While I was teaching in Japan, I often went to visit one of my favorite students in his private one-on-one classroom. He was in the first grade, Autistic, and the sweetest and funniest kid in the entire school. I’d often stop by to play and we really meshed well together. I understood his style of play and genuinely enjoyed myself. He knew I was a safe teacher who would always respect his boundaries and needs. We were buddies. But there was one thing that we didn’t have in common. He really loved to stand in the middle of the classroom and spin. One day while I grew nauseous watching him spin, a thought struck me.
“I never spun.” I shrugged and put it from my mind, remembering that all Autistic people are different–just as varied and unique as neurotypical people are.
It wasn’t until an hour or so later that it hit me. Wait… yes, I did. I spun obsessively. But not in a way that would seem out-of-place for your average American child in the 90s.
For a period of years, I would rollerblade for hours and hours every day on my own. And my absolute favorite thing to do while rollerblading? Spin. I would spend literally hours doing spins, skating in circles in the driveway, and spinning around support beams in our cement-floored basement.
Why did I do it? I remember it being extremely comforting. It was a time when my thoughts flowed naturally or not at all. I had mental clarity during that time, but was also able to just stop thinking when I wanted to.
The feeling of spinning or skating in circles made my mind and body relax. There’s something very natural about a circle. Something beautiful. There’s no real beginning or end. It’s solid, predictable, and reliable.
Why did I like spinning so much? Perhaps it has to do with the sure, mindless, and unchanging certainty of a circle. Maybe it was something to do with the pressure on the body I could feel as I spun.
Maybe both. Or neither.
Why do I rock when sitting and sway or rock on the balls of my feet while standing?
It feels so right. My anxiety drops away, I take deeper breaths, and my scattered thoughts slow. Rocking or swaying fill me with such a peace, calm, and genuine sense of wellbeing. Somewhere deep inside my chest something stills, unwinds, and then fills with a deep sense of assured peace.
Maybe it’s hard to understand, but it feels like getting home after a long day, being enfolded in a loved one’s arms, and sinking into a perfectly-temperatured bath all at once. It’s safe and blissful.
I’ve noticed that my rocking can give me a lot of insight into my mental, emotional, and sensorial states. The above-mentioned side-to-side rocking tends to be a soothing motion that might mean that I’m calm or content, especially if it’s slow. On the other hand, rocking front-to-back almost always means that I am in distress, panicked, or overstressed. The faster the rock, the greater the inner turmoil.
Sometimes my body begins to rock involuntarily. This usually only happens when I am very tired. It’s a rapid, abrupt movement forwards and backward as opposed to my usual, slow and gently side-to-side sway. This is a clear warning sign that shouts MELTDOWN IMMINENT! (Take cover!!)
I realized that I often have a natural urge to rock to comfort or regulate myself, but that I don’t allow the motion. It’s just another thing that I’ve involuntarily suppressed in an attempt to pass as “normal.”
I’ve gotten better in the last year at allowing myself the freedom to rock when I need to. I almost always allow myself when in private and I’ve even gotten better at rocking gently in public when it will help me cope with a situation. Undoing years of masking and mimicry will take time, but it’s an essential part of unapologetically seeking my authentic self.