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We’re all familiar with the image of Sherlock Holmes with his pipe; in the modern BBC adaptation with the ever-adorable Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s a series of nicotine patches. But the great detective also consumed copious amounts of cocaine, which is portrayed less, for some unfathomable reason.

Remembering that fact about Sherlock Holmes, whom I’ve always felt a curious kinship with, and who would definitely fall into the diagnostic criteria of Asperger Syndrome today, I felt compelled to write about stimulants and autism. That is something I’ve sometimes experimented with, sometimes struggled with, and have always remained morbidly curious towards.

To understand my attraction to stimulants, you have to understand the way that my brain works. It whirs at such high speeds at times, allowing me to endlessly analyse, inter-compare, elaborate, and break down everything that crosses my fancy. It is a sort of intellectual high, and I am pleased with the results.

But this fleeting, and after so much, my brain begins to creak and groan, my thought process slows down, and I am overwhelmed, rather than pleasured, by so many variables. My mind falls into disrepair as I try to collect all of the pieces of my thoughts. Inevitably, I fixate on one thing, something familiar and comfortable and easily understood to me, to avoid the overload. If I don’t though, I progressively wind down more and more, until it feels as though my brain were a machine whose gears were riddled with gunk and salt water. It is during these periods when I simultaneously am overwhelmed by ennui, and yet can barely lift up my eyelids to observe the world.

That is when I would reach for a jug (not a mug, mind you, a jug) of coffee, diet coke, or tea. Since those were made of the most accessible and acceptable stimulant (caffeine) they were my bread and butter. I spent endless hours trying to recapture the wondrous state I was originally in, when I could make sense of everything and worked at such high speeds. Caffeine was a pale shadow of what that offered, but it was close enough to satisfy. Crash, burn, repeat. When I became rather desperate, I’d resort to the little bottles of five-hour energy they sell at the grocery store.

I never progressed into medical stimulants like Ritalin or caffeine pills, nor did I graduate into Energy drinks. I was aware of, and frightened by, my addiction, so I could keep it in control when I wasn’t crashed into the wall. So I maintained a better grip on my life than I would have if I were unaware of how dangerous stimulants can be, or were in denial of my reliance on them.

So often, I’ll see my friends wake up with a cup of coffee, then unwind with a glass of wine at the end of the day. I have to be hyper-conscious not to fall into this pattern, it could permanently addle my brain to depress and stimulate me in a single day.

Other autistics, do you have stories about seeking out stimulants, even ones as socially accepted as caffeine? What were your experiences with it, and what drove you to seek them out?

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