Being Alone With Arousal

Note: this post talks about my eating disorder and about my experiences of sexual abuse, including mentions of purging (deliberately making myself vomit after meals) and dissocation. If any of those are tough for you, give this one a miss – I’ll be back on Saturday with a post about why you might find more autistic people than you’d expect in your local kink scene!


My fear of wanking came up in eating disorder therapy.

This is not wholly a surprise. Lots of things come up in eating disorder therapy, because eating disorders are deeply rooted, born of decades of cultural conditioning, dysfunctional coping mechanisms and adverse childhood experiences. But the more I’ve reflected on it, the more I’ve come to realise that my fear of wanking and my fear of food are two heads on the same beast.

One common starting point for eating disorder therapy is to consider what we’re actually afraid of. In my first round of it, two years ago, we unpacked a lot of my internalised fatphobia and my fear of taking eating to its extremes, which is an offshoot of my anxiety: it’s pretty common to consider the logical, if unlikely, extremes in any scenario. But I only got six sessions, and we didn’t have time to dive any deeper.

This time, I get a whole eight.

The thing that scares me about food is that I enjoy it. Enjoying things, I have learned, is scary and dangerous and often has real and terrible consequences. Having lived with abusers during a few critical formative periods, I learned and internalised that nothing good is without cost and that the more pleasant the calm is before the storm, the more devastating the storm will be. Best not to let my guard down, enjoy anything too much, or trust my senses to tell me when something is safe or nice.

Then there’s the complicating factor of having learned to wank through being groomed. As well as reinforcing my existing belief that my own sensory pleasures must always come at a cost, it created some really specific associations between the physical act of masturbation and a strong sense of danger. Specifically, fucking myself with an object when nobody is watching feels so wrong that it’s akin to practising a secret handshake on your own,  and fucking myself with fingers is very much the same. If there’s no webcam between my legs, nobody watching my face and nobody talking dirty to me – if there’s no audience to validate my pleasure and benefit from it – it not only feels asymmetrical and disconcerting, but dangerous.

Indulgence has always led to violence in my life.

I am now, of course, free of all the abusers who have made and reinforced that connection, but that doesn’t undo it. It’s wired into my brain like the connection between an object flying at one’s face and one’s inclination to duck. And because I’ve had so much else going on, and so many spectators available to me, I haven’t had time to rewire it.

Being horny alone feels like being in pain. It’s frightening and distracting and I don’t want it. If I do attempt to masturbate, I usually dissociate, failing to orgasm and also failing to feel my own face or entirely remember where I am. If I don’t, I have this constant nagging sensation somewhere in my physiology that feels like an alarm going off, reminding me that indulgence is possible, and therefore, so is danger.

I am fucking sick of it.

I wrote out a plan for a Masturbation Boot Camp (and yes, I titled it exactly that) which instructs me to spend day zero practising mindfulness, day seven touching my body and exploring sensation, and day fourteen actively attempting to come, with every day in between requiring an incremental step towards these goals. I showed it to my tipsy, dyslexic girlfriend, who saw straight through me and said, “And how much of this is procrastination so you don’t actually have to wank?”

It’s a great idea and it’s one I’m going to try, but she’s right. I live in fear of my body and the pleasure I can experience within it, and even the idea of self-massage or watching porn for fun fills me with sickening dread. I suck at most mindfulness activities because, between the chronic pain, the chronic trauma and the violations I’ve been subject to when I have indulged in pleasure, I don’t want to be in my body. I don’t want to ground myself in it. It’s a horrible place to be.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any other vessels to contain my soul (this is a Kingdom Hearts joke), so I’ve got to get used to this one.

I’m getting better at indulging in food, and even at indulging in food without punishing myself. Sometimes I devour cheap kebabs with gusto, and sometimes I go halvsies on a £27 Hotel Chocolat Easter egg with my partner and savour tiny mouthfuls of gourmet chocolate. I’ve managed to bully myself out of the bulimic practice of purging my meals – at first, this was because I was and am on oral hormonal birth control, and consider it a consent violation to jeopardise that without notifying anybody who might jizz in me, but over time, once I’d detached the act of eating from the act of puking, the mere hassle of purging became enough to deter me from it. Eating can still be a challenge, but it’s a rewarding one.

I’ll get back to y’all about my success with Masturbation Boot Camp. I’m hoping it’ll be a challenge, but a rewarding one, and I’ll learn to indulge in self-pleasure like I’m about to indulge in a sliver of salted caramel chocolate.

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What Autistic Meltdowns Look Like In Adults (For #AutismAcceptance Month)

The shopping centre is too busy. Too noisy. The lights are painfully bright. Every smell is violently nauseating. I try to push through; I have things to buy.

Two shops into my three-shop plan, I am disoriented. I’m in Clinton’s for a card, I know that, but everything is an assault to my senses. The cards are indistinguishable from one another. I am losing the ability to read. This sounds hyperbolic but it isn’t. I can recognise individual letters and, with a great deal of effort, entire words, but not phrases. Contextualising the words on the cards is near to impossible.

