It has been known for me to run screaming as far away in the opposite direction as I can get on hearing the words, “Lisa, go and play.” Okay, so this is a slight exaggeration: I don’t think I’ve ever actually run away from the dreaded activity (though I could just have misplaced the memory), but I have stuck like a limpet to the nearest wall (or person) furthest away from where all the action is taking place; or insisted on doing something else entirely – like housework. Yes, give me a wet cloth and a vacuum cleaner in favour of the alarming array of ‘play things’ this world has to offer, and I’ll be as happy as an undertaker in the middle of an epidemic.
So, who in their right mind would view, with such stomach-churning apprehension, the spectre of play as being on a par with a visit from one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (five if you count Kaos in Terry Pratchett’s version)? Why, little ol’ me, and my little ol’ autistic self, of course.
Now I’m sure there are loads of non-autistics out there who would read what I’ve written and say that they know what I mean ‘cos they feel, or have felt, that way too. They’re often part of the ‘rediscovering your inner child’ brigade, and they talk about having lost or had squashed their ability to play and be creative in the drive to be grown-up and responsible, and to achieve. I know something about this stuff: I was once part of it (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...), and I got completely lost in it (it’s a VERY BIG galaxy!)
That’s not what I am talking about, though it may sound the same. That stuff is learnt, and behavioural. There’s nothing learnt in my reaction to play: it seems it’s all in the wiring (though I could be proven wrong on that point sometime in the future, as I progress on my journey of discovery to find out what makes me tick – probably an alarm clock mechanism, the way I go off at frequent intervals).
Were it simply learnt, and the result of a repressed play-instinct, I’d surely have unlearnt it by now ‘cos I’ve been wholeheartedly encouraged to express my creativity, and play, for the last fourteen years. It hasn’t made a great deal of difference. You’d have thought I was being forced to learn algebra, the way I have reacted – as if the effort was equivalent to having to wade through treacle whilst wearing lead-lined boots, and carrying an elephant.
And that, I have to say, is how it does feel a lot of the time. It’s like I have to gear myself up to use the part of my brain that doesn’t appear to work so well. I feel as if I have to find the magic password to log in (which can take what seems like aeons), only then to discover that my access to it is restricted anyway.
My idea of play is to come on the computer and read ebooks, or go surfing the web (“trawling”, as I prefer to describe my random, unauthorised, mind-numbing wanderings around anything and everything I can think of to look at, when I head off on one of my wilful, disruptive, over-stimulatory, compulsive excursions, which my ego views as ‘breaks from the stifling confinement of my daily plan.’ Yeah, right. Some break!
By the time I’ve finished (or, rather more aptly, by the time it’s finished with me, ‘cos I’m certainly not in control, much as I like to think I am) my mind is numb, my arse is numb, my right arm is numb from constant mouse-clicking, and my vocal chords also appear to have become numbed because I can hardly string two words together to form a coherent sentence.
As a child it seems I used to “play at” things, a form of copying which appears to mimic play, but was restricted by my limited imagination. So my favourite game in junior school was playing at ‘Charlie’s Angels’ (the original tv series version), and I would ALWAYS have to be the same character, Kelly Garrett. She was my favourite, so I couldn’t be anyone else. Why would I want to be?
And why would anyone want to play at anything else once you’d found a game that you liked? But apparently, according to my non-autistic friend, that’s what she and her friends would do, and what the general neurotypical child does – they make up different games every time they play. I’m completely baffled as to where they get their ideas from – obviously some place in their heads that either doesn’t exist or is hard to reach in mine. If I try to stretch my imagination it feels like I’m having a brain haemorrhage - and I can’t afford to lose anything else from up there!
I liked things that required clear guidelines and rules (at least then I knew what I was breaking when I would inevitably break them!), so I loved sports, and board games. They suited not only my imagination (or lack thereof), but also my competitive streak – less of a streak, and more of a great, gushing river. Ask me to spontaneously play and I’d look at you as if you’d asked me to spontaneously combust. I’d have more chance doing the latter, and probably more fun trying.
I play now by doing things like art and crafts. I’ve recently discovered that I seemingly have a talent for painting, which I love doing: though you wouldn’t think it if you saw what I have to go through to get started on a painting!
I bought an artist’s set that contained a load of watercolour paints, and other goodies, and some ‘proper’ watercolour brushes and paper: and then, in true autistic fashion (at least in true autistic Lisa fashion) I wouldn’t touch them, other than to open the box and admire them, and wish that I could use them. I have since used them, and I now have the fruits of my work adorning the walls of my home, which I am so pleased about. I look at my paintings and can’t believe that I did them, which is half the problem when it comes to me contemplating the next project: I doubt that I can do it again. But so far I’ve been proven wrong each time, and I just have to go through that whole process of pushing through the ‘stuckness’. It’s a bugger, though. Talk about being a tortured artist!
The ironic thing about all of this is that the one thing I have no problem playing with is words, and yet they’re the foundation of communication, and the bane of my life when it comes to having to use them to interact with other people. Go figure that one out if you can. One of God’s little ironic twists, methinks.
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."