Stimming: My Knuckle Scar

A picture of my right hand with a large scar on the knuckle of my middle finger and a blue sapphire ring on the ring finger. The picture reads Stimming: My knuckle scar.

I'm sitting at the local bar with my husband chatting with friends and having a good time. Another guy I know by name and with whom I exchange pleasantries every week stops by. He says to me, "What happened to your knuckle, did you get in a fight with Jeremy (my husband)? I was looking to see if he had any bruises."

I would probably just laugh it off in most circumstances or tell a "made-up story." If you have ever noticed the scar on my knuckle and asked me about it, I likely told a story about how I burnt my hand as a child, and have picked at it all my life leaving a scar. If I didn't know you at all, you may have heard another version of the story likely something along the lines of  "I punched a wall". 
A hand punching through a wall of small white bricks.

This time, for whatever reason, I was inclined to tell the real story. I started the reply with "You know, funny you should ask. I have to preface this story with the statement, I don't want you to take this personally or the wrong way." (And any story that starts this way is likely to offend someone.)

I went on to explain that I had had a conversation earlier in the day about the very topic of Allyship. And this was interesting and related because I am actually very self-conscious about my knuckle and the conversation with my coworker was all about why we as a society ask questions, make comments, or assume our own situation on someone else. Without getting into the details of that conversation, the outcome was an agreement that if we as a society could just learn to accept each other the way we are, it would be a much better place to live. 

A group of people at a bar with drinks.

Back at the bar, I said something along the lines of "It's interesting that people ask me about my knuckle as often as they do. I actually don't like it when people notice the scar on my knuckle because it is a reminder that I have a problem stimming and I don't like that I do this, and can't really stop it." I say something anecdotal about the conversation I had earlier that day and go on to give a harsh example to demonstrate why it is not ok to ask people about scars for example. "Let's imagine that I am a war veteran for a minute who has lost a limb or has a scar on my face from battle. Just asking a simple innocent question about where did you get your scar from could trigger a PTSD response. The reality is that you don't really know someone, and maybe a scar on someone's face is where you personally might draw the line and realize that socially that may not be acceptable, but for some people, it can be really minor. In my case, it is just a scar on my knuckle that has been there most of my life as I have been stimming and picking at the skin on my knuckle for as long as I can remember. When people bring it up, I feel self-conscious, maybe even worthless because I am a grown adult who can't stop picking at myself. Now I don't blame you for these terrible feelings I have about myself, but that is the consequence of the simple innocent question."

Of course, my friend apologized profusely, but I think it is important, to be honest with yourself and with those around you. We never learn if we just go on pretending like everything is ok. Now, you might have read this story and thought what the heck is stimming. So, in true "Rachel" style, I am of course going to explain it to you now before I close with some thoughts about how to be a better human.

According to Oxford Languages, stimming is behavior consisting of repetitive actions or movements of a type that may be displayed by people with developmental disorders, most typically autistic spectrum disorders; or self-stimulation. While Merriam Webster describes it as a self-stimulatory behavior that is marked by a repetitive action or movement of the body (such as repeatedly tapping on objects or the ears, snapping the fingers, blinking the eyes, rocking from side to side, or grunting) and is typically associated with certain conditions (such as autism spectrum disorder).

Now is the part where I explain this in my own words. Stimming just means that you have a behavior that is usually repetitive as a way to stimulate one's self. Every human has likely partaken in stimming activities at some point in their life. Take, for example, a baby sucking its thumb or even just suckling without anything in the mouth. This is a form of stimming, and most babies grow out of this. 

In general, I will say that stimming is not problematic, and you should not try to make a person stop stimming unless they are causing physical harm to themselves or others. Or if the stim is causing a severe distraction that impedes the environment/situation. My stim is somewhat borderline as I have been known to scratch/pick until I bleed, and one could argue that I am hurting myself. 

For me, when I remove one stim from my life, it is generally replaced by another. The amount of stimming that I do is also quite dependent on mood and neurological factors. My OT has encouraged me to not worry about my stims or getting rid of one unless it is something I want. I will say that I do want to stop stimming my knuckle, and that is a personal decision, and I may not ever really be able to stop completely--and that is OK.

Small cartoon images with cartoon images that read THINK before you speak.

If you have a stim that people ask you about, I encourage you to be strong and explain it to people so they can learn a new social's not ok to ask about certain things. If you have a stim you want to keep--good for you! If you have a stim you want to work on and get rid of--good for you! Consider if you can seek an occupational therapist to help you find different coping mechanisms. 

If you don't have a stim and notice someone else doing something, stop and ask yourself, does this behavior affect me, do I really need to know, what will change if I know? Chances are you don't really need to know. Be sensitive to others. Remember, you don't know their story. I would generally say, it's not appropriate to ask others about scars of any type or size. If someone offers information about their stim or a scar, for example, be empathetic and offer the olive branch of support. 


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