Stimming My Way Forward

By Cassandra Nelson

As I emerge from the studio and step down into the sun-drenched parking lot, a gust of wind hits my face and the cooling sensations race downward. The chilled air is a welcome respite, as I am still blazing hot with beads of sweat gripping my skin. I make my way through the lot to my car, noting the sedative effects of the hot yoga cruising through my brain. I smile to myself, a silent congratulatory nod for physically getting my ass there once more.

Getting there seems to be half the battle. Taking care, ie just showing up, has been a huge challenge my whole life. I am an introvert, a bookworm, a hide-out-in-bed-under-fifty-pounds-of-blankets-reading-all-day kind of human. I am tall, thin, lanky and presumed to be a highly active person. This is false. I have a naturally high metabolism combined with frequently skipped meals via trips to Hyperfocus Town and the State of Flow.

I hop into my car and turn on the radio, waiting for my yoga high to subside. The sunrays beam in through my car windows and I start to feel the heat rising up through my torso again. I roll my window down all the way to let in some fresh cool air. I stick out my arm to feel the breeze. The beads of sweat have almost dried and I feel stable enough to drive.

In the past, I have pushed myself. Living life as a professional 9-5’er, however, came with a great cost to my health. I overestimated what I could handle, not resting enough or fully tending to my sensory needs. These days I am working on slowing down and getting enough rest with regular movement. Adding in active stimming as movement helps with stress, increases joy, and boosts my overall well-being. I am exploring new and old stims as part of my sensory diet and artistic practice. As I inch closer towards a sustainable life as a mom and artist, I practice stimming as self-care and a direct way to avoid additional autistic burn out. Stimming has become a dedication to my autistic self, my tribe, and my family. I am getting better at digging up my cell’s memories, remembering what my body prefers in order to get the release it needs.

I leave the window down as I pull out. Resting my elbow on the windowless door, I let my hand open up feeling a tickle of the breeze. As I exit the driveway, I flashback to riding in the front passenger seat as a child with my Dad driving. Him barreling down the road, me leaning my head and arms fully outside the window surfing the wind. No seatbelt on, because it was the 1970’s.

“Do you remember?” I ask myself. It was in Mom’s metallic brown ‘79 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. It had a giant yellow and gold bird decal on the hood and was our family’s first new car. My Mom didn’t let me hang outside the window, but Dad did. He was the daredevil. The rebellious, Harley Davidson riding, hot rod driving, leather jacket wearing type of human.

As I turn the corner at the light, heading down a town street, I let my arm fall fully perpendicular, outside the window while gripping the steering wheel with my other hand. My open palm facing forward, capturing some air as it glides up my arm, flooding the side of my neck and face, awakening every cell in my body. Shock waves rush in, thoughts ensue: “Ohhhhh…. Wow. This feels soooo good! How am I just now remembering how good this feels?” Other logical thoughts race, like, “Is this safe or even legal?”

Moving my arm, twisting my wrist and fingers in a repetitive and rhythmic wave motion, they undulate in time to the beats and deep bass of an EDM tune.

Troubles melt and tangled wires unwind. I am in pure glee state with a beaming smile and feel my first full deep breath in weeks. Please let this be legal, I think to myself, racing down the freeway, the wind beating hard against my arm and hand. My feelings shift to sheer gratitude for finding my way back to old stims like these. Despite my late discovery of being autistic, I am learning to flick on the switch of possibility and reinvention, instead of obsessing over lost time.

I pull into my driveway, fully exhilarated, and despite my soggy and chilled state, steadily bounce into my house like Tigger. One hot shower later, I am so relaxed that my usual executive function failures and chronic procrastination can’t even locate me. I’m off the grid. Ready to rock. And so I settle in and begin…. to create.

Cassandra Nelson is a multi-creative artist, neurodiversity advocate, and facilitator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She ditched her 15-year career as a crime lab analyst and now devotes her time to studying neurodivergent creative process, making art, and promoting other artists through her creative agency, Exceptional 2 Infinity.

Find her on Instagram:@ex2infinity/@neurodivergentcreative

Photo: Pamela Musgrave Photography

Published by florence neville (she/her)

PhD student

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