🎶 Hello darkness my old friend… 🎶
- Simon and Garfunkel
Interests becoming obsessions and addictions. Call it what you want, but they are the thorns in my flesh. Over the years I have had so many things take over my life, forming patterns in the way I think and operate. I had simple interests like toy soldiers or marbles as a young boy. As a teenager I developed expensive interests like collecting CDs, skateboards and surfboards. In my early adulthood I moved on to time consuming interests like fishing, fishing gear, and bait. Now as an adult, I collect whiskey and running shoes. These are but a few of the things I have formed interests in over time. At first glance they seem harmless, healthy, and age appropriate, but the consequences are not always so. I have learned a lot over the years about my condition and I understand that research has shown intense interest in things to be associated with autism. As I get older I start to ask more questions about why this is so, and is it really who I am?
An interest with marbles as a 7 year old child is considered normal, but the consuming effect it had on me drove me to steal them from another child. The whole experience, including getting caught, is ingrained in my mind. My interest in sports equipment changed how I viewed and used money. Debt became normal for me as a teen/young adult. I missed a lot of precious family time as a young Dad due to spending every spare minute out fishing. My interest with running nearly broke my body. I went from not running at all to running a half marathon within 12 weeks. The driving force was unhealthy and it took 2 years to sort the physical damage out. The end result of these interests becoming obsessions, was being left with a sense of failure and disappointment in myself. Confidence was lost, and I believed that I was unable to control myself. Therefore, I avoided the things I obsessed about as much as I could.
I have managed to get these big issues under control, but lately I have had an eye-opening experience. Why is it, as an autist, that my interests become obsessions and addictions? The main reasons I have heard is that we don’t have social filters and are black and white thinkers, therefore, when we develop interests, we go 100% in. Interests are different though from the things that control my behavior/compulsions. Take grocery shopping for example. I am not interested in the shopping receipt, yet I will always take it. I’m not interested in my shopping bag, but I can only ever use the same one. What about things around the house? No one dares fill the dishwasher as it has to be done in the way only I know how. Cups, plates and cutlery don’t interest me, but I have to use the same ones or I can’t enjoy food or drink. Even the amount of hot water in a cup of tea matters. Regarding socialising, why is it that in discussions I always talk about me when around others?
Recently, I began to notice that I was developing a fixation with beer. The supermarket where I shop began selling some beer at a 50% discount. They were nearly past the expiry date but with some sorts of beer, due to the yeast and alcohol content, expiry doesn’t really matter and can even enhance the taste. This resulted in me looking for these lovely beers, buying them, and storing them in the fridge. When the fridge became full, I stored them above the cupboards. When there was no more room above the cupboards, I began to question what was going on as I was hoarding again. The obvious solution is to drink the beer, but when an interest becomes an obsession then this is not an option, because if you use it, then you no longer have it anymore. It wasn’t just the beer. The numbers associated with running began to matter again. I had become rigid with how I made food, did household tasks and spent money. I also struggled with my agenda; although I had all the time in the world, I had no time at all. Muscle spasms became daily occurrences and quality sleep became non existent. People around me were commenting that I was also becoming withdrawn, so I reached out to the doctor for help.
Around 4 years ago my psychiatrist started me on a very low dose of medication and it did help take the edge off all the daily inputs that overstimulate me. When I returned to the doctor to discuss my state of mind, he decided to double this dose and the impact was incredible. The first thing to happen was that sleep returned, and after a week I began to notice that the obsessive thinking began to quieten. Why is it that medication can calm the obsessiveness in my behavior? Was it that my obsessiveness was just my autism trying to take control where it could, attempting to alleviate the lack of control I had over the external factors that surround me?
One thing that hurts is that I believed that it was me, who chose to steal those marbles, me who was too weak to avoid debt, me who couldn’t stop the urge to go fishing, and me who has to control food and conversation. The truth is that it is not me, but instead my disorder feeling a loss of control, that drives these obsessions. This was my eye-opening experience where I realised that my battle against this obsessive side of me is one that shouldn’t be fought with frustration, but instead with grace.
Yes I am ultimately responsible for my actions, but I need to see that my actions aren’t always the response of who I am as a person, but the response of my disability. Next time I find myself talking about myself in a social setting, and not the other, then I will extend to myself grace instead of embarrassment. Obsessions and addictions may be a consequence of my autism, but the consequence of grace is the ability to be kind to myself in light of this reality.