Does suppressing your sensitive intensity suck the juices out of your life?

I knew I had a lot of quirks – even as a very young child I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be something special about my perception that others didn’t share. I could look at the structure of tiny things like leaves, grass or beetles for a long time. I could observe ants (and feed them to see what paths of transport they create).

I could watch and feel a snail crawl over my palm, slowly, precisely, with utmost concentration and pleasure.

All this was so deeply satisfying to me – I almost didn’t need anything else – because it was so fascinating.

The structure of the leaf of a fern would have an infinite fractal structure, looping back into itself. In fact when I was perhaps 4 or 6 I noticed that most leaves and plants as a whole had this structure (even though I didn’t it was called a fractal then).

There were endless structure within structures.

The movements of a snail’s body and mouth as it ate fascinated me … the rhythm, the flow; the intricate micro-structure of its skin, in gradual aliveness and movement.

It was beautiful.

I was deeply satisfied by all of this.

The reflections of the sun within a glass marble were fascinating, too. Later I learnt to draw them (but never quite got “it” … maybe that is something to complete before I leave this planet).

*

In my grandmother’s house, I would sense that the walls are alive; they had a history, a character, an energy. The forest outdoors was speaking to me in a chorus of individual plants, fabulous brilliant colours, above all the smells of summer; but also – it would speak to me at a deep, deep soul level. For the first few days the intensity of this language was overwhelming, I would get intoxicated by it.

When alone, I didn’t feel alone, because I felt the presence of all these things. What’s more, now that I have this kind of language, I can say I felt the presence of spirit in all these things. The aliveness in them spoke to the aliveness in me – in the centre of my belly – directly, without the need for mediation through speech, concepts, thoughts, or perhaps even direct physical sensation.

“Oneness” or the idea that we’re all (that includes ants and stones) made of stardust wasn’t a metaphysical concept. It was the obvious reality; it was simple, yet intoxicating, inspiring, satisfying all in itself. That was perhaps a time when I was still whole.

*

The truth is, I am still that way.

My joy has always been seeing things (natural patterns and structures in particular; although I have a deep appreciation for some types of art, I’ll pick nature any time); touching things, playing with things physically, smelling things – in detail, appreciating intricate blends, layerings and complexity in all that is perceived.

My joy has also been using my body to push against things, feel the resistance of things, shift things, lift things, twirl them, balance them, mould them, reshape them, bend them … and not just things, better even was physical play with another.

(In adulthood I found it extremely hard to find an outlet for this urge; contact improvisation classes, martial arts, rock climbing were things I tried to get this whole-body skilful resistance activation sensation; or actually encouraging partners and friends to playfight.)

But the truth is, I am still that way.

I still need all this.

*

The truth is also, I didn’t realise – but I have been driving all this underground.

My sources of pleasure, my sources of aliveness.

I didn’t realise until recently I had another phase of intensely reading about autism, and the costs of passing for neurotypical, and over a period of reflection I gradually realised – I’ve learnt to do this. And now I do it a lot of the time.

There are a few valid outlets for my pleasures in a “normal” adult life – art, perhaps. Perhaps dance improvisation classes. Perhaps sculpting. Here and there, in neatly delineated, socially sanctioned, tiny labelled boxes (if one has the energy at all).

That seems fine. Why not.

*

But today I realised, as I was taking in the heady, iridescent dance of all the components in the sweet-spicy fragrance of (false) acacia blossoms walking by the edge of the forest, that as soon as I see a human on the horizon (literally) – I discipline myself. I stop. A normal person will smell that tree full of flowers for a second or two, once or twice. Not for minutes on end and many times from different angles. Not analysing and appreciating and celebrating all its exhilarating nuances.

That would totally look suspect.

That old man on the bicycle would think I’m … something is wrong with me.

*

That seems like a minor thing; everyone has to control impulses.

But the same goes for: touching the bark of every tree that I have an impulse to touch throughout the day; picking up every leaf that catches my interest; investigating with my tactile sense every plant that catches my curiosity as I walk by; climbing small things that I feel like climbing; jumping over things that I feel like jumping over; further … making the faces I feel like making (those that express my emotions); making the sounds (that would express my real emotions); moving my hands or feet when I am excited; pinching my fingers when tense; frowning too much when thinking; showing with my body how I feel, directly – through movement and shapes (the way I think); rocking my body when I need comfort; looking at things as long as I want to, when they catch my interest (and sometimes that’s a pattern of paint peeling off a wall creating an unusual (dis)harmony of colour and geometry); looking or not looking at people when that feels right; carrying things that I feel like carrying because they feel good in my palm; taking steps the way I feel like taking them, playing with the surface structures of the ground; twisting or stretching when self-regulation demands it. Being alive in the body the way it’s alive.

This is all minor. But it struck me how much of it I’m doing.

How I’m putting my self – body, expression, senses into a numbed, rigid shell for most of the day – automatically. A bit though like there’s a gun to my head. (Rocking or jumping in public? Social death?)

*

I also recalled today, when noticing how I’m not allowing myself to smell the flowers and touch the bark, how – when younger, in my early twenties (long before I figured I was autistic) – I would deliberately sneak out late at night, perhaps 1-2 AM, when nobody is in the streets. I would then do all these “forbidden” things. Touch the soil. Lie on the ground. Explore trees slowly and in detail. Touch them. Watch the water for a long time. Watch the patterns formed by autumn leaves in water puddles.

