An ode to scarves and survival


There is a great multitude if things I could have written about – even amongst the localised upheaval of starting a new job and going on holiday, every time I’ve dared to look up from my personal bubble something else has reared its head in the world, prompting anger, fear and the urge to blog frantically.

In the end, there was simply too much to talk about.

So I’ve decided to talk about scarves.

Please allow me to explain.

Scarves are fabulous bundles of joy. It is only in the last few months that I have rediscovered the wonder of these flimsy pieces of neck coverage. I have dabbled in scarves through various periods of my life; through bobbly knitted glories as a child, trying-to-be-stylish-and-failing-because-nerd attempts as a sixth form student, and now onto lovely silk comfort blankets as a mature, responsible adult (*guffaws*).

The reason for their current resurgence in my life is simple. I got my autism diagnosis.

Over the past few years, I have been immensely privileged to have a work coach – a wonderful person who would sit with me for an hour a week, working with me to unscramble my own triggers, anxieties and challenges, and helping me  put together a comprehensive strategy for managing these things as independently as possible. During the course of these sessions, we untangled that I like the comfort of having a soft weight on my shoulders. After some searching of the internet for suitable weighted items, and finding that everything I liked was either sized only for children or ridiculously expensive, she suggested I try finding an inexpensive scarf.

The first scarf that I picked was soft, black, and had little tassels on either end. On my first day at work following my purchase, I found myself absolutely enamoured with the gentle weight of it across my shoulders – on top of that, the ends of the scarf were just soft enough to run through my fingers, sending small jolts of comfort through me as I faced the fears my job entailed (switchboard calls…oh how I do not miss switchboard calls). As the weeks progressed, I found myself holding it up to my lips as well. Previously, I had compulsively picked the dry skin of my lips, but rubbing the soft scarf against them seemed to satisfy that need; allowing me to work a little on my CPS, a compulsive behaviour I have discussed before. 

In one relatively cheap go, I had found something that met several of my comfort/stimming needs, and helped to abate some of my more damaging tendencies. As a result, it became a permanent fixture in my life.

As time went on, I built up a collection. I picked up a few different colours to match different work outfits; a few of different material and weights depending on the temperature and mood of the day; I’ve also accidentally picked up three new lovely silky scarfs with different breeds of dogs on them (it was an important purchase at that moment, and I definitely needed them, and I have no doggy-scarf regrets).

When the world feels too much, and I feel the telltale twitches of my brain about to go into a downward tailspin, I can grab the scarf, hold it to my face, wrap it around me, run it through my fingers, bunch it in my fist and say to myself ‘I’m fine, I’m here, I’m okay’.

In these tumultuous times, which I spoke about briefly at the beginning of this post, it’s sometimes difficult to find something to hold on to to keep you grounded. Even when I was diagnosed with autism, I was at a loss as to what I could to support myself in moments of meltdown. The more I read, the more I understood myself, which led to the swirling dark hole of trawling websites at two o’clock in the morning – looking for stimming toys, mood lighting and weighted blankets to try. In desperation, I almost purchased things I wasn’t sure about. Many of the items I coveted were far beyond any price range I could ever hope to meet. I felt helpless.

Learning that I could take something every day and normal and rework it to match my own very particular needs was liberating. I felt like I could finally be in control of my own life – independently taking what the world threw at me and fashioning it into an integral part of my survival processes.

A beanie baby, less then £5 at my local WHSmith, now perpetually stashed at the bottom of my bag in case I need something soft to squeeze. A series of £1 fidget spinners from the local market tucked in my jacket pocket to get me through the rush hour commute. A picture on my desk. A reminder taped on my computer. A text from my mum on my phone, with the title: In case of emergency, PLEASE READ. At the more extreme end, a tattoo on each arm: one with a song lyric that keeps me going, and the other representing my dogs (reminding me that, whatever happens, I am adored by someone).

It was trial and error process. Some things I found were thrown into the bin, or broke into pieces, or fell down the side of a mattress never to be seen again. Some things brought excitement, only to be dashed as they failed to make any significant different to my mindset. But that was an integral part of that process. And because these were cheap things from the local shop, rather than specialised designs ordered for a small fortune, I was given the leeway to experiment with my own needs.

It’s surprising what can help. Especially with something as unique as autism, and as personal as neurodivergence, it is important to play around with things to find exactly what fits your particular needs and circumstances.

I said this was a post about scarves. And it is. Scarves are brilliant, after all.

But it’s also about finding your own ways to survive in times of uncertainty, turmoil, and fear. It’s about allowing yourself the freedom to try something that maybe the specialist companies don’t cater for. And it’s about knowing that you don’t have to spend your life savings in order to change your life.

Author: QueerlyAutistic
Erin Ekins is a queer autistic writer, speaker and attempter of activism. She has an interest in all areas of autistic social justice, but has a particular passion for improving understanding and acceptance of the intersection of autism and queerness. She runs the blog and is the author of the upcoming book 'Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide for LGBTQIA+ Teens on the Spectrum'. By day, she works in campaigning and influencing at a disability related charity, but, by night, she is inhabits a busy space between angry internet person and overly-excited fangirl.

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