My breaths are short and sharp and I feel like not enough air is reaching my lungs but I don’t know how to rectify that. My joint pain, usually distracting but bearable, is now so close to the front of my mind that I could cry with it. I feel like I can feel every stitch of my clothing, scratching my skin, rubbing it raw. Simultaneously, I can’t quite feel any of my extremities – a combination of dissociation, and the very last of my proprioception abandoning me. My feet are too heavy and they thud clumsily underneath me as I stumble around the shop, unsure whether to ask for help or walk out but unable to soldier on like this.

I identify the shop’s exit. Leaving the shop means re-entering the shopping centre, which is busier. It takes several long moments to remind myself of the route out of the shopping centre and into fresh air. I sway on the spot in Clinton’s, vaguely aware that I look as crazy as I feel. I stare at the exit.

I leave the shop without buying anything but my chest and throat tighten as I enter the mass of people navigating the main body of the shopping centre, all desperate to reach their destinations. People brush past me and the sensory input makes me want to scream; I can’t discern whether that’s because it’s painful or because I simply cannot process anything any more. I make a series of guttural noises in the back of my mouth, a combination of humming and grunting, as I walk towards the exit onto the pavement outside. I don’t know it, but I’m weaving, unable to walk in a straight line. My vision is a tunnel but still a bright, ugly one. People’s faces are menacing blobs – if my own mother were to approach me now, I wouldn’t recognise her, and I would probably shriek at her proximity to me. (Fortunately, she is an entire county over and at home, so this will not happen.)

It’s only when I make it outside that I realise quite why my eyes were stinging – tears. I draw a deep, shaky breath and pull my phone out. By the time my partner answers my call, I am already sobbing.


Meltdowns related to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) look different in everybody. For me, they are additionally complicated by my other mental health problems (namely: depression, anxiety, PTSD, borderline personality traits and as-yet-undiagnosed paranoia). But it’s impossible to separate the symptoms out from one another, by halves because of my own alexithymia and because of the frequent co-morbidity of autism with other mental health issues. To an extent, it doesn’t matter: a meltdown I’m having which features anxiety symptoms is still an autistic meltdown, because I am autistic and because I would be able to manage my anxiety more effectively if not for my ASD.


I am curled up in a ball on my partner’s sofa, my head on his knee. My eyes are so tightly shut that later I will complain of muscle fatigue in my forehead.

After every breath I draw in, I scream.

I wail at various pitches and volumes for what seems like hours. A steady stream of snot coats both my face and my partner’s jeans. He knows better than to touch me unless I directly ask him to, but he tells me, again and again, “It’s okay. You can make as much noise as you like. I’m right here. You’re safe.”

I don’t feel safe or unsafe. I just feel overwhelmed. So indescribably overwhelmed that the only way I can release any of it is to scream, and scream, and scream.

I don’t have these screaming meltdowns often. I suppress them in favour of other, less obnoxious coping strategies, like excessive stimming (in the best case) or self harm (in the worst). But I have gone too long without any form of self-regulation and I feel like I could break in two. So I scream.

Eventually, I run out of screams. I revert to vocalising in the back of my throat with my mouth shut. My partner keeps kitchen roll by the sofa in part for these occasions; ordinary toilet roll won’t do the job. I scrub as much of my face dry as I can and pull myself into a sitting position, still humming.

He makes the same suggestion he made half an hour ago: “Do you think you could take a promethazine?”

Promethazine hydrochloride (brand name: Phenergan) is an antihistamine that has a sedative effect. My doctor prescribed them on a PRN basis once she realised that handing diazepam (brand name: Valium) to someone with a history of substance misuse was a spectacularly bad idea, but getting me to take them is a struggle every single time. When I’m sufficiently overwhelmed, I become paranoid. When I’m sufficiently paranoid, I think medications with sedative effects are poisoning me slowly and that everyone who suggests I use them wants me dead.

But now I have no energy left to be paranoid. My throat and face hurt and tiredness cuts straight down to my bones. I nod, and my partner springs out of his seat to find a little blue tablet for me to take. He is gracious enough not to mention the huge patch of my snot that darkens his jeans.


When people tell me that I “don’t look autistic”, I have to restrain myself from slapping them. The truth is that whenever I “don’t look autistic”, I am living on borrowed time. I am suppressing stims, carefully regulating the volume of my voice, calculating the appropriate length of time to make or fake eye contact, and fending off countless sensory inputs imperceptible, insignificant and occasionally even pleasant to the neurotypicals around me.

I expend a great deal of energy to look just not-autistic enough to get through my day without being harassed, belittled or made fun of, and then I spend evenings hurting myself or screaming. I live in a prison of sensory overload and lack of self-regulation for the comfort of, and to avoid bother from, neurotypicals. And then they have the fucking gall to tell me I “don’t look autistic” as though they’re telling me I “don’t look ugly”, as though it’s a compliment.

I don’t look autistic because looking autistic, in this world, is less safe than looking neurotypical, blending in, and then melting down in private.

But you can bet your ass I look autistic when I rock back and forth in my seat, sobbing and unable to verbalise to my partner that I need to blow my nose but have forgotten how, waiting for my promethazine to kick in.

And he thinks I’m cute as hell.