Tag Archives: experiments

Silence III: Intention

The Scientist and I have done another experiment. A twenty-four hour vow of silence. We began at noon on a Tuesday and finished at noon on Wednesday. The agreement was no spoken communication, but we would text if something urgent arose.

The first couple of hours were odd. I’ve never been intentionally silent simply to see what would happen. I’m comfortable with silence, but I felt like I was having to internalize a new rule, which made me a little tense. Also, there was the factor of the unknown. What would happen? Would we be able to sustain 24 hours of not talking?

After the first few hours, I felt myself start to settle internally. I love the sense of quiet that comes over me when I don’t have to speak or process spoken language for an extended period of time. It allows my internal processes to run uninterrupted. On a practical level, I’m more focused. Emotionally, I feel peaceful.

As the day wore on, I realized a few things:

  1. A lot of what we say in the course of a day isn’t especially necessary. We speak as a touchstone or on impulse or without even thinking.

  2. Without spoken communication, you have to pay a lot closer attention to the person you’re with. I thought it would be the opposite, that we’d feel disconnected. It turns out that not being able to shout from one room to the next about something forces you to be more intentional and aware.

  3. I’m much more naturally inclined to silence than The Scientist is. That’s not surprising.

  4. Being silent created a feeling of being present, focused and energized. I felt more mindful of my actions during the day.

  5. Not being able to communicate complex ideas would get frustrating if I did this for more than a day. We managed to communicate simple things with gestures: time to walk the dog, meet you on the couch in five minutes to watch TV. Beyond that, I had little idea what The Scientist was thinking, which was strange and a bit disorienting.

We managed to make it the full twenty-four hours. Sort of. The Scientist had to take a work-related phone call and he volunteered to go pick up a package at our apartment building’s office. I slipped once and exclaimed “oh” when a man appeared out of the dark beside us as we were walking the dog at night.

All of those felt like reasonable exceptions to the experiment. We never did have to text each other about anything.


I now understand why monasteries that limit or prohibit talking have strict routines. We relied a lot on routine to navigate the day without speech. We always walk the dog after dinner. We always go to the gym on Wednesday morning. If not for those routines, it would have been harder to get on the same page about all the simple activities that fill up our days.

A caveat if you’re thinking about trying this at home: twenty-four hours of silence can drive you deeply inside yourself. The Scientist and I both agreed that we liked this part of the experience a lot. However, two days later I found myself experiencing some intense feelings that had surfaced as a result. If you decide to take your own 24-hour vow of silence, it’s a good idea to be sure you have a support network in place, in the event that you find yourself having a similar experience.

Like our other experiments, this one has taken on a permanent nature. We’ve decided that from now on, Mondays will be silent. I’m looking forward to seeing what the long-term effects of having one nonspeaking day a week will be. And, of course, I’ll be back to share the details.

Rules to Live By

Back when I first started reading about ASD, I came across David Finch’s “Journal of Best Practices.” If you haven’t read it, all you need to know is that after being diagnosed with Asperger’s he started keeping a journal filled with social rules (best practices) that he wanted to remember.

What a great idea, I thought. I should do that!

Yeah. It turns out that I’m not anything like David Finch. He went about cataloging the rules he was learning with a humor and fanaticism that I just don’t have. I wrote down the rules I was learning for approximately . . . two weeks. Then I got distracted by some other bright shiny thing I can’t remember and abandoned the file.

As I was cleaning out my Google docs folder recently, I came across the rules I’d written down. And I have no idea what the point was, because unlike Finch, who actually set about following the rules he’d learned, all I did was write snarky explanations to justify breaking the rules.

That was a year ago, so I thought it might be fun to revisit them. For each, I’ve listed the rule, my response from a year ago and my current response.  Continue reading Rules to Live By

What I Want

At the end of July I embarked on a 30-day experiment, the aptly-named “What Do I Want” experiment. My intention was to report back at the end of August with a neat little of summary of what I’d learned.


Initially, I thought “what do I want?” meant learning to identify my needs and desires. That sounded intimidating. I had little idea where to begin so I began obsessing over decisionmaking. It was concrete and easy to construct rules around. It was also just scratching the surface of what I needed to be doing.

Wading deeper into the experiment, it became more difficult to separate what I want from other big questions of identity. What I am. How I act. How I think. Who I want to be.

I gradually began to realize that being autistic and alexithymic is only part of what makes “what do I want?” so hard to answer. There is a secondary element at work, an old defense mechanism. Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.  Continue reading What I Want

Monday Morning Musings (8/12)

Doing What I Want Experiment: Week 2

Realizations from week 2:

24/7 self-improvement doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work for me. I’ve given myself permission to fall back on old habits occasionally if I’m feeling too vulnerable or uncertain. More on this in a future post because it feels important.

