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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Leave the Gremlin in the Cave: Self-Isolation as a Necessary Autistic Tool

There are times my autistic mind gets overwhelmed. It’s usually when my mind takes detours, something isn’t clear, or I’m worn out after socializing or new experiences.

It is at these moments that it is best for me to self-isolate. That looks like me going to an environment I can control (my home) and having no interaction or outside input from others (such as no talking on the phone or texting).

Our neurotypical society often argues against this strategy. They encourage you to pull yourself out. Get outside. Get moving. Talk to someone. Do everything and anything you can to feel better.

"Go Away" Watercolor Illustration by Jackie Schuld; This illustration was originally made for Jackie's book "Grief is a Mess"

However, after years of experience, I know that is terrible advice for my autistic brain that is in a space of shutdown.

What I really need is alone time and some sleep. I usually wake up feeling better the next day, or at least with the capacity to examine what I’m feeling and discern appropriate or helpful steps.

I’ve tried so many times to force myself to feel better.

I’ve taken my exhausted body outside for a walk.

I’ve called someone to lament how I’m feeling.

I almost always end up more frustrated. In that state of mind, not much gets through. I have limited capacity to hear any advice or look at things from fresh angles.

I just need to shut everything down and reboot.

And this is why I say leave the gremlin in the cave. In those moments I feel like a little gremlin. I’m moody and upset. I easily snap. I have little capacity to think outside myself and all I want is to be left alone.

If I try to force myself to interact with people in these states, I end up saying or acting in ways that I regret. I usually have to make follow-up apology calls that I was “in a bad mood” or “got upset.”

So now, I just embrace my little gremlin side. I accept that the appropriate thing to do is huddle up in my cave, feed my gremlin well (lots of yummy snacks), and get some good sleep.


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