I’m privileged to share this post about special interests, with permission, from one of The Gentle Autistic Women’s Community members, PurpleUmbrella. It’s from her blog, which you can find here: Under My Umbrella.
Why fixations, and special interests are sometimes helpful, and how my fixation with Fantastic Beasts helped me!
by PurpleUmbrella

 

When people think of obsessions and fixations, or the idea of someone taking an interest in something so very strongly, we often think of people with autism. However this isn’t something unique to just them. There are plenty of people who obsess over certain things, or take a liking to something strongly to the point that it’s the only thing they ever talk about. Neurotypical people can also have the habit of feeling attached to certain things too. It’s just not so obvious, and they hide it well, or because they are neurotypical/able bodied it doesn’t get noticed or it just gets shrugged off as being weird or geeky. You’d barely notice because able bodied people show interest in lots of different things too, and while they might go on about the thing they’re obsessed with, they are able to move their focus onto other things.

But there are some neurotypical or able bodied people who do get passionate about something they’re obsessed with, for example people who follow different fandoms. Take the Harry Potter fandom for example. Some of them will have all the merchandise, costumes related to their favourite characters, different editions to all the books, and the list goes on. They go on about it, and don’t stop talking about it, they go to all the events etc. But nobody really bats an eye lid, no one tries to change that or take away from them. But when the same is applied to someone with autism, or other disabilities, it gets seen as more than just weird, and unhealthy, or too heavy, and people will try and change that. They’ll try and direct them away from their special interests and try get their focus on other things. It’s ok to try and broaden their interests and expand on it , by trying to get them into other things, in order to help with social skills, and to help them socialize better. But it’s not ok to try and stop them from having interests or being interested in the thing they want to take an interest in. People often see special interests and fixations as something bad, but it doesn’t have to be bad or unhealthy at all. Sometimes it can be a good thing, and that’s what I want to discuss in this piece here.

I myself am not diagnosed with autism, but I do have very strong fixations on certain things. Everyone who knows me, knows that I am completely obsessed with the Potterverse and the wizarding world that was written by JK Rowling. I’m a really big fan of her works, and loved all 7 of the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t get enough of them. I learned everything I could about the Harry Potter world and those books, and I’d talk none stop about them. I’d drop in references from the stories into conversations and things. Those books, and the story within became a big part of my life, they were important, and meant the world to me.

People often couldn’t understand my obsession with them, even long after the series finished, I still hadn’t finished with them. They still meant something to me, and I still spoke about them and obsessed over them. Then along came Fantastic Beasts, along with Newt and so this has become my new obsession, my new passion. People would role their eyes when I start talking about it, mock me for it, or be like, ‘oh that,’ and tutt, or ‘here she goes again’. My closer friends and family will often tease me gently of course about it, and banter with me on the subject. I love banter, so it’s all in good fun.

In a way despite people’s eye rolls, I’ve been lucky that no one has really tried to stop me from my fixations and obsessions with the Potterverse ‘YET,’ mind you that might be because I’m too old to have someone intervene and change something like that. And no one really noticed if I had fixations while growing up, I didn’t have much intervening as a child, I was ignored mostly, and adults were irritated with my lack of communication, as I was select mute, and did not like communicating with adults, or anyone unfamiliar to me. So no one really noticed my obsessions and strong interest in things. My family only ever tried to squash the odd things that were noticeable and would stand out. Obsessions were not easy to notice in a quiet and shy child. I guess the adults in my family didn’t really notice my fixations.

As an adult however, I am becoming more vocal, and have started finding my voice, so my fixations are very obvious now. Which gets me a few odd reactions. But people don’t understand what it means to me, or how much these things play a big role in my life. It was only recently that I myself noticed and learned how, actually having a strong fixation on something can be so helpful and useful in some ways. In fact my obsession with Fantastic Beasts did more good than anything, and that sometimes having strong interests, aren’t as unhealthy or as bad as people make out. Obviously the case would be different if it was causing you harm, or stopping you from living your life properly. But for some people it can really help.

