Upon getting my diagnosis of Asperger’s, one of the very first things I learned about was something called perseveration. In fact, I learned about it during the actual assessment. The person who was doing it was able to give a name to something Nee had been describing about me, and helped us get some perspective.
See, I obsess a lot. My brain just seems to like doing that. In some ways I view that as a good thing, such as my defense of obsessions from a while back. However, this tendency is not always good. Sometimes it’s just amusing or neutral, like when a word or phrase gets stuck in my head and I wind up repeating it over and over and over again for several minutes straight. Other times a conversation or event will get stuck in my head for some reason, and I’ll wind up going over it repeatedly.
That last one is what I want to talk about. When something gets stuck and it’s like it’s on instant replay for days, weeks, and sometimes even months on end. Even this is not always bad. I mean, I usually wind up replaying things in my head several times over. It helps me process and it’s part of how I think through things and come up with solutions if there’s a problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s just torment. I’ll be stuck going in these little mental circles going nowhere at all. No processing is happening, I’m not progressing through a thought pattern, I’m not coming up with solutions (sometimes I already have a solution but I still can’t stop thinking about whatever it is). I’m just stuck. That, I have been told, is perseveration.
Learning that there was a word for this and learning what it is actually helped clear up some friction in my relationship with Nee. He would see me go over the same thing again and again and again, he would see that there was nothing to be gained by it, and he would see that it was causing me unhappiness. What he did not see was that I couldn’t help it. He thought that I should just be able to stop thinking about those things and that I was willfully going in circles. So learning what it was also meant learning that it was not a choice on my part, which helped him to adjust to me.
As for me, when I am able to put a label on something, I often feel like I have a better handle on it. This allowed me to identify the behavior pattern much earlier and much more easily than I had been before. It gave me a context to help me understand some of how I worked that I had not understood before. I still needed to sort out when my going over things repeatedly was working for me and when it wasn’t, but now I had a box to use for When It’s Not Working. For me, that is a very good and useful thing to have.
Apparently perseveration is a thing with the autism spectrum. I’m not alone in this, and I wonder how it impacts other people’s lives and relationships, and how different people deal with it. For me, I write. I write both to help me process, and I’ve taken to writing when I’ve noticed that I’m perseverating and not getting anywhere. It actually helps me quite a bit. I’m able to turn it into words and put the words somewhere I can see and read them, and it seems to calm my brain down. Sometimes it means that I can make progress in whatever I’m thinking about, and sometimes it means I actually get to think about something else after days of nothing but the same thing on repeat.
At this point I look at perseveration as one manifestation of an overall tendency to obsess. Obsessing can happen in a number of different ways, and I honestly view many of them as beneficial. Sometimes, though, even a beneficial trait can go sideways and then I need to find some way to handle that.
Do you perseverate? What ways have you found to cope with it?