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The Colors of My Mind on the Autism Spectrum

I don’t know how thinking is for everyone else, but for a long time I thought it was the same for them as it is for me.

My mind doesn’t stop; it spins and shifts in different directions creating webs of patterns, linked by varying hues. The demand for constant input, the never ending search for an answer and the grip of anxiety when a question arises gets steadily brighter and brighter as if it is a scream, crying out for a solution. It can’t be left unknown, wondering away in my head. To leave it is to invite regular intrusions into my mind, increasingly shrill demands that feel like an ever-growing pressure on the inside of my head trying to force its way out.

To find the answer is to connect it with the whole, allowing it to form part of the matrix and develop its own offshoots. The solution leads to more questions, thoughts and connections; the matrix gets bigger and demands more data to feed its ever growing form. Then it starts to slowly develop edges. The myriad of colors and connections that have been shifting, adding and re-forming are quieting now. I can see how the pattern works, where the shapes, colors and connectors interface and meld to form the whole. I have my solution, at least for now. At least until it starts again.

This is how thinking works for me — the constant whir, with a seemingly endless thirst for variables and information. The more interesting or exciting the topic, the more rapidly it builds and the brighter the pattern is, with many more strands that form and throw out new questions, new directions and new patterns. This hasn’t always been fun. I’m not good at finding ways to explain my thinking to others. I make connections, go in different directions and form patterns and color bonds that make sense to me. To others I think it can seem random, like I’m making huge leaps that make no sense or I’ve gone off in a completely different direction. Sometimes people think I’ve just started talking about something else.

How can we be having the same conversation but not be in the same place? The patterns, matrix and color blends we’ve created must at least be similar. I may not think the same way as most people; sure there are, as far as I can tell, similarities, but it’s not the same. The closest thing I have found is when I watch people brainstorm with spider diagrams. If you imagine that with multiple blending colors, in three dimensions and adding multiple strands at once, that’s closer to how I think.

I hated it for so long. Not because it was different — it made it possible for me to make links and connections others didn’t. I would come up with ideas that never occurred to most people and found links and similarities between theories that helped me understand processes and develop new theories. Not that I’m always right; I am often not. The hatred didn’t stem from the difficulties I had communicating thoughts to others or the inability to hold them inside. It came from the fact it never stopped; it was constant. I never felt I had peace. I was exhausted mentally and physically; there was just to much information and I couldn’t make sense of it all. It was overwhelming.

Sleep was something that only came when my body physically couldn’t keep going. It just shut down, but not before hours of lying in bed trying to find ways of quieting my mind. This often meant that I slept for only a few hours a night, and I gave up going to bed at a reasonable time, reasoning that there was no point if I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. This went on for years and I hated it. Despite all the positives, I just wanted it to stop. I wanted to sleep.

As I moved along my journey to diagnosis, I started to assume this thinking was my Aspie brain at work. If this was the case, how could I get respite? As I came to understand other parts of myself it eased a little, and I would sleep more, but usually at the wrong time of day. My sofa was and is my friend. Then something happened, and it led to one of the most terrifying days of my life.

The day itself was fairly average; it was a warm, reasonably bright and pleasant, fairly typical English day in June. I had been struggling with tendonitis in both wrists for months, was experiencing a reasonable amount of pain and had both wrists in supports all the time. Pain killers helped, but I didn’t like taking so many for so long and it wasn’t making things better. The doctor had an idea, amitriptyline. It’s a drug that is often used to treat anxiety and depression, but also chronic pain. That morning I took it for the first and last time. I may have felt less pain, but this was inconsequential as it also appeared to turn everything off. I had dreamed of the day the whirring would stop, and now it had. But for me it was terrifying. I imagine this is what it would be like to suddenly lose one of your senses.

My brain didn’t work; the patterns wouldn’t form, the colors had gone and I had to think about thinking. There was no noise in my head, just nothingness in the huge space that once bustled and demand more and input, always seeking to grow and find new patterns. Now it sat quiet, and that was it. I was gone.

I’ve come a long way since that day. I have grown and learned new ways of finding respite from the information overload. Stimming is right at the top of that list, but so is not fighting who I am or wishing away a part of myself. Now my brain whirs, and so does my body. They work together, and as one I find peace.

Aspie and Proud.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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