#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 27: “Stim” stim-doodle/doodle-stim

A portrait-orientation doodle, in coloured pen, featuring the word “stim” in ALL CAPS repeated five times, in varying fonts, colours and styles. The words are decorated with, and surrounded by, many line-drawn shapes and patterns.

Doodling is a stim, and here is a doodle about stimming. A stim-themed doodle-stim/stim-doodle.

How very meta.

[Image: A portrait-orientation doodle, in coloured pen, featuring the word “stim” in ALL CAPS repeated five times, in varying fonts, colours and styles. The words are decorated with, and surrounded by, many line-drawn shapes and patterns.]

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 20: Sycamore leaves

Coloured fine liner pen drawing in landscape orientation of sycamore leaves in autumnal shades, close up, with many leaves overlapping others

It’s April and I live in the UK which means it’s spring, so obviously I didn’t draw this one recently. But it’s a nice reminder of the colours that I love, from a season which mixes beauty and vibrancy with loss, decay, and darkness.

I love autumn leaves – there’s so much to look at and appreciate about them.

[Image description: full-colour fine liner pen drawing in landscape orientation of sycamore leaves coloured in somewhat stylised autumnal shades, close up, with many leaves overlapping others].

#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles, no. 16: Ooohhh! Deeeetails!

Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Oohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.

Autistics like me see, hear, and feel the details. Everywhere. We can’t stop our brains from detecting everything. When we’re vulnerable, tired, stressed, or anxious, or already overloaded, it’s hard to cope.

But sometimes, details can be delicious. When I’m relaxed, I revel in them. And sometimes, drawing my focus towards one particular detail or cluster of details keeps the rest of the clutter out of view.

[Image description: Cartoon Mama Pineapple, full colour, drawn in felt tip. A white female-presenting person with brown midlength hair clipped to one side. She is wearing a pink top, and has her hands clapped together an a lovestruck, dreamlike expression on her face. The words “Ooohhh! Deeeetails!” Are written above her, and coloured love hearts radiate outwards from the image.]

In praise of the brick

A row of brightly coloured, plastic Lego minifigures, in a range of poses and mismatched costumes, carrying a wide variety of props.
In between bouts of abject misery, whilst I’ve been off work over the summer holidays I’ve been immersed in a nice little obsession that has gripped every single member of our four-person household.

My husband was always a huge Lego fan as a child, and was always eager, from her birth, for our girl to reach an age where she might, just might, develop an interest in it. And although she showed little interest in the larger Duplo blocks as a toddler, that interest did come as she approached three, and for the past couple of years, building increasingly off-the-wall creations with those little coloured plastic bricks, plates and “elements” has been one of dad and daughter’s chief ways of bonding.

It’s hard to get her to put down the hardback Lego Ideas books she stays awake at night poring over. It’s an outlet for her feverish, ever-active, ever-inspired imagination. And it’s a compulsive habit for all of us.

As a child, Lego was simply one of the many things I played with. My younger brother had space and police sets. I gravitated towards the classic, multicoloured stuff and mainly built houses. Or house layouts. Single-storey roofless semi-open plan buildings with every room, and every appliance accounted for. All fairly basic. I enjoyed the creativity inherent in trying to replicate the look and feel of everyday items using materials constrained in their shape or colour. But the primary outlet for my wilder imaginings as a child was drawing. 

Now, however, it’s a different story. We have masses of the stuff. My husband takes great enjoyment in building pre-designed sets straight from the box. Daughter initially watched him build, enthralled, but these days takes a far more active role. And later, when the purchased, assembled sets are dismantled (and I have to disregard the inner wince I experience as the strict inventory of bricks from one set is mingled in with the rest of our stash of plastic), my daughter starts inventing. She also loves collecting minifigures, but is always happy, once again, to dismantle their intended forms and create her own monster minifigure mashups.

