. As I said, my friend knows about my Asperger’s, and since I’ve been to her house many times, so do her parents. For that reason, I’m quite comfortable stimming in front of her and her parents — her father is also a teaching assistant and is used to working with kids on the spectrum, and we’ve talked about stimming before.
My stims on that evening mainly involved tapping my fingers against my palm on one hand, up close to my ear so I could hear the sound they made, in addition to a kind of twirling motion with my wrist. My friend’s father commented on the stim, saying it was like a dance move. This actually made me realise that I had picked up this particular stim after watching my younger sibling do a primary-school dance production where they twirled their hands in a similar way. It’s actually quite common for me to pick up stims this way — if I see someone else doing a movement, I’ll sometimes copy it and if it feels positive then it can become a stim that reappears later. This also means that when I watch other people stimming, it can often set off my own stims, or I end up copying theirs. This also applies to vocal stims — in addition to echolalia, I’ll often pick up phrases or ways of pronouncing words from people that then manifest as stims later on.
Now, going back to the situation at hand: as a general rule I would say don’t comment on someone’s stimming, unless you know them quite well and think they’ll be comfortable with it. If they express that they don’t want to talk about it, then obviously you should just let the subject drop. Basically — react how they react. I’ve heard some people who experience tics (which can appear similar to stimming except they are usually more involuntary) give the advice that it’s best when other people react how they react — one youtuber who I used to watch, who had Tourette’s syndrome, said she often laughed at her own tics when she found them amusing, and was fine with her friends laughing too in those cases, and I generally have a similar attitude towards my stims, but obviously this varies from person to person. Some people are more comfortable discussing their stims, while others prefer it if their stims are just ignored. So I would say react how the stimming person reacts. Also bear in mind that stimming is not always a conscious choice or under a person’s control (neither are tics). I know that I personally don’t get to always choose which stims I do — often I try to redirect my stims from something disruptive to something more discreet, but it doesn’t always work — and I think if people I didn’t know were commenting all the time it might make me uncomfortable. Sometimes people around me who don’t know I’m autistic react with concern — I’ve had several people ask me ‘is your hand okay?’, when I’ve been hand-flapping, which is a perfectly fine question to ask me, and I am happy to explain. Just be polite and respectful, and you can’t go too far wrong, but also remember that an autistic person doesn’t owe you an explanation of their stims. If you’d like to know more about stimming, you can check out my post on stimming here. In this case, with my friend’s dad, I didn’t mind at all; the comparison to a dance move made me laugh, and, like I said, it actually helped me figure out the origin of my own stim!
Anyway, I was stimming through my hand in an attempt to avoid another stim, which manifests as a forceful kind of blink that just happens again and again. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful, and the blinking stim happened anyway. Then a moment came where it felt as though I really lost control of the blinking stim, hardly able to open my eyes at all. Feeling overwhelmed, I put my head in my hands and rubbed my eyes to physically try to displace it, as though I could rub the stim off my face — it sounds silly, but that’s the way it felt. After that, the stim calmed down again. Nowadays, I call it ‘rebooting’; when a stim starts to feel out of my control, more like a compulsive tic that while no doubt relieving internal tension is starting to cause me a level of agitation, I take a moment of pause. I stop trying to repress the stim, I let the mask drop, I stop thinking about whatever is happening around me, and I just breathe and focus. This moment usually takes barely a second, but it’s usually enough to calm the stim down, and then everything is fine. So if anyone else struggles with this, with stims becoming distressing because they feel out of control: I recommend just taking a moment for yourself to concentrate on acknowledging your stims. Obviously this may not work all the time, but for me, I often find the tension comes because I’m trying to repress the stim, which only makes me more aware of it and then causes it to happen even more. Instead of trying to restrain it, if you are in a position to do so, I suggest letting yourself do whatever you feel you need to, and then usually the stims can become a bit calmer. It’s important to remember that stims arise from internal tension, so if you are stimming a lot its usually due to too much internal tension which your brain is calling out for you to address. So for me, just taking a moment of mindfulness to acknowledge that I am perhaps over stimmed, and reminding myself that I will be able to down stim later on, is enough to subconsciously relax me enough to then be able to continue for the rest of the evening.
Other than that instance, my Asperger’s and anxiety were perfectly manageable, both whilst in Hull and on the journey home. I’m very glad it was such a good experience, but I hope by reflecting on the one instance in the restaurant I can also learn from that, and hopefully hearing my experiences helps you or someone you know too.
Thanks so much for reading all the way to the end, and hopefully I’ll have a new post up in the next week or two — I’m hoping to get this blog running more regularly again. Thanks for your patience! Please remember to share this post on social media, leave a like or follow this blog if you enjoyed or found this helpful, and leave a comment on what you’d like me to talk about next! Thanks again!