CW for self-harm
For those of you who don’t know, stimming is something that often goes hand in hand with autism. It’s short for self-stimulation, which is a way of helping those with sensory issues that are often associated with autism cope. It can help some focus – as was the original purpose of things like fidget-spinners and fidget cubes. It can be almost anything, such as hand-flapping, spinning, rocking, verbal stims in the form of sounds or words, tapping your foot up and down, playing with a click pen, etc. Stims are helpful in some way, and most are quite harmless. If you see an autistic person stimming in a way that seems odd but is harmless, don’t stop them, just let them do what they need to do.
That said, not all stims are harmless.
Now, I’m not talking about full blown self-harm in the form of something like cutting or burning due to depression or other mental conditions. This is more about an instinctual, subconscious thing. Such as me sitting here biting my lip while I type this.
When I say that I bite my lip, I don’t mean something cute and coy, like a movie star being flirtatious in a romance film. I mean that I bite my lip until bits of skin start to peel off, and then I end up bleeding. Sometimes I end up bleeding rather heavily, because I’ll be absentmindedly picking or biting on my lip and not realize just how thick the piece of skin that I’ve begun to tear is, and end up with a gash.
As someone who does this harmful type of stim… I honestly don’t have an answer as to whether you should stop someone doing it. I know I should say, “Yes, try to provide alternatives for the person stimming. Try to stop them from doing this, they’re hurting themselves.” But at the same time… I really love biting my lip. It’s one of my favorite stims, and I do it a lot when I’m focusing on something or deep in thought. Whenever my mom sees me doing it, she tries to get me to stop, which just annoys me. So… to be perfectly honest, I’m on the fence about what to do.
Another time I started stimming harmfully was in high school, when swine flu was scaring everyone and they were giving shots for it on campus. Shots terrify me. I’ve gotten a little better over the years: my current method to deal with medical needles is to read out-loud from a random Wikipedia entry. But back then, I hadn’t quite figured out how to deal with it. To make things worse, I’d gone into the situation believing that there was an alternative nasal spray available. It was there, but not for me (I believe it was there for a handful of students who medically couldn’t get the normal shot for whatever reason). So, I instantly freaked out, and started biting my arm quite harshly as I sat down to distract me from the fact that they were about to stick me with a needle. They ended up having I believe two teachers physically holding me down and pulling my arm out of my mouth while I screamed before they could manage to get a shot in me. (And yet still no one considered I was autistic for another four or so years…)
I think this is the easier stim for me to address, because I’ve moved on and learned better coping for it. For me, I needed a significant distraction with this stim. In that moment of panic, I couldn’t think of anything other than using pain to get through my fear of shots. Now, with the proper preparation, I can handle it. I need my brain distracted. For someone else who maybe bites themselves, it could be an oral fixation. There are some truly wonderful places around the internet where you can find necklaces and bracelets to cater to this need, and that might be a good alternative.
The truly dark side of self-harming stims is that you can cause health concerns. If you bite yourself too hard and end up breaking skin, there is a lot of bacteria in your mouth that could cause serious problems for the wound. Biting my lip could leave me at greater risk for contracting/unknowingly passing on something like cold sores. For me, something that helps curb my lip biting a little is chapstick or lipstick. I’ve found if I’m wearing it, I’m much less likely to pick on my lips. But, I don’t often wear it… simply because I like biting my lip. I should get better at it… and maybe I will in the future.
I have noticed that for me, it’s not the pain that is the reason for this stim. It’s the pealing action. I similarly have a fixation with pealing dead skin from the bottom of my foot (sorry if that’s gross, but that’s just how it is for me). So, a good alternative that I should try is something like pealing dried glue. But as long as I have dried lips, I’ll probably find myself picking on them.
Even if it’s hypocritical of me, I want to encourage those of you who have self-harming stims to search for alternatives, at least to ease up a little on the potential harm. Example: I do sometimes wear chapstick now, while five years ago I would have thrown it out and bitten myself more. If your fixation isn’t on the pain itself, focus on what the sensation you’re craving is when the pain is taken away, and find something that provides that sensation without causing harm.
If your fixation is the pain itself, then look for sources online that help with people who struggle with self-harming caused by depression and the like. They often provide suggestions for alternatives, such as wearing rubber bands and snapping them. I won’t tell you to not cause yourself pain because of some philosophy that pain itself is a ‘bad’ thing. Honestly… I don’t think so. People endure pain for tattoos and piercings, some people enjoy pain in ‘unconventional’ kinky settings, lots of people eat food so spicy that it causes them to cry just for fun; pain itself isn’t a problem in my eyes. Harm is, because harm carries health risks, and no stim should cause health risks. If your need is an oral stim, you wouldn’t chew on something with lead paint. The concept is the same. Take care of yourselves. You’re important.
For those of you who are neurotypical and reading this… please don’t judge me or others too harshly. There’s something soothing about my stims. Even the not-so-nice ones. I’m working on it in my own time.
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Image description: Some Girl with a Braid Presents: Autistic Moments – Bleeding Lips
First box: Some Girl with a Braid sits at her computer, reading absentmindedly.
Second box: Some Girl with a Braid continues to sit and read absentmindedly, with some blood beginning to come from her lip as she bites it.
Third box: Some Girl with a Braid’s lips are now bleeding rather heavily, while she continues to read absentmindedly.
Fourth box: Some Girl with a Braid’s lips continue to bleed, but she notices and says, “I really should stop doing this.” She continues to bite her lip.