The Self-injurious Stims that I Love

CW: Self-injurious stims involving skin, hair, and knives

My self-injurious stims:

  • Trichtillomania – hair-pulling
  • Dermatillomania – skin-picking, particularly but not exclusively the scalp
  • Shaving the skin off my hands with pocket knives

My scalp takes the brunt of my stimming. I pull my hair and dig bloody furrows with my fingernails. Periods of my life were marked by sores on my forehead where the furrows trespassed beyond the hairline. Those healed, but the bald patches are permanent.

My hands bear multiple nicks from exfoliating with knives. There are raw, pink patches where I’ve shaved close to quickened flesh. While those areas heal I tend to others with my collection of pocket knives — so many different blade shapes and grinds with which to peel strips of skin.

These stims have been lifelong companions. They give me great comfort despite the bloody scalp, hands, and fingernails. There have been periods of my life where I and others tried to stymie them, but no longer.

I love scratching my head. Love, love, love. The feel from both head and hand is satisfying, comforting, and necessary. Life is more bearable with the pressure of fingernail on scalp. Life is better when I can scratch, pick, peel, and pull.

Instead of suppressing these stims as I occasionally and unsuccessfully tried over the first four decades of life, I seek a balance that can be covered with a cap.

I buy beanie hats that:

  • cover the sores on my head
  • provide access to my scalp while wearing the hat
  • cover and squeeze my ears for sensory management

I like wearing beanies as sensory management, but they get in the way of scratching. I’ve taken to wearing beanies that are either thin enough or have loose enough stitching to allow my fingernails to gain purchase in my scalp. I can stim in my favorite way while still having my ears covered and my sores obscured from public. I’ll also use slouchy beanies that allow me to get my hand up under the hat while it’s still on, although those don’t provide as much ear pressure as I like. Someone make a stimmer’s beanie that accommodates fingernails while still providing ear pressure.

As for my knife-shaven hands, they don’t have sores like my scalp, so they’re not as anti-social. Regardless, I welcome the normalization of fist bumps and, even better, not touching each other at all.

My self-injurious stims are a great comfort. They’ve gotten me through so much. I no longer try to live without them. I wish all the people who tried to suppress them as a kid had just given me a beanie, let me wear it at school, and let me scratch, scratch, scratch. That would have made the tidal immensity of fear and stress I constantly felt more bearable.

My Phone Sling Everyday Carry

My phone sling is my constant companion. The sling itself is a purpose-suited Ethnotek Chaalo Pocket and the contents are my carefully curated coping treasures covering six categories of quotidian need.

  • Cognitive Net and Executive Function
  • Sensory Management
  • PPE
  • Tools
  • Fidgets
  • Wallet

Cognitive Net and Executive Function

The primary purpose of the phone sling is quick draw access to my cognitive net: my phone and my index cards. These are first-order retrievable with one hand at all times.

My phone is an iPhone 12 Pro Max in an Apple MagSafe silicone case. Ulysses, Things, Fantastical, and DEVONthink live on my phone and get me through my days. I couldn’t cope and be productive without them.

MagSafe silicone case in Pink Citrus for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is not pictured because it's taking the picture
MagSafe silicone case in Pink Citrus for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is not pictured because it’s taking the picture

Digital is my productivity home, but I like to supplement digital with a touch of analog in the form of index cards. Each day, I transcribe 10 items or fewer from Things onto an index card. I use a second index card as a scratchpad for stack capture: takeout orders, notes to self, measurements, etc. I arrange the two cards back-to-back via a hacked-together double-sided index cardholder made from two Rite in the Rain index card wallets.

Fabricobbled double-sided index card holder with double-sided marker in pen loop
Fabricobbled double-sided index card holder with double-sided marker in pen loop

My index cards are silky soft 3”x5” Exacompta with a 5×5 mm grid that is perfect for accommodating 10 double-spaced checklist items. Over lots of iteration, I arrived at a very similar style to the Analog system. When it was announced, I tweaked my style to match Analog’s. I’ve been using the Analog method for months now and am ready for when my official Analog set arrives.

After trying many, many, many different styles of pens and inks for EDC, I now default to double-sided markers as my go-to writing instruments. My handwriting feels most comfortable and legible with felt tips. Double-sided markers let me make checklists on my index cards with the extra fine tip and make labels with the fine tip. They’re also cheap and not painful to lose. My current marker of choice is the Zebra Mackee Care Refillable Double-Sided Marker – Extra Fine / Fine in Black. I also like:

These are label markers with bold, consistent lines that work well on index cards and gaffer tape. I like ‘em.

Index cards allow me to avoid the distractions of the phone. I can get on task with the to-do list or capture stack with the scratchpad without getting waylaid by the infinite offerings of the phone.

The phone is one-hand retrievable from a dedicated phone pocket in the interior of the sling. The index cardholder is one-hand retrievable from a slip pocket on the back of the sling. The pockets on this sling happen to fit my digital + analog cognitive net quite nicely.

