Silence II: Variation

I have more than one kind of silence. There is the very bad kind, the crushing kind. That one I could do without.

There is also the heavy silence. I can force the words to come out, but each one is an effort, like lobbing boulders out of a pit. They land in the dirt around me, scattered, muffled, obscured by clouds of dust. Lobbing boulders is hard work.

There is the accidental silence. The words fly away, leaving gestures, grunts, nothing at all. “Didn’t you see my eyes get wide?” I ask The Scientist when he wonders why I didn’t warn him about the wall he was about to back into.

There is the silence of too much. Too much input. Too much to process. Too many people, things, noises, questions, answers, objects, movement. I feel myself fading into the scenery, disappearing. I become silence itself.Β 

There is hard silence. I purposefully trap the words behind a wall. I know how painful words can be, especially mine–ill-considered, spoken too quickly–they sting and stab at others. The wall keeps us both safe.

There is an old kind of silence, summoned by the fear of looking stupid, buttressed by experience. Even when I’m certain, I’m uncertain. Silence is safety. Again and again and still.

There is simply silence. Unconscious, unobserved, uncomplicated, quiet. Left alone, I could spend days in this silence.

Then there is a kind of joyful silence.

I want to say it’s like a memory I have of White Sands in January. A beautiful day, the desert sun robbed of its bite by winter. I climbed to the top of a dune, sinking my feet into the cool sand, soft and white as sugar. The desert unfolded around me in every direction, rolling away in dunes, flattening out as it approached the mountains, the horizon, the bluest sky you can imagine. Everything so clear and bright and brilliantly real and unreal.

There is a silence like that, and when I’m there, sometimes I’d like to stay just a little longer.


41 thoughts on “Silence II: Variation”

  1. I’ve always thought of silence as the natural state. And vocalization is an unnatural condition. This even applies when I’m doing one of my monologues on a favourite topics. Putting it another way conversation is something one is supposed to do when in company of others, but I’m never sure what conversation is supposed to consist of.

    To be honest, I feel more comfortable communicating via the written word as it gives me time to find the words I want to use and put them into some semblance of order.

    1. Silence feels very natural to me too. I like conversation when it’s on a topic that interests me or is thought provoking. Otherwise, I’d much rather pass the time with someone in companionable silence then just talk to fill up space.

    2. I hear you there with the written vs. spoken communication. It takes me longer to find words when I’m expected to speak them aloud, so I’ll find myself filling the space with words, trying to find the ones I actually meant to say. Writing is wonderful because I can see the context.

      1. I guess one important reason for preferring written communications is that I can go back and correct any ambiguity that I find BEFORE the message is delivered. Whereas when I’m speaking, I’m always aware that there may be more than one way to interpret what I am saying. So I’m always adding extra phrases and sentences to try and make my meaning more precise. I guess non-autistic people don’t have this problem as their words are modified by changes in tone, pitch and stress and are accompanied by body language. My voice has very little intonation and I’m told I frequently display absolutely no body language.

        I also think non-autistic people prefer to speak less precisely than I need. Not speaking in code, but sort of inferring more into what is said than the actual words used. The same also occurs in written form, but to a much lesser extent as they cannot add those subtleties of speech and body language, so it is easier for me to decipher. And of course, with reading, I’ve always got time on my side.

  2. I recognize all of these, and long for more of the joyful silence and less of the frustrating and/or painful kind. You have such a gift for putting these thoughts into words… thank you SO MUCH for sharing! πŸ™‚

  3. Using words to warn people is something I can almost never do. I just requires such quickness of words and processing. Another thing I almost never manage to do is “call the ball” like when playing volleyball to say got it. It is too much to decide to get the ball, hit it AND talk at the same time. Especially a 2 syllable phrase. If I try to say it, then I usually just stand there while the ball comes meandering around. Or hits me in the face. The best I have manages to do is to say gaaaa and get the first half of the word outs people seem to understand what I mean with that, so it works ok I guess.
    But also, that you for pointing out that not all silence is bad. Because not all silence is bad, there are tons of enjpyabke silences.

