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PDA, or on being told to write about blue tile

Around 2016, someone mentioned to me, for the first time, the term Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) —a term which I rejected immediately. I have, in its place, adopted the community reform of the acronym ­—Pervasive Drive for Autonomy. As I learned what it was, I realized I had recently written a piece that was driven by my (undefined until then) PDA. As I’ve read it to people, they’ve told me it helped them understand their own or another’s PDA, so here it is — PDA along with some tangential thinking.


Blue Tile

I was given the prompt to write about blue tile.

Blue tile. If I had a house on a Greek island, it might have blue tiles.

Blew tire. It’s okay I know how to use the jack. Jacks are cool — how that little thing can do so much.

Blow tired. End of race. Blowing the tired air out of me.

Okay back to blue tile.

Or, back to being given a prompt.


Sister Teresa Martin. Seventh grade. We couldn’t write. It was quiet with the sound of all us of not writing poetry. Sister Teresa Martin had a wavy lock of dark hair that came out of her wimple. Is that what they call it? The little nun hat thing. What is the root word of wