Discovering and understanding my stimming
I wrote my first post about stimming over a month ago and since a lot has happened since then I thought I would post an update. You can read the original post HERE.
A quick look back: Growing up without a diagnosis meant stimming was not part of my every day life. Instead I learned how to appear non-autistic very early in life.
This means I was missing a very helpful and very important coping skill my entire life. Something that could have helped me deal with stress. Something that could have helped me deal with sensory overload.
Today I know what stimming is. I have also learned what exactly it does for autistic people and I understand how important it is. And I have started to allow myself to stim again.
I am now stimming almost completely freely when at home. My husband witnessing my stimming is still a little bit difficult for me at times. He does not judge me for it, in fact he finds quite a few of my stims cute and adorable.
But the years of judgement by other people and rude comments from my past are still fresh in my memory. I think it will take time to completely accept my own stimming. No surprise after a lifetime of being told to behave ‘normally’.
I have developed a small arsenal of stims that I use very frequently. And I am discovering what works and does not work for me.
I almost always rock back and forth when standing up – yet when sitting down I very rarely rock. I often push myself up onto my toes when standing up and let myself back down.
I stim with my hands a lot. I am starting to experiment with stim toys but so far my hands are my favorite. Maybe that is because I always have them with me and tend to forget stim toys at home.
I understand now that I am a very tactile stimmer. My hands are the most receptive to positive sensory input. I am very sensitive towards smells so I do not stim with them.
The only thing I do is use essential lavender oil. I put a drop on my clothes so I always have something pleasant to smell if there ever are smells I cannot stand. I have done this for a few years now and it works great.
I am also very sensitive to visual stimuli so I stay away from almost all visual stims. I do not like glitter or lava lamps. I do not like bright colors. I do not like flashing or shiny bright lights.
Those actually hurt my eyes and head. I will sometimes stim with my fingers in front of my eyes or with a piece of grass or a leaf I find outside – those are pleasant visual stimuli.
Public stimming experiences
Stimming in public is still difficult for me. But I understand that my journey towards self-acceptance has just begun. I try to relax and just stim whenever my body needs it.
I have gotten a rude comment a few days ago while stimming at a concert. There was a percussion band on stage and the beats were wonderful.
I was rocking back and forth, from one foot to the other. I was pushing myself up onto my toes and letting myself back down. I enjoyed the sensation in my legs, the sensation in my back, all combined with the beats of the music.
There was a boy, maybe ten years old, with his friend sitting behind me and my husband. He whispered but I could understand him very clearly. He said “Look at that weird woman.” and when I turned around he and his friend were staring at me, giggling.
It hurt me. And it threw me back into my childhood immediately. All the stares. All the comments. All the years of trying to be ‘normal’. It all came back to me in an instant and I stopped moving.
I could feel a ball of tightness building up in my chest. And I knew if I did not say anything back and got over it right there I would not be stimming again for a long time.
I looked at the boy and said to my husband “Look at that weird boy staring at me.” Yes I know, it is not a very clever comeback. But that was not what it was about. I needed to say something. Anything really.
I looked the boy in the eyes and he blushed. Then he looked away. And he did not say anything else to me for the rest of the evening. Neither did his friend. They did not whisper anymore either.
The comment hurt me. But I realized that the boy was just ignorant. He had never seen anyone stimming before. It is not something you see every day. It looked weird to him.
So he stared and did what kids do – he told his friend about that weird thing he saw. He was not trying to hurt me. He was just a child.
I understood that and I kept stimming. And I had a great time. I felt good. I had fun. And I felt proud that I said something. I felt proud that I kept stimming. I felt proud that I allowed myself to be myself.
Public stimming with close family members
Another difficult thing when it comes to stimming is my immediate family. It is actually more difficult for me to stim in front of my parents or siblings than it is to stim in front of strangers.
That is probably because ultimately strangers do not matter to me. My family does. It is not so much what they think – it is more about how they react.
I recently went grocery shopping with my Mom. When we left the store a stim slipped out of my body and she saw it. She looked at me, pointed to my hands, smiled, and imitated my stim.
I immediately stopped stimming. I was incredibly embarrassed. I wanted to just run away. Instead I balled my hands into fists and said “Do not imitate me. It’s hard enough to be myself without you pointing it out.” with the sternest voice I could muster.
My Mom stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me. Then she apologized. She said “You are right. That was a very rude thing to do. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”
I believed her. She is not used to seeing me stim in public. She is used to me hiding everything autistic about myself. She did not imitate me to make fun of me. She imitated me because she saw me do something surprising and fascinating. It was her way of saying “I saw you do that. I see you. I am aware.”
Now she knows that openly stimming is difficult for me. Now she knows not to imitate me. Now she knows not to comment on it.
Steps towards open self-acceptance
As of right now I am doing okay. The more I stim the more normal it becomes. The more I discover stim toys and watch stimming videos on youtube the less weird and alone I feel.
This is a big step for me.
And to commemorate that big step I took another one right after: I made a video. My first video ever. I wrote that I would like to some day do that in my first stimming post.
I was not ready then but I am now. It still feels awkward but I know showing my autistic self publicly is incredibly important for me.
It is a video demonstrating and explaining my current five most common stims. I made it to show myself instead of hiding. I also made it to show others out there that stimming is okay. And I made it to connect with people.
And here it is – Autistictics five most common Stims
As you can see I am not showing my face. I am not ready for that yet. But just like I was not ready for a video a month ago, not being ready to show my face may also pass.
It does not matter how long each step takes. It only matters that I am taking those steps.
Stimming is wonderful. It has allowed me to take part in quite a few things the past weeks that I would have not been able to participate in without stimming.
I went to an open air concert. I went to a BBQ party with about 30 people there. I went to an open air culture festival. I went on a 14 hour trip to cologne with lots of crowds and a one hour boat trip. I went clothes shopping.
Every time there was too much of something my stimming helped me to self-regulate. And every time I was really excited or happy my stimming allowed me to express that without having to try and put my inside into words.
I will try to continue on this path. And if you know someone who stims: Be accepting and supportive.