I’d also photograph all this sometimes, sometimes draw and paint (for which I have a built-in gift; which seems only coherent – I believe that’s a side-effect of my sensitivity) or just form shapes from objects, in the soil.

All this, again, would give me a feeling of being in deep, profound contact with the world – something that would fill up my soul, with awe, beauty, peace – it would create a glow in my body that lasted through the night (often with beautiful visions and hyperreal, visually elaborate dreams) until the next day – waking in peace, connection and some kind of perfectly balanced stillness.

*

But I did all that when I knew people wouldn’t see it.

Staying up late, strolling the streets and parks at midnight.

I knew I can’t be caught with that.

I didn’t ever think about or make that decision consciously. I don’t even know when it started. When I started driving all this first into the night, then underground almost completely.

Was that part of why I got so depressed, empty in my twenties?

*

I knew I couldn’t be caught touching the soil with my hands because it had things to tell me; not just its texture, the texture of the Earth herself, but all that it whispers. Just like the trees – each of which was and still is to me a unique individual, with its own face – inviting me, wanting to support me, sometimes giving me a secret gift; sometimes just … sullen, closed off; suffering; bearing a human energy (planted by humans?) or the wild; wise, kind; or naive, a bit shallow or unstable; radiating energy or folding it in; sometimes – bearing traces of other beings or events.

All of these I could read out; all of this was and is my natural language.

I could read this out for hours (and at some point did; in a workshop of butoh dance, full of similar lunatics dancing in the forest).

*

However, I am not allowed to speak my native language in my daily life.

Because it looks retarded; it looks weird; because I’d look like a lunatic, and I’m fully aware of that.

I don’t have the social skills to navigate that, either. To twist it around into humour, or otherwise get away with it. Most of the time.

I’m just scared – I must have learnt early that this cannot be, that I would break some huge, perhaps dangerous taboo if I did all this, not at night, not in hidden places. I would outcast myself even more than I’m outcast anyways, while pretending to be normal (and being, in fact, frequently depressed, burnt out, not seeing the point).

*

I had a dream recently which told me (or so I believe, having decoded its language as well as I could) that I’m killing myself with this.

Specifically, I’m killing myself with this since I was about 12. (That’s what the dream says.)

*

Another (perhaps) slightly funny aside:

I often visit Berlin. It’s not just a city full of queers (where I enjoy nobody even giving me a second glance); it’s a city with a major psychedelic drug scene. You can see that in the streets – people acting decidedly odd, being under the influence (of substances I know little about and have no interest in – ever since I’ve read Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, I somehow felt my doors are quite open naturally, apparently – more widely than is viable in this world, anyways?).

Now the cool thing about Berlin is, with so many junkies in the streets and nobody really minding them – I took, and sometimes do take, the liberty to act naturally. To touch stuff, to look at stuff, to walk slowly barefoot enjoying the feel of the puddles of warm rain, to walk in circles if I feel like or examine the structures on tree bark or a broken wall as long as I want to. People will just think I’m high on something. And that is relatively acceptable here.

*

Today I have realised how crazy this is.

Above all, reading about autism, I have realised that not everybody has to do this – not everybody has to suppress major parts of their sensory system and body language and what feels good and natural to their body in terms of movement and expressivity.

On a daily basis, all. the. time. (Except when walking alone at night, or with a lover who knows me well.)

When within visual radius of human settlements.

I did assume everyone does this (feat of suppression, daily); I just couldn’t understand why; but accepted ok, so that’s the name of the game if you want to survive. (Crazy enough; I just never gave it thought.)

*

Fear of being regarded as crazy; knowing that my natural self does look crazy.

Luckily I sometimes manage to find eccentric friends who accept me and enjoy this (me sometimes speaking in noises not words, or talking through the body the way I do, or playing in funny ways with things, or wrestling with people).

*

The thought of a partner years ago saying that I never seem to get excited about anything; expressionless; is that because I learnt to freeze rather than jump and move around? Adults saying I’m so calm and stoic, when I’m in intense pain on the inside. People still not seeing my pain. Because as a young autistic child I mastered the utmost self-control needed for keeping a straight face no matter what, no matter what?

*

Some people certainly have to pretend much more than I do. And I’m able to – have the resources and skills and energy to – passed as neurotypical and wasn’t even aware I was doing that (despite someone asking here and there whether I’m perhaps autistic on and off – that’s how I finally got the hint and realised).

I thought others have to pass, too.

That this whole world is some kind of crazy passing game, who knows what for.

*

Now that I’m thinking and learning about autism again, I’m rethinking all this. How much do I actually have to hide, for my own good. What’s worse here … is the mysterious loss of self and vitality I’ve been experiencing related to this? (Apart from all the other things it’s related to.)

The strange, complete emptiness that appeared in my teens.

The visions of light turning into visions of darkness.

*

I’ve always felt a poignant, bone-deep compassion for people whose soul is good and pure, who are slowly getting ground up by life. (I’ve seen my share of them even in childhood.) I never realised that this story was so close to home, in a way.

I thought all this is just normal, and my mounting depressions and bouts of incapacitation come from nowhere. I’m not sure yet how big this is, but it seems like a completely new light thrown on life.

(On a related note, I also thought that all people have to use utter will power to endure being their gender, like I did / do – exact same story.)

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