Bees In My Brain – on autism, anxiety and reaching breaking point

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Do you ever feel like someone has dropped a box of bees in your brain?

I do. I feel like, in the moment they pulled me screaming and wrinkled from the safe solitude of my mum’s belly, someone turned me to the side, took out a humming matchbox from their pocket, and gently tipped them into my ear. As I grew, so they multiplied, bred, spread outwards, seeking out further crevices in my skull to settle and raise their babies. It’s incessant. I can feel the beating of fragile wings, the itchy scratch of legs running on air, the point of their stings brushing ever so slightly against the bone and flesh. It’s a hum that I can’t imagine living without. It follows me everywhere, the noise, the vibrations, the constant worry about that sting – will it be now? now? now?

I know that when the sting finally comes, that will be the moment when everything falls apart. Brain. Skull. Mind. And I know it will come. I just don’t know when.

Some days, the bees are my friends. The gentle hum keeps me alert. It makes me feel alive. It’s the backdrop to a million wonderful things, polinating my thoughts, ideas and creativity. I know that they are helping me. I know that without them things would fall dark, whither and ultimately die. I love them, in that moment, although I’m also terrified. They are important, crucial to my continued existence, the driving force of so much of me – but I fear that sting more than I fear anything in the world.

Most of the time they are calm; sometimes they are dopey, like they’ve gotten drunk from a fermented piece of fruit, and I feel as though there are warm furry bundles of cotton wool nestling comfortably in my brain. And even in this moment, a thought niggles at the back of my mind – that sting, that sting, that sting.

Sometimes, though, the bees that live in my brain get spooked. Occasionally, it’s quick – they scream, and jerk, and ricochet from one side of my skull to the other, stabbing incessantly at anything warm and fleshy with venom-dripping points. In these moments, I hurt. I lose my mind. I rage and scream, I clench my nails into my palm, I cry, I slap myself on the upper legs and then move upwards to my head. I go from talking, smiling, or even just sitting around being completely uninteresting, into complete meltdown. Someone flicked a switch in my bees. And they, in turn, flicked their stingers towards me.

Most of the time, however, the build up is slow. On many occasions, I’ve felt them growing restless for days. As more and more loads itself into my brain, like jenga blocks added to an ever growing precarious tower, the bees become more and more agitated. They begin to vibrate with anxiety, their legs and wings fluttering against the edges of my skull. My hands and feet start to thrum to their beat. My knees twitch, my fingers tap, my teeth sink into my lower lip. They’re upset, and I’m upset. They can’t control their stingers when they’re upset.

The more anxious they get, the more anxious I get about the stingers. And the more anxious I get about the stingers, the more they buzz with nerves. It’s a vicious cycle of buzzing stinging vibrating waiting.

I get to a point where even people brushing past me on the train feels like a stinger in my arm. Every word feels like a claxon in my ear, deliberately targeted to rile them up even more. I hate everybody. I need to be in a silent room with no contact. Even then the buzzing will still be there. But at least there won’t be anything to make it worse.

When that first stinger finally pierces my brain, all hell breaks loose. But at least it calms down again afterwards. Even if it takes a day, once the stinger goes in, I know it’s only a matter of time before the anxiety winds down and the bees nestle again to that gentle, soothing hum. Then we can start over again.

For my music exams, as a sixteen year old, I wrote a piece of music that I named The Beehive. The music started simply, swelling gradually, gradually, and then bursting into a cacophony of noise. But then it began to ebb, breaking down into its own separate melodies, until we are left with that lovely, reassuring riff. This is the song of my head. The song of my life. And I thought it was beautiful. In fact, I have rarely been prouder of anything else in my life.

I don’t want to get rid of the bees. They are a part of me. We’ve become close over the years. I just need to learn how best to calm them down. I need to find out what they need when the buzzing starts up with fresh anxiety, I need to feed them and myself the reassurance to bring us back down and get back to that steady, throbbing lull. I’m getting better at this. But I still have some way to go. But I won’t give up on them, and I won’t give up on me.

In the physical world, I am terrified of bees. They are my one, constant phobia. I cannot be around them, I cannot function when I think they might be near. But they are so important, and beautiful, and crucial to the survival of this planet, that I will not harm them. My relationship to the bees inside my head is similar.

I have bees in my brain. I need them there. I want them there.

We’ve just got some working out to do.

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