Our toddler is captivated by it all. Of course, his involvement has mainly, until now, consisted of dismantling his sister’s creations (and yet never smashing. He’s always take them apart bit by bit, examining the pieces) or running off with much-needed elements. Now he’s sorting the bits into type, assessing and grouping sizes and shapes, building towers of bricks of one particular type or another, and showing a level of dexterity and manual strength I’m pretty amazed at for a not-quite-two-year-old.

(And yes, I know he’s not old enough for it. He should stick to his Duplo. But he doesn’t put the bits in his mouth. He plays with them. Properly. He puts them together logically, and takes them apart. We supervise him. And we’re all happy.)
Front view of a small two-storey model house constructed primarily of beige, grey and brown Lego bricks, with double doors, white framed windows and navy blue roof tiles. In the front doorway stands a blank faced minifigure wearing a tricorn hat. On a balcony on the right of the picture stands a simple two-eyed 'ghost' constructed of white bricks.
And although it’s always been my husband’s domain (as the stay-at-home parent, he’s always had more available time), over the holidays I’ve really got in on the act.

Lego is just so phenomenally pleasing. It’s tactile. Stimmy. And despite the fact I’m hugely, and often adversely, sensitive to noise, I find myself enjoying the sound of the bricks as they crash and rattle through my hands as I run them through the box, searching for the right element. It’s akin to white noise, I suppose.

The design of each individual element can be utterly exquisite. And the beauty of the sets you can buy suggests that those who designed them had a hell of a lot of fun in putting those ideas together. Some are beguiling in their apparent simplicity; others dazzlingly, deliciously complex. Others still, especially those builds on a micro scale, make my heart sing with the way the very essence of an animal, person or object is conveyed by such a limited combination of component parts. 

Of course, there’s so much more scope now than there was when I was a child. The range of available elements is astonishing. And sometimes this raises expectations too high. You have a seemingly ridiculous range of materials from which to build from, and yet not quite enough of certain items to build your envisaged design to absolute perfection. Perhaps tighter constraints are, sometimes, liberating. But variety can also be hugely fun, and hugely exciting.

The interior of a small two-story house made of Lego bricks. On the left is a brown staircase with a 'Mr Hyde' type figures standing in it. A small 'ghost' peers out of a first floor door, and a larger one stands on the ground floor, to the right of the picture. Dimly visible in the background is a minifigure wearing a tricorn hat.This week, I built a haunted house for my daughter, at her request. It was an addictive process. I’ve struggled to tear myself away from the build, and once again, I’ve found myself utterly immersed, compelled. Always keen to improve on the structure and appearance of the thing.

At night, I’ve seen bricks in my mind’s eye. And even while ‘Picture This’ was playing in my head as I took my “need for space” walk earlier this week, and I noticed leaf formations, the shapes of trees, the light of the moon in the sky, and my feelings about past walks and past personal experiences and depressive episodes, I still found myself looking at buildings anew. Evaluating and appraising their structures, and wondering how such a thing might be conveyed in studded plastic form.

Daughter added embellishments, decor and furniture to the house, and two out of the three simple brick-ghost inhabitants. The husband added a couple of spooky minifigures.

A two-storey house built of brown, grey and beige Lego bricks. A simple 'ghost' made of white bricks stands in an upstairs balcony.It’s the most complex thing I’ve ever built out of Lego. And I’m bloody pleased with it. But also dissatisfied because I’m aware there are better techniques for ensuring structural integrity, optimum ordering of building of each part, and so on. The pattern-spotting, detail-fixated autist in me sees room for improvement everywhere, and a keenness to learn, observe, and do more. The trouble is, I’ll be back at work soon. I’ll have less time.

But I don’t think I can let go of Lego. It’s got me, dammit.

It’s never all bad.

[Author’s note: I’m publishing this post almost simultaneously with a previous one because I had both stored up as drafts in my paper notebook, but hadn’t had sufficient “get-up-and-go” to publish them until now. This is the more recent of the two.. However, I felt that the other post was sufficiently time-specific to need publishing pretty sharpish; hence, a buy-one-get-one-free, one time only offer.

Trigger warning: mental illness.]

It’s only dawned on me over the past few days that I have recently become horribly depressed.

In recent years, I’ve grown so accustomed to anxiety being my particular mental illness du jour that this particular “episode” has caught me unawares. The gloomy weather front had been advancing, but I’d continued to try to play in fading sun, in denial of the specks of mental drizzle and the occasional gust of despair – forcing myself to soldier on, like an anorak-clad British holidaymaker building sandcastles on a rainy, windswept beach.

But the feeling that I’m “not good enough” is unmistakeable. The veering between floods of tears and experiencing a desperate need to cry without being physically able to do so. Even all the beautiful detail around me seeming, on occasion… somewhat flat.

I’ve been here before.

I’ve been ground down. One too many instructions to “just try and keep your reactions under control” in the face of the near-constant sensory onslaught, extreme distractibility and utter breakdown of executive function that come with being an autistic parent off work for three weeks of the summer holidays and contending with the looking-after of a five-year-old and a toddler in the throes (though he’s not reached the official age for it) of the “terrible twos”.

An awareness of A-level results being received, and the recent discussions about “giftedness” have caused me to mentally reframe much of my lifetime thus far of academic experience. And the anger has been building and building and building over all the things I didn’t achieve. All the times I felt I “wasn’t good enough” when I wasn’t playing on a level field. And I didn’t even realise I wasn’t.

I’m self-aware enough these days to recognise that the “not good enough” feelings are untrue, inaccurate, unfounded. But that doesn’t stop the anger and sadness.

And yet, it’s never all bad.

I’ve spent a day on my own. My husband and I agreed that I needed at least a couple of days entirely to myself during this final week of the holidays,

And as always, as I go about my day, I continually experience reminders of times gone by: scenes; sounds; images; smells; snatches of speech. Triggers of past memories. And though my current prevailing mood shares its similarities with those of dark times past, I can’t help but experience some pangs of nostalgia for those times. Fondness, even.

Right now, so many of the clothes I see in shops, and worn in particular by young people, are in styles that last saw the light of day when I was a teenager. I see young people in their teens and early 20s, kitted out in uncannily familiar garb and hairstyles, and my heart goes out to them. I feel compassion, admiration, wry amusement, wistfulness. But also hope. They have so much of their lives ahead of them, and I desperately want to believe that none of them are experiencing the pain I felt at their age.

And yet to say it was constant pain does my entire life a disservice. For all the years I was depressed, I still experienced joy, laughter, companionship. Long deep conversations, or just ridiculously amusing ones. The excitement of gigs and festivals. Band rehearsal camaraderie. Bright, golden sunlit days. Starry skies. Euphoria. Dancing. And oh, so much love.

During my formative years, I struggled with my sense of true self. I still do. Womanhood and femininity still come awkwardly and unnaturally to me. And yet, I have always been me, deep down, Any sense of self I did have back then was distorted by lack of self-knowledge and yet…those years were still formative.

And despite any pain, I still had so much fun. Sincerely.

It’s never all bad.

Any spike of fun a person has during an extended bout of depression does not negate the experience of that depression. It’s not a flatline. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard to bear.

I had a great day. A lengthy morning gym session. Towards the end of that, yes, I did feel the pricks of tears that wouldn’t come. It took a long time to get myself showered, dressed, and home.

But then I was out again. Gin and tonic and tapas for lunch, and an unexpected kindness from a long-not-seen friend. The necessary evil of a bit of shopping, and then a lone trip to the cinema. I revelled in the darkness of the theatre. The film, Detroit, was masterful. Harrowing. Shocking at times. Tears welled in my eyes as the ending approached. But one doesn’t always need levity and glee to be taken out of oneself. I was immersed in something other than my own gloom for over two and a half hours.

And I returned home to my family. I cuddled them, made them tea, and played makebelieve with my daughter. We visited a haunted house.

I’m still, in the grander scheme of things, depressed. But it’s never all bad. Today was good for me. 

[Featured image: bright green, somewhat “architectural” foliage – stiff, long leaves with sharp pointed tips and veins that firm concertina folds along the entire lengths of each frond.]