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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

My Autistic Brain: Sunshine and Detours

I was just on the phone with my sister, telling her about a recent lovely event. I taught my friend and her son how to swim. The look on my friend’s face as she treaded water in the deep end and proclaimed, "I'm not drowning!" was one of the most joyous faces I’ve ever seen.

An abstract painting by autistic art therapist Jackie Schuld of the sunshine in the clouds, painted with yellows, fuchsia, and purple
"Sunshine" Acrylic painting by Jackie Schuld

My sister commented, “Look at what a well rounded life you have.”

I paused.

For while I do have a well rounded life, my mind can take some dark detours. In fact, right when my sister called, I was writing an essay about my mind taking detours.

And yet, my life does seem to be primarily sunshine at this point. I have a day-to-day schedule that I love. I enjoy writing essays like this one in the morning. I love seeing my clients in the afternoon. In the evenings I either spend time with a select group of friends or dive into another artistic project. Thanks to Egon, I also have a sense of community. I now know the majority of people in my apartment complex thanks to our multiple walks a day and Egon’s desire to say hello to everyone. I make enough income to support this lifestyle, and even put a little away for a rainy day and my retirement. It’s a pretty joyous life.

And yet, my mind can take some detours where it’s like none of that exists. Like a blanket is thrown over it and I cannot see it. Where my mind seizes on things that haven’t changed and things I want that I still don’t have. Thoughts like:

You don’t have very many friends who live near you. Why can’t you make more friends? Maybe you should try harder. Maybe you should be more accepting of people. What happens if something happens to the few friends you do have? You’ve always struggled with friends and you always will. Maybe you’re not also very likable. Maybe you don’t like many people. Maybe you don’t like yourself enough and that’s why you don’t like people.

As you can see, it gets dark fast.

Almost any topic can take a detour to self-analysis and self-judgment.

So when someone comments on how great my life is, I cringe a little. For it is great, and then there are the detours in my mind. The detours that no one can experience with me. Detours where I am alone, feeling powerless to my cascading thoughts. Detours that are painful, but others don’t quite understand why. Detours that seem insignificant or easily stopped by the outside world… but not by me.

When the detours fade, I’m back to remembering how great my life is. I wish I could stay in the place of sunshine, but it is not my lived reality. This is how my mind has been my entire life.

Now that I know I’m autistic, I understand better about why that is. In my previous essay, the one interrupted by my sister’s phone call, I wrote about how I’m exploring how much personal choice and control I have in my mind’s detours. Trying to learn how to accept my brain as is, while also developing strategies to work with it.

I think it would be unrealistic to hope for no detours. But maybe less of them, or at least still remembering the sunshine exists.


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