I’ve stimmed all my life, but its manifestation has changed over time.

As I reflect on earlier episodes in my life, I realize that a lot of the symptoms associated with autism were present in me, but masked. I’ve stimmed way before my cancer weakened my ability to mask, but I did not know what stimming was.

What is stimming?

I cannot speak for all autistic people. For some people, it is a way to deal with anxiety. For others, it is a way to express joy. For me, it is a morale booster, or sometimes a way to deal with anxiety. Physically, it is a repeated movement, or a repeated stimulation of the nervous system. Some people flap their hands. Some people twirl. However, there are more ways to stim than these two examples.

The way I used to stim was generally not very visible to people, though there were exceptions. For the longest time, I’ve stimmed by biting the dead skin off of my lips, sometimes causing my lips to bleed. In time, I became more skillful about stimming without bleeding. The bleeding was, after all, socially embarrassing, and social embarrassment is not something I seek. I also grind my teeth repeatedly and constantly. This is invisible. I don’t really know what brings on these forms of stimming.

I also stim when I’m socially anxious. I recently was out at an event and at some point I realized that my foot was waving back and forth under the table. Again, this is a rather subtle way of stimming. If you’d look straight at my feet, you’d see me do it, but most people aren’t looking at my feet, so they don’t notice. Right there and then, I also recalled doing this when I was much younger.

At another social event, I noticed that my legs were tingling, and I now think that I suffer from anxiety-induced paresthesia. This could also be a form of stimming, but one that is internal and totally outside my control. Note that I’m spitballing here.

I also stim in ways that are more perceptible to observers. I recall when I was a student in school, I’d put some music on, and I’d stim by tapping my fingers on the desk. It looked like I was playing some sort of imaginary piano while I was studying. Most of the time, there was no one near me, who could witness it. I was doing it for my own enjoyment, and maybe to relieve some anxiety.

The 80s were the time when I came of age, and the time when music videos really took off on TV. I fell in love with them instantly. I’d stay up late to watch them. As I moved out of the parental house, my access to music videos mostly disappeared, but I still listened to music. Then, when YouTube took off, I was able to reconnect with music videos. I recall many an evening when I was away teaching at a college, when I’d put on YouTube and listen to, and sometimes watch, music videos. This love of music and music videos continues to this day.

After my cancer, this love of music videos was cranked up to 11. When I was recovering from my treatment, I’d put on YouTube Music and have music videos playing all day long. So much so that it created friction between me and my ex-wife. Heck, music videos are playing as I’m writing this article. My stimming has also evolved. I put on my earbuds when I go on my daily walk and I stim in rhythm with the music. I hand-dance and I walk-dance to the beat! This form of stimming, for me, is a morale booster.

I’ve been reading the stories of other autistic people and learned that I’m not special as far as my stimming evolving through time and situations. Someone was saying that they stim at home but not at school. Someone else was going over their stims and indicating that they stopped doing some of them, or that they picked up new stims.

One thing for sure is that since my self-diagnosis, I’ve been stimming more. In my opinion, stimming is life. So much so that I’ve titled the playlists of music I stim to Stimming Is Life, and that my first piece of merchandise associated with this account are shirts with the logo Stimming Is Life on them. 😉






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