Convenience should not be a major deciding factor for fun activities. Fun or rewarding activities are worth investing extra effort in.

Being open to spontaneity is part of good decision making. “But I always . . .” and “But I never . . .”  thoughts are not.

Being nice to myself is a valid reason for making a decision. I don’t need further justification.

For minor decisions, I don’t have to make the absolute best possible choice, I just have to make a choice I’ll be happy with. It doesn’t matter whether the Mai Tai will make me fractionally happier than the Margarita or I like the blue sweater slightly more than the red one. If I’ll be happy with either choice, I can choose on a whim and be done with it. I don’t have to try to be more happy or as happy as is humanly possible as the result of a decision. Buying a sweater is not the same as buying a car.  Continue reading Monday Morning Musings (8/12)

Monday Morning Musings (8/5)

Doing What I Want Experiment: Week 1

Some reflections from the first week of my “What do I want?” experiment:

The first two nights I dreamt about making decisions. My brain is  uber-serious about this experiment.

Side note: I’ve been having weird disturbing dreams all week. Not sure if that’s related to pushing myself out of my comfort zone with decision making or something else.

Decision making seems to be a multi-step process:

1. realize that a decision is required
2. sense my wants
3. align the wants with possible options for fulfilling them
4. choose among them based on convenience, preference, etc.

. . . okay, clearly more work is needed on the “just feel it” part of decision making

I made two big decisions:

The first was emotionally hard. I was proud of myself because I overrode my instinct to make the other person happy. It took a lot of effort but I felt accomplished when I decided to do what would be best and healthiest for me.

The second was a situation where I would normally have defaulted to making plans based on what the other person was doing, but I overrode that and thought about what I really wanted. The end result is I’m going to be doing something in the fall that I find a little scary but exciting.

I tried setting a 30-second time limit on minor decisions. Meh. I need a better strategy for minor decisions.

When a decision feels frightening, it might be because I don’t have enough information so I should ask for more details.

Funniest moment: The Scientist was rearranging the couch/hassock for TV watching and asked where I like to sit. I replied “however you like it is fine—no, no, wait, wait, in the hole” which he magically understood as “I like to sink into the crack between the cushions so put the hassock where I can do that and still put my feet up comfortably.” The magic of being married forever. Also, look at how I caught myself defaulting to his preference and changed strategies – yay!

Key realization: I’m an adult. I can decide how to use my time. If I’m bored, I can actively choose to do something else. This probably sounds stupid but I’m throwing it out there because it was a revelation to me.  Continue reading Monday Morning Musings (8/5)

What Do I Want?

The Scientist has proposed a 30-day experiment. He says I need to practice doing what I want to do. He says, in addition to being good for me, it will help him to get to know me better. We’ve known each other for 28 years, so this feels a little late in the game for getting to know each other better. And yet . . .

What really intrigued me about his proposal is how it might help me get to know myself better. If you’re a long time reader, you might remember that last year I wrote about how much difficulty I have figuring out what I want. I often haphazardly make minor decisions, only to find I’m unhappy with the results. Here’s an example, the one that sparked the idea for the experiment:

I tried out a new recipe for dinner last week–a light summer mix of fresh tomatoes, red onions, squash and fried okra from the farmer’s market. When The Scientist tasted it, he said the flavor was too strong for him but he’d make some pasta to toss the veggies with. Since I was already cooking, I made the pasta, and for some reason I mixed all of the veggies with the pasta instead of setting my half aside. The resulting pasta dish tasted okay, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when I chose the recipe.

After dinner I was feeling gloomy, silently perseverating. As we were sitting down to watch TV, I blurted out, “I have no idea why I ate that. It wasn’t what I wanted.”

The Scientist, surprised by how upset I was, asked why I ate it if I didn’t want it. My answer: “I don’t know.”

A longish discussion ensued. The next day. Because we’re slow to process things. One of the conclusions we came to is that I sometimes do things to please other people at the expense of own preferences. Strangely, this seems to be more of a reflex action than a conscious choice.

So the experiment is this: for 30 days, I’m supposed to do whatever I want. This is alarmingly vague.

What do I want? Decision making–even the simplest decisions–can tie me up in knots. My primary decision-making strategies:

1. What do you want? I’ve noticed that other people often have stronger preferences or are more aware of what they want or like than I am. If what they suggest isn’t objectionable to me, I’ll go along with their choice. Decision making by proxy. Simple. Efficient. And probably one of the main reasons I have so much trouble figuring out my own wants and preferences.

2. I don’t want A. By default I must want B. If someone says “do you want Chinese food or Pizza?” it rarely occurs to me that I actually want a burger.

3. This is too hard. I give up. When there are too many options, I don’t know where to start. I choose the first option that isn’t terrible. These are often the choices I end up feeling most ambivalent about.

