I didn’t know I used my muscles in strange ways until it was pointed out to me. I didn’t know it was a thing. I hadn’t seen it in the diagnostic criteria, though I may well have been asked about it. I would have answered that I move well, no issues.
My reflexes are fast, my muscles are satisfyingly strong. They do what I tell them. My joints are awful and disobedient, but my muscles can be trained.
I didn’t think I ever walked on my tiptoes either, until I realised that I always do when barefoot. Which is why I don’t like being barefoot on anything other than the warm grass in the summer.
But I do use my muscles strangely. I use them all. I’ve been comparing. When my husband lifts a glass, he uses the bare minimum of effort. No more than needed.
When I lift a glass, my arm is tensed, I am set. My hand grips firmly. One set of muscles working against the other. It’s not that I grip it gently, it’s that I grip it with great force, whilst at the same time using the opposing muscles to prevent me from crushing it.
When I hold things my hands end up imprinted with the pattern of the held thing. The steering wheel is gripped so firmly that my hands are turned white, and my palms a rosy red. This is not nerves. This is not anxiety. This is just how I hold things. I am tensed all the way up to my shoulders, and it is conscious.
How do I know it’s conscious? I know because of my clumsiness. I always thought of myself as meticulous, fast reflexes, quick reactions, excellent ball skills, but that only goes so far. I am meticulous when I am concentrating. So long as my conscious mind is focused, I can do it all, but the second I’m distracted? It all comes tumbling down.
It’s just another thing that is me. I was labelled as clumsy by a friend, long ago. It was fair. Every day I would make tea, and whilst I was making it, she would start talking to me, and every day I spilled it. Every single day.
When I told her about the concentration thing, her eyes widened and she nodded, “That explains so much.” She said seriously, “That time I asked you to put the mugs away, and as you were putting one on the shelf, I asked you something else, and then had to shout at you to stop, because you were starting to answer, with a mug in hand, now hurtling towards all the others on the shelf at breakneck speed. You would have smashed them all.”
I would have.
As a child I remember forgetting how to breathe when stressed. I would feel the panic of it and try to control the speed of my breaths. Slow them down. Until they were so slow I would feel dizzy and drunk. It was a mistake trying to control something I shouldn’t control. I have too much control. I needed to distract myself, not concentrate.
The same over-concentrating can make me forget how to walk. Usually I like to glide. I practised walking when I was young, a book on my head, perfect balance and control.
And then something happens and I look like a dropped squid, all tangled limbs thrown in all directions. I forget how one leg swings out as the other stands firm, I hurry. Like a cartoon character starting to run before they move, legs twirling.
Maybe the reason I stride everywhere is just to reach places quickly, before I notice I’m moving.
It’s an analogy for the whole of me. If I’m concentrating on any aspect of the world – masking my autism, working out what you mean – then I am careful and meticulous, but throw in stress, a distraction, exhaustion, and it all comes tumbling down. The difference is that I have no one to shout “Stop!” at the appropriate moments. It’s a mug-smash waiting to happen.
And that’s ok. It’s ok that I work this way instead of another way. I have great skills. I can place that mug perfectly, with great panache, if left to do it my own way with no stressors.
I can do anything I set my mind to, if I set my mind. When mind and body are in harmony, then so am I.