Broken Records: On Obsessive Repetition

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Those of you who live with aspies know that we sometimes get stuck in a rut.  We fixate on a subject or topic and can’t let go of it.  We bring it up in conversation over and over again, or ask the same question, or variations on a theme of questions, that seem never-ending.  If you’ve ever wondered about the reason behind this irritating trait, I have the explanation for its occurrence, and what you can do about it.

Essentially, it is all about anxiety or frustration.  We feel unsettled or bothered by the subject we’re discussing, and it feels bad to keep it inside, like teetering on a knife-edge waiting to slip off, or like there’s a tiger inside trying to claw its way out.  It’s the same feeling NTs get when they feel the need to tell a friend about something that happened, except with us, the feeling doesn’t go away after we’ve said it.  We have to say it over and over again, hoping that the feeling will dissipate, but it doesn’t.

My father and I are both prime examples of this trait.  This morning for instance, I had an appointment that I was nervous about being late for, since I had had to reschedule it once already.  My mother was cavalier about it, and confident in her knowledge that she could get me there on time.  I however, had no such knowledge, but she, in her confidence, did not see why it was necessary to give me the exact time of our departure, so I became insistent.  I reported on the time every ten minutes, worried that, because we hadn’t set a specific time to leave, we would run late.  After my third or fourth repetition of, “Do you know what time we’re leaving?” her husband insisted, “Rabbit, I promise we won’t be late.”  That however, did not help, as it did not answer my question.  Fortunately we left soon after, before the repetition could continue.

As mentioned, my strongly-suspected-aspie father also has a tendency to exhibit this trait, though with less frequency than me.  Two nights ago, he brought home fast food, but got his girlfriend’s order mixed up.  Upon discovering his mistake, he became agitated, apologising profusely and insisting he go back to the restaurant to fix it.  She claimed it was not a big problem, but it was for him.  The frustration he felt at having failed in his task, making someone he cared about potentially unhappy, was, if our experiences are anything alike, like fire, or needles, like running on a treadmill that’s going too fast, unable to keep up, feeling like you’re going to slip off and lose control.  It is a horrible, persistent, nagging feeling that won’t go away, no matter how many times the person you’ve “hurt” tells you to let it go and that they’re not upset.  The only things in my experience that cure it, are distraction, the ability to rectify whatever went wrong, or a calming stimulus, such as a pleasing sensory experience.  When I feel like that and have talked the subject to death, the next step is to bury myself under my weighted blanket, to squash the emotion out of me until it goes away.  Finding some way of getting rid of it is important, because, especially in the case of frustration, if you don’t, it can increase and lead to meltdowns, which are stress and frustration-inducers in themselves.  The only times I ever hate having Asperger’s and being the way I am are after meltdowns, but that is a post for another day.

This post is in and of itself an example of me exercising my need for repetitive action.  My aforementioned rescheduled appointment was rescheduled again, and it wasn’t until this evening that I realised the reason for the reschedule was my fault; I had thought I had confirmed the time and date with the person I was going to see, but I only acknowledged the date, so she assumed I wasn’t coming.  The tiger is loose again and clawing at my ribcage, but somehow, sending acknowledgement of my idiocy out into cyberspace helps to sedate it, which is just as well, as June is far too hot for a weighted blanket.

So, to the NTs out there who take care of us; now you know the reason for our repetitive questioning and obsessive thought processes.  When we get that way, the best thing to do is to acknowledge it; say, “I understand that X must be very frustrating, I’d be frustrated too.  What do you think we could do to make it better?”  If we can’t come up with anything, offer suggestions; “We could go back and fix it,” “We could talk to that person,” “We could reschedule for another day.”  Do not try to change the subject, as we will feel unheard, and the frustration or anxiety will only increase.  If our repetition is due to anxiety over a specific event, but you don’t have the information we want, give us your best estimate, and an alternative or two if your estimate turns out to be wrong.  For instance, “I don’t know what time we’re leaving because we have to wait for our friends.  They should be here in fifteen minutes, but if they’re not, we’re going to leave without them/call them/call our destination and inform them of the delay.”  Information makes us secure, because possibilities are too great, too abstract and intangible, and too subject to rapid change.  This is the reason many of us hate surprises as well; they’re too uncertain and nonspecific.  However, that too is a post for another day.

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