4. I want A but it’s too much work. I’ll just settle for B. This is how I made decisions when I’m overloaded. I would love ice cream right now but going out to get it sounds exhausting so I’ll have this peach instead.

5. I want this thing and nothing else. This sounds great. It’s not. What I want is often imaginary. In my head it’s this perfect thing. In reality, it turns out to be a pale shadow of what I anticipated.

6. I want A, but I can tell you want B. If one of us has to be disappointed, I’d rather it be me. This makes me sound like such a martyr. Honestly,  it’s an annoying reflex response that I need to cure myself of. Done too often, it breeds resentment.

Writing this out helps me understand better why I often feel ambivalent or unsatisfied with minor decisions. I need new strategies. The Scientist says to try just feeling it. This is hard. I’m used to making decisions based on logic and reasoning.

But . . . 30 days of being with this question of “what do I want?” might change that. We’ll see.

Nightmares: An Experiment in Anxiety Management

Warning: This contains some nongraphic descriptions of violent/disturbing nightmares. 

I have a lot of nightmares. If the statistics at WebMD are correct, I fall into the 2-8% of the adult population that has nightmares more than once a month. I’d love to know the percentage of people who have nightmares more than once a week. I bet that would make me feel really special.

Lately, though, I’m getting fed up with the nightmares. I’m ready to get myself into the 90+ percent of people who don’t regularly dream about being chased and assaulted.

Locating the Source of the Problem

Recently I began to suspect that my nightmares were related to my Asperger’s. Since finding out that I’m an aspie, this has been my default explanation for anything out of the ordinary.

Some digging through the PubMed database failed to turn up any research strongly linking nightmares and autism. Autistic kids are known to have a very high incidence of sleep disorders (look for a separate post on this next week). Some studies reported that as many as 80% of children with ASD have some form of insomnia. But nightmares haven’t been strongly linked to autism in children and, not surprisingly, there were no studies on sleep disorders in autistic adults.

My next stop was Google. If Asperger’s wasn’t to blame, I needed to find a likely suspect, and where better to hunt for clues than the internet, right?

Visits to WebMD and the International Association for the Study of Dreams turned up good background information about adult nightmares. I scanned through the common causes: medication or withdrawal from medication/alcohol, late-night snacking (because it increases metabolism), a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression.

Aha! There it was. Anxiety. Asperger’s was to blame after all.

Sort of.

Connecting the Dots

Since I’ve been paying closer attention, I’ve noticed that my nightmares fall into two categories: violent or rage-filled.

The violent nightmares are closer to what most people think of when they think nightmare: being chased, being attacked, being seriously injured. The threatening person (or people) is always a stranger. The dreams used to end in me being seriously injured or nearly dying. A few years ago they shifted. Now the violent dreams almost always end with me seriously injuring or killing the attacker(s). If this sounds like an improvement, trust me, it’s not.

The rage-filled nightmares are characterized by me getting extremely angry with someone I know and blowing up at them. I’m not the kind of person who screams and rages at people in my waking life, so doing it in a dream is strange and disturbing. The rage feels uncontrollable and far more extreme than anything I’ve ever experienced in a sustained way while awake. It feels like I’ve snapped.

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Over time, I’ve noticed a pattern in when I have nightmares. I can go weeks without a bad dream and then I’ll have a string of nights filled with long vivid nightmares.

The trigger for each of the types is specific, too. The violent nightmares usually follow a day where I’ve had a frustrating social encounter with a stranger or acquaintance–something that’s left me feeling tongue-tied, inadequate or embarrassed. The rage-filled nightmares usually follow an unpleasant interaction with someone I know. Often that person will be the target of the rage in the dream.

Armed with this analysis, I went off in search of remedies.

A Possible Solution

One of the most common suggestions I found for reducing nightmares was journaling. I’ve tried journaling in the past, unsuccessfully, because part of my brain spends the whole time going “why are we writing this if no one is going to read it?” But the underlying principle of using journaling to process my anxiety makes sense.

My hypothesis about my nightmares: When a trigger event occurs, I’m not processing the feelings associated with it. The lack of processing in my conscious mind is forcing my subconscious to process the feelings, resulting in the unpleasant dreams.

So here is my Aspergarian solution: a spreadsheet. I’m going to track suspected trigger events and nightmares–along with a couple of other variables, like hormonal fluctuations–to see if there’s any relationship between the two.

Ideally, I’d also like to recognize triggering events and try to conscious process the feelings associated with them, no matter how unpleasant that might be. Avoiding them obviously isn’t working. Maybe making a deliberate attempt to look at the triggering situation, acknowledge what I’m feeling and then tell myself that it’s okay to feel that way will diffuse the power of the triggering events and lessen the frequency of the nightmares.

I’ll be back in a few months with a post about how this works.