    1. I do a lot of “exclaiming” and gesturing in a warning type situation. Like if a pot is boiling over on the stove when someone else is cooking, I’ll usually say “oh! oh!” and flap in the direction of the pot. πŸ™‚ Seems to get the job done.

      Silence can be good. Very, very good.

  4. I only found one that you missed, translation silence. The silence where I’m thinking in depth about my response, searching my brain for exactly the right words because the way I understand something is not going to translate to someone else unless I put it in their type of words.

    Kind of like when someone asks you a question that would normally take a few moments and several steps to answer but you know the answer lightening fast so you then have to back up and translate where you got your answer from for people who didn’t get to it so quickly.

    I can be a bit of a speed thinker sometimes. πŸ˜‰

    1. I think I missed this one because I do my translation out loud. Which usually confuses the other person more rather than helping them. But I know exactly what you mean about needing to do this. I sometimes skip over a few steps in my thinking too and then have to unwind it for the other person, to help them make the mental leaps that I thought were obvious. πŸ™‚

  5. Silence I and Silence II – both are good – they resonate within me.
    My kids are now used to telling me, “mama, you left out a whole bunch of information and I don’t know what you are talking about. Tell me the rest.” It is frustrating, but at least they tell me.
    I have the accidental silence on a regular basis. Like: I need reverse puppy paper, some sort of magnet that would pull information out of my mind and into my speaking area and down and out my voice box. I know, I make weird metaphors. Then there is the other silence for me: If I do not use my own images from my own mind, then the talking is not happening. If I have to “try” to talk the way other people talk, it just shuts me down. If I absolutely have to talk to someone a lot i will, but it exhausts me and after a while I get (embarrassed) resentful of the person. Even though I know that it is not a rational reaction.
    Especially important for me is I have finally learned to use my defensive silence sometimes, to protect me, my kids, and/or the other person.

    1. I think it’s awesome that your kids ask for more information when they need it, like it’s no big deal. My daughter has developed all sorts of habits in relation to my atypical habits and we only realized it after I was diagnosed.

      I can totally see how resentment would build up if you feel like you’re being forced to spend precious energy on talking to someone just because you have to.

  6. Although I like music or a good television program or even using my computer, I really like the off switch on those devices. Even small talk needs an off switch. For me, silence truly is golden.

  7. How about the silence of listening? Of allowing the other person’s thoughts to build pictures in your head? NTs will talk a long time if you look at them and nod your head as the pictures begin to make sense.

    1. I don’t think I experience this, oddly. I have a lot of trouble getting from words to a visual representation in my head and when someone else is talking, if I go to a place that feels like silence for me, I won’t be hearing them at all. I think. Hmmm. This is a really interesting question. Let me think some more on it. πŸ™‚

  8. I can relate too. Does anyone else actually get sick? Like actual sickness symptoms after a prolonged conversation? A few years ago I started noticing that what I thought were gull bladder attacks ( they were actually going to take my gull bladder out) only happened a couple hours after a social gathering or longer conversation with a few people… Even if it was enjoyable at the time… I decided to quit the moms group I was hosting along with friend time over a certain time limit and my attacks stopped completely. But just last week I thought I was doing fine so I went to a Halloween party and chatted a lot and it happened again. Does anyone else get gut sick a few hours after a lot of noise or talking? This happened in childhood memories too.
    Now I find downtime, silence, reiki, meditation and computer time aid me in managing this issue.
    I love to talk when it interests me but sometimes it only ends up hurting…( if that makes any sense?)

    1. Yes, definitely. Even when I’m enjoying something, I can end up feeling physically ill after a few hours – migraine-level headache, nausea, overwhelming fatigue, uncontrollable shaking. In fact, full body shivering is my sign that I need to leave a social situation immediately, no matter how much fun I’m having. As a kid I ended up sick on nearly every vacation we took, often necessitating a trip to a walk-in clinic or ER because my symptoms came on so suddenly and seriously. As soon as we got home, I’d miraculously recover within a day.