Around about this time last year, well April last year to be exact, I was told I could lose the vision in my left eye. They didn’t really know what was wrong, as the consultant couldn’t see the back of the eye. The consultant at the time just put it down to lazy eye, and decided the messages from the eye to the brain were slowly being severed, because I barely use the left eye. She’d told me that they would not investigate the matter, treat the eye, or try save it. I just had to live with the knowledge that at some point in my life I was going to lose that eye, and there was no telling when or how it would happen. The consultant felt that there was no potential for that eye, with it already having such poor vision at just 20% and the eye not being useful to me anyway. She she felt there was nothing to be done. I just hope if I do lose it, that it’s a very long and slow process that takes a good few years. But I’m not ready to lose it yet.

At that time when I’d first received the news, I was devastated, sad, frightened, and angry. My mind was in such turmoil, leaving me a big mess within myself. From angry and frightened I became sad, and miserable, I was starting to feel like I’d never be happy again, thinking I wouldn’t be able to come out of this. The misery was eating away at me, and I wanted out of this mess and misery. I was starting to feel desperate to find something to make me happy, something to bring me out of this sadness. Anyone who knows me well, will know I’ll do anything to try not stay down when negative situations fall in my lap. I’ll do what I can to distract myself. So when the countdown to the second Fantastic Beasts started, and when certain things were finally being revealed, I jumped straight in and things started to change.

Over the next few months as leaks, and sneak peak pictures, articles, news, and tidbits of information relating the films started to come out, I became very excited & started watching the internet daily, for anything & everything Fantastic Beasts, Newt & Eddie Redmayne related. Each time something new came out, I immersed myself into that world, & stopped thinking about that eye. Over the months leading up to the film, with the excitement & anticipation of its release I completely stopped feeling sad about it, I barely thought of the devastating news. I no longer felt depressed, and miserable when I thought about the eye. The fear even went. I was no longer afraid.

A month or so before the film came out in cinema, the promotion of the movie started up, I started watching out for interviews to the films, through different fan sites, and kept an eye on YouTube. By this time the interviews and news articles were coming so fast I had no time to even think of my eye problems. Those interviews and videos were my happy place, and my go to while things were bad. Then along came the film release and I watched with the rest of the world, all my worries gone. Interviews kept coming and they eventually helped numb any feelings that came with that eye. I no longer felt my world crashing down. I could even think of the eye now without any bad feelings attached to it.

That obsession, that fixation helped me get through it all. Helped me to forget for awhile, stopped me thinking & brooding. I never thought such a strong fixation on something others would think as being sad and weird, would be the one thing that would help bring me out of something that could have become depression. While I’m not Autistic, or have never been diagnosed with autism, I totally understand where people with Autism come from, I totally understand why having special, strong interests are so important to them.

I might have these strong fixations or obsessions, whatever you want to call them, I don’t know why I have them, if it is because I have a neurodiverse condition that has fallen under the radar with me, or if I am mildly on the autism spectrum somewhere & it has gone un noticed, or if it is a part of having congenital rubella syndrome, or perhaps it’s nothing at all and I am quite neurotypical. Whatever the reason, they are my happy place, my world, my comfort. They give me peace, a bit of distraction, and an escape from whatever negative situation I’m facing. They keep me sane and happy, helping alleviate my anxieties and fears, or whatever is going on in my mind. So it’s really important that neurotypical people understand the importance of these special interests, and not try and remove them completely.

So my message to the neurotypical people, and able bodied community, and those who don’t understand something like this, please don’t take away someone’s special interests, or mock them, or roll your eyes, tutt, or be cruel or ignorant about it. Let children and adults alike, with disabilities, special needs, and neurodiverse conditions enjoy their special interests and fixations. It isn’t always a bad thing. As long as it isn’t causing any lasting harm, then don’t stop it. Try to understand why they obsess over these things, and be mindful that these strong fixations are a help and comfort in a scary, and frightening world.

And to all those neurodiverse, or neurotypical people who have special interests and fixations that help in this way, just know that it’s ok and you’re not alone. Keep your head high, and do what makes you happy. Don’t let the muggle get you down. 😉

I know I talk too much sometimes, I just can’t help myself. I get quite passionate and don’t know when to stop. But if you’ve got to the end of this post then I applaud you. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Have you ever had something that’s helped you in a time of need?