At the back of my mind, there are three screens, like those found in the drive-in movie theatres of my youth: one in the center and two angled in at the sides, so the whole set-up resembles a trifold vantiy mirror. Here is what is on those screens, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year:
For a quarter of a century, alcohol and shame was a curtain between me and these screens, my constantly churning brain. I had been trained my entire life to believe that my thinking, my intensity, was somehow negative, that it meant I was manic, uncontrolled, obsessive. So, when I became an adult, I dropped the curtain across those screens. Last year, once I began practicing mindfulness and became alcohol-free, I lifted that curtain and realized that my thinking is my creativity and my guide. It is not to be hidden but to be disciplined.
These screens can be thoughts about anything. I choose. If I don’t decide, they have a tendency to project my darkness. One of them, for example, would default to thinking about how humans treat this earth and the living beings on it. Another could be about how I am a monster, sucking the joy out of the room the way a drain gurgles over the last drops of water.
So, I chose: the screen on the left became my work on my book, the research, the crafting of every sentence, the authenticity of my words, the development of my beloved characters. The screen on the right became my work on this blog, the way I channel my despair and frustrations and inability to orally communicate in a positive, contributing, reflective space. My brain is constantly working on these two projects. When the curtain was down, I had neither book nor blog, and I scrambled to find balance, peace, and self-worth. I would wake up throughout the night, seized with loathing and anxiety. Now, when I awaken at three in the morning, I immediately look at one or both of these screens, and I feel calm, comfortable, productive, excited.
I have read a lot about verbal vs visual vs pattern thinking as they relate to autism. I have found little beyond much appreciated anecdotal evidence that there can be an overlap and wonder how much research has been done on this. I honestly have no idea what my process is. I think in words but when I am working on a section of my novel or an analogy for my blog, I become a part of the scene more completely space I am physically occupying. My senses are triggered and I can feel the sun on my skin, hear the wind rustle through leaves, smell the fresh-cut grass, even as I type away in my darkened room.
There are patterns in everything: in nature (shells, ripples on a pond), in language (repetition, rhythm, and rhyme), in music (variations on themes). I also think in patterns, hence the endless games of Tetris. My mind is constantly working to piece the parts together, to find the smoothest, cleanest sequence that connects a to b to c to d to five to yellow to circles.
And this is where the middle screen comes into play. It is always dedicated to planning every minute of and every maneuver through my day and night. I was recently re-reading a favorite book (Reliquary, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child). A character who is in a terrifying life-or-death situation finds himself “thinking from moment to moment now, concentrating … because anything else would mean thinking of the horrors …”
I considered that. I have read that stress associated with being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world can bring about a flight-or-fight response, which, in turn, can result in myriad physical health issues, including fatigue, gastro-intestinal distress, and immune weakness. When I reread that passage from Reliquary, the one in which a character is experiencing flight-or-fight, I see the pattern: perhaps I think from moment to moment because I, too, am constantly under a high level of stress, especially when I leave my sanctuary. Perhaps my routine is so soothing to me because it relieves a bit of that moment-to-moment thinking. It is predictable, safe, and controlled, the same tetronimos falling in the same order at the same speed every time.
The Tetris game on the middle screen is about the order of things, from one step to the next. For example, it can be the measures I take to walk Reko:
- leave the bedroom with mobile phone in hand
- take walk-bag off coat hook by front door, put phone inside, and carry it to kitchen
- fill walk-bag with measured treats
- while in kitchen, move laundry from washer to dryer
- add dryer sheet and close dryer (do not start)
- turn on kitchen radio for Ladu
- while still in kitchen, fill gravy boat with water
- hang walk-bag back on coat hook on way to Ladu’s bowl with gravy boat
- pour water in Ladu’s bowl
- while at his bowl, grab poop bags
- put poop bags in walk-bag
- return gravy boat to kitchen
- walk back to front door and grab shoes of shoe shelf
- carry shoes and walk through living room from left side
- sit on couch and put on shoes
- walk back to front door on right side
- grab walk-bag and set alarm
- put leash on Reko
- walk Reko (this has its own step-by-step process)
- return walk-bag to hook
- turn on dryer
- get new poop bag
- pick up poop in front yard
- put poop bag outside back door
- water plants in front yard
- wind hose
- pick up poop in back yard
- water plants in back yard with can
- take off shoes and put on shoe shelf
- sweep — start with my room, then Adrian’s, then den
- change sheets on Swiffer, sweep living room and kitchen
- take phone from walk-bag, wipe clean, and put in bedroom
- put Tide pod on washer
- put new load in washer
- put Tide pod in washer
- start washer
- wash hands
Each bullet point has a purpose and a place, interlocking with those above and below it to create a continuous, level pathway. Walking Reko is something I do every single day and I still think about the process in a moment-to-moment way. Only, instead of just thinking about it in words, I imagine a game of Tetris, pieces matching up so neatly that the screen looks like this:
A day in which my routine is perfectly followed looks like this:
Beautiful, isn’t it?
So what happens if I can’t follow my routine?
If the change is planned in advance, say a dentist appointment in a month or breakfast with Loverne next Sunday, my day will typically look like this:
The tetrominos don’t all fit together, but I still can keep playing, stacking pieces and moving through my day as best I can. The gaps are where I deviate from the routine.
But, if there is an unexpected change, such as a neighbor stopping me on the street to talk or a loved one texting to ask if I am available to chat on the phone, this happens:
And then, things pile up, and even though I try to find stability …
I have to reset and start again. Sometimes that only takes a day … sometimes it can take weeks, depending on how disrupted I am.
But, on a good day, a day in which I am able to move through my routine as smoothly as Gene Kelly dances through his, I am a Tetris genius:
And now that I have pulled that curtain back, I get to play all the time! And I can only improve my game.
6: Tetris Planning: https://www.pcworld.com/article/2040745/computer-program-creates-8-bit-art-by-playing-a-game-of-tetris.html