Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Holding Your Breath - Life with Autism

I would imagine that at some point in the past we have all spent time holding our breath.  It's a fun thing to compete in as a child - who will be able to hold it the longest? How far can we swim underwater? Ew, that dog poo in the jitty smells gross - let's run past it holding our noses.  And as such, I would also assume that we all know the feeling of release and calm that happens when we can finally breathe again: when our opposition has surrendered, blue in the face; when we reach the other end of the pool; when we reach the safety of the main road and the smell has subsided.  It's a wonderful, relaxing yet invigorating feeling - a feeling of pure respite and recovery.  It's exactly the feeling I get when I read about steam trains on Wikipedia.

Bear with me.  This morning, walking to work with a spring in my step (having stepped down from being Head of Department, I am finding the start of every day to be a pleasure) I was considering what exactly it was about my little obsessive interests that kept me going back for more.  Why was I so content with re-reading about the niceties of Whyte notation and Dr Beeching, or studying the map of Middle Earth for the thousandth time, or once again naming all 151 original Pokemon?  Obviously I find each of them fascinating and interesting in their own way, but I figured there must be something more visceral to it - more physical and immediately uplifting.  It hit me suddenly - opening Wikipedia and reading about LNER A4 locomotives or reading the map section of The Lord of the Rings is a bit like breathing again after holding my breath for a long, long time.  It is an immersion into a feeling of absolute relief.

It's rather like going about my daily business is having my breath held incessantly.  I teach, I talk to folk, I mark, I cook, I eat all whilst holding my breath - in a state of stress and nervousness.  So every time I get the opportunity to indulge one of my favourite, deeply repetitive hobbies or interests it is like taking a quick, life-giving breath: taking a long, desperately needed, deep breath and refilling my lungs, ready for the next stretch of work/social time/chores.  This is why my interests are repetitive - because they have to be, to be of any use.  No good trying to 'take a breath' with something new and untested (I often go weeks before actually trying a new video game, frightened that it won't offer the relaxation and relief I need), so stick to what you do know.  I think finally understanding this and making peace with it has done me some good, as I feel happier about 'giving in' and indulging in my obsessions, as they very clearly do me the world of good.