      It’s good that you’ve recognized what was happening and have taken steps to manage it. Another thing that helps me is either limiting social event like parties to an hour or two or taking short sensory breaks during the gathering by going outside or to a quiet place for 10-15 minutes to let my brain settle.

      1. Yes! I was always in ER on every vacation too! I have never met anyone who had this. I was also fine the next day at home miraculously. There should honestly be a book for medical staff and autistics on this including this too:
        And other different things our bodies do. I have also never read anyone else with my version of weather sensitivity until I came across that post too. Everything is starting to make more sense.;)

        1. I’m oversensitive to changes in temperature too, though not as much as Jeannie describes. A medical reference would be awesome. So much more useful than all the studies about mice and stuff that researchers seem to focus on.

          1. Interesting. I actually prefer winter. I’m guessing there are several reasons. The atmosphere here is particularly clear, which makes the sunlight especially bright. I find it painful even when wearing dark glasses. Another factor is that we have a relatively high humidity all year round, and I have difficulty keeping myself comfortably cool.

            On the other hand, I find storms exhilarating. If it has thunder and lightning, all the better. As a child, I liked nothing better than to put on raincoat and hat and walk the streets. If it was dark, then the excitement was even better!

    2. Yes, I get physically sick too. Usually it will be an upset stomach or a headache (from minor, all the way to a migraine that feels like an axe in the head). The time it takes to actually feel physically ill depends on how stressful the social situation is for me (could be in the first few minutes, could take hours), but it will always happen eventually. I think its more linked to socializing itself, but noise definitely is a factor – if someone is a loud talker, I’ll have a headache within half an hour of being with them. It also happens faster when there are a lot of people talking or in a public place (like a noisy restaurant). As a kid, I would go on sleepovers sometimes because “that’s what girls do”, and I would always end up with a horrible stomach ache during and afterwards. Interesting to see that others experience this too.

  9. Your sharing is invaluable, your words so eloquent. I feel so privileged to have a window into this way of being. It makes it so much easier to relate to someone I care very much for, someone who seems to share so much of your essence.

  10. This is great. Silence can be so nice sometimes, especially getting home from an overloading situation, thoughts still going at 100 miles an hour but at least there’s nothing else to deal with. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re safe. On the other hand, there’s the silence that feels forced, when that fear takes over and I can’t get words out, or in big overwhelming groups where I can’t get words IN! xD

    1. I woke up thinking about that kind of forced silence and here you are writing about it. I think I’m going to write about it the feeling that goes with that kind of silence because it’s one that makes me super uncomfortable.

      Coming home to an empty house after an overloading situation is the best. I’m so thankful that I have a quiet place to retreat to.

  11. Beautifully expressed, I understand these silences. Talking can be exhausting and noise can disorient and wear me down quite easily. Retreating and just hanging out in quiet is important to my well being.

  12. I’m so touched by this post – absolute beauty. As an NT parent, I often feel hurt that my son doesn’t want to talk to me. But I now recognize the silence of too much, and the hard silence, protecting himself, protecting me. And the picture of the white desert sands: lovely!

    1. Talking can be a lot of work. πŸ™‚ Maybe at times you can join him in some sort of silent sharing activity. I have a nephew who doesn’t talk much and we’ve found cool ways of spending time together that don’t involve speaking except maybe a bit of echolalic back and forth.

  13. “There is the silence of too much. Too much input. Too much to process. Too many people, things, noises, questions, answers, objects, movement. I feel myself fading into the scenery, disappearing. I become silence itself.” That’s me! After my final self defense class, which was really stressful, I became silent for a couple of days. The only times I spoke up was to announce that I would do a task that required little to no talking. Best 2 days of my life.

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