Sensory Management

AirPods Pro and a Vibes earplugs case with purple foam earplugs
AirPods Pro and a Vibes earplugs case with purple foam earplugs

I don’t go anywhere without noise-cancelling headphones and ear plugs. They are essential sensory management for this hyper-sensory autistic.

Autistic Odes to Noise-cancelling Headphones – Ryan Boren

The sling has a slip pocket on the interior organizer that fits an AirPods Pro case along with a Vibes earplugs case. AirPods Pro provide portable noise-cancellation and Siri access to my cognitive net. The Vibes case holds both Vibes ear plugs and also a pair of Mack’s Slim Fit Soft Foam Earplugs.

I feel exposed and vulnerable without my sensory management. The sling keeps them always at hand.

PPE

Black Tom Bihn mask on a rock
Black Tom Bihn mask on a rock

I welcome normalized masking and always have at least one with me. My favorites so far are from Tom Bihn and Ugmonk.

The front zippered pocket of the sling contains the mask and only the mask. The interior fabric is wipeable, and I hit it with an alcohol prep pad periodically.

Tools

I’ve tried all kinds of combinations of knives and multitools and flashlights and keychain tools to cover my daily needs. I’ve found a minimum effective dose with maximum daily application to be a trio of: bottle opener + slide razor + keychain flashlight.

My current implementation of this trio:

Flashlight, bottle opener, and touch-knife attached to a magnetic quick release
Flashlight, bottle opener, and touch-knife attached to a magnetic quick release

I use all of these daily. They are cheap, lightweight, and effective. I attach them to the sling’s key lanyard via an Urban Carvers magnetic quick release.

I also keep a double-sided hank for cleaning eyeglasses and camera lenses in the main compartment and an Olfa Graphics Knife for more refined cutting tasks in a pen slot. A Tile tracker tucks into the bottom of an organizer slot. I put trackers on everything.

An Olfa graphics knife and a Tile tracker rest on a Mighty Hanks hank
An Olfa graphics knife and a Tile tracker rest on a Mighty Hanks hank

Fidgets

A Gambit token and a CIVIVI spinner pen rest on a hank
A Gambit token and a CIVIVI spinner pen rest on a hank

The aforementioned magnetic quick release and Olfa graphics knife are good tactile and auditory stims. I also carry two things specifically as fidgets:

The pen is primarily a fidget but is also useful when I need a pen for paper incompatible with my double-sided marker. It lives in a pen slot on the interior organizer.

There are several ways to fidget with the Gambit token. I enjoy it. It rests somewhat inconveniently at the bottom of the main compartment, but diving for it feels like discovering a doubloon. Even so, I’d love a shallow coin pocket near the top of the main compartment.

Wallet

I rarely go out, and when I do it’s pre-paid curbside pickups. On those rare occasions I have to pay in person, I usually use Apple Pay via my watch. I don’t have a daily need for a wallet, so I keep it light and multi-functional with a Moft MagSafe wallet. It’s a phone stand that also compactly holds my ID and a couple of cards.

A Moft wallet and a hank pose on a rock
A Moft wallet and a hank pose on a rock

I like combining wallet and phone for cognitive simplicity. I never lose my phone, and the wallet goes along for the ride. But, magnetic charging compatibility means having a detachable phone wallet to keep up with. When the Moft is not attached to the phone, it is in the main pocket of the sling along with the fidget token and hank. It’s always either on the phone or in the sling. So must it be for my sanity.

That’s it. I also have belly bag, tablet sling, laptop messenger, and spinner suitcase load-outs that I might do blog posts for now that I’m retired. I love bags and curating collections within their confines.

What bag gets you through your day?

Autistic Odes to Noise-cancelling Headphones

Parents and educators, check out these autistic odes to noise-cancelling headphones. They imply a lot about neurology and how misguided behaviorism is. In her thesis that introduced neurodiversity, Judy Singer called computers an essential prosthetic device for autistics. That they are. A decent set of noise-cancelling headphones is another essential device. I remember my first pair of noise cancellers. They were a revelation in sensory management. I wish they existed when I was in school. Normalize them in our classrooms, and get them to our autistic and sensory overloaded students.

The Sonic Bliss of Quintessential Autistic Gear: Noise Cancelling Headphones » The Aspergian

I’ve had AirPods Pro for a few weeks. They are pocketable and effective sensory regulation that is always with me. Noise-cancellation in such a portable package is a boon to my sensory management. Again, I wish I had them in my K-12 years. They would have changed my life and avoided some meltdowns and burnout.

Note: noise-cancelling headphones are not for everyone. They can aggravate hyperacusis and misophonia. If you can, try noise-cancellation from different manufacturers to see if one is more compatible with you. I’m fortunate to be compatible with the Sony, Sennheiser, and Apple noise-cancellation I’ve tried. They all work for me.