Since I’m upright (for the moment), I want to talk about some necessities in the world.
In order to survive, people have to eat and drink. There is no way of getting around it. There has to be some way of getting nutrients and fluids. Yet people don’t generally consider food a horrible and shameful signifier of our bodies’ dependence on the world around us for survival. In just about every culture in the world, everyone who can manage even a little bit to do so will try to make their food taste good. There are entire cultural rituals around food. Food is not just about eating, it is often a social thing. It is also a integral part of many religious and ceremonial occasions. Those of us who eat through our mouths generally like our food to taste good, and there are thousands of recipes out there attesting to this.
People also have to sleep. Another biological necessity. And most people who can afford to do so find ways of making their beds comfortable and sometimes also pretty and good-smelling. People whose dreams consist of something other than constant nightmares tend to look forward to going to bed and sleeping after a long, hard day, because it feels good and they wake up rested and ready for another day. Even people who don’t have a comfortable place to sleep tend to look forward to the act of sleep itself. People talk about how much they look forward to bed, and also wish each other things like “sweet dreams”. People like to have good dreams when they sleep.
While individual people do not absolutely have to have sex (and not all individual people like to have sex), some members of the species do if we want people to keep being born. I don’t think I have to go into graphic detail to explain why most people consider this pleasant and a lot of people devote a lot of time to thinking about it. And people do and enjoy a whole lot of things that, while not being sex itself, still have to do with courtship and meeting (or being assigned) a romantic partner or future spouse. And this bond is usually considered a bond of love of one sort or another.
People in most places need some sort of protection from the elements. And in most places, people don’t stop at building or finding places to live in. If there is any way possible to do so, people tend to try to decorate their dwelling places and make them comfortable for themselves and their families or other people who live with them. And we also decorate our clothing and wear it in a variety of styles that reflect everything from what we think is pretty to assorted social and cultural markers.
If you’ve read this far you probably think I’m stating the obvious. (At least, I think I’m stating the obvious.) Which is that even when it comes to things that are universal or near-universal absolute physical necessities for the survival of human beings, we do not tend to believe that these things must be, because of this, somber, shameful, and impossible to enjoy, decorate, or embellish. (Yes, because I read up on the history of Quakerism before formal conversion, I know that we are one of the religions that has headed toward the extreme end of ascetic at times, and even condemned outward religious symbols that just about all of the rest of Christianity uses. I heard people joke at my meeting about how incredibly indulgent we were for having padding on our chairs. But while I’m definitely not a hedonist, I’m not an ascetic either.)
Anyway, there is a point in here. I’ve noticed that a lot of people, including people I know, have taken many of the statements I’ve made as meaning that ‘stimming’ (whether the word is being used to refer to unusual physical movements or to concentrating on unusual aspects of my environment) is sort of an idle pastime that I don’t have to do, I just like to do it, and that this is very different from situations where someone has to do them (at which point one can expect, apparently, the person to be very somber and/or frustrated about that fact).
I just want to make something clear here. Unusual mannerisms, paying attention to unusual things (or to the usual things in unusual ways), and all manner of other unusual things I do, are things I’ve had to do in one form or another my entire life. And a lot of people have tried very hard for the entire remembered part of my life to make me ashamed of these things, whether by calling me playground sorts of names, professional sorts of names, beating me up, commenting loudly on me in public even when I’m not hurting anyone, you get the picture. (Despite the things I am talking about being things that harm nobody, whereas many of the people I am talking about here have caused enormous degrees of harm to other people yet never been subject to any degree of shaming for it.) I have worked very hard not to feel awful about doing these things, particularly at times in my life when I haven’t been able to hide these things. I have also worked very hard not to do these things at all and only had it come back in my face ten times more forcefully. People should not have to feel what I felt or do what I did just because they also have to do these things.
Why do I need to do things this way? There’s a whole lot of answers to that.
Moving in certain ways often helps me understand what’s going on around me better than forcing myself to sit still does (and sitting still, even “unnaturally still”, when my body is not trying to move, can also be vital for this at times).
And moving in certain ways is just what my body does, and I imagine it has its reasons even if it’s not telling me.
Doing certain repetitive things helps me avoid doing much louder, more violent, and more conspicuous things in response to way the heck too much information at once. And actually staying somewhere when I want to stay there but doing these things, certainly beats running and hiding somewhere to do assorted repetitive things to calm myself down. Especially given that I often don’t have the capacity anymore to spend much time at all in certain settings without doing that stuff, whereas I used to get away with running and hiding more often.
Paying attention to unusual aspects of my environment is not only easier than forcing myself to pay attention to aspects of the environment that I’ve been trained by people with different neurologies than mine to believe are more important, and not only sometimes the only possible way to pay attention to anything, but it yields better and more accurate results for me, even if it doesn’t generally yield the results that people who’re into rapid identical plug-and-play responses are looking for.
And spending a good chunk of my time not straining myself into a foreign mindset is as necessary to me as sleep is to other people. And I need both that and sleep (which is one reason probably why I’ve often sacrificed sleep in order to have enough time where I could relax my brain). If it doesn’t happen, what will happen eventually is not only overload, but a very painful thing where a huge backlog of sensory information tries to flood my entire system at once. Unlike a lot of people, the standard mode of processing isn’t a relaxed and easy thing that automatically pre-filters all that stuff, it’s just something that shoves all that stuff aside and uses a clumsy imitation of standard ways of doing things, but all the stuff that’s shoved aside has to pop out somewhere and eventually it will.
At any rate, my take on all this is actually fairly simple: People do not generally question the necessity of food, water, sleep, sex, and protection from the elements. And people do generally enjoy those things quite a lot and even go out of their way to make them pleasant experiences. People even go to great lengths to make their eyeglasses pretty. In addition to the usual necessities, I also experience all the things I have described above as necessities, some of them even more urgent necessities now (with more input and responsibilities to sift through) than they used to be, and some of them completely unavoidable no matter what I do. I also see them as having the potential to be some combination of pleasant, enjoyable, useful, and beautiful, and have worked hard to see them this way despite many people telling me in one way or another that I am bad and shameful for having to do these things. I see no contradiction here, and I refuse to be all somber and distressed about doing these things just to make it clear that they’re more than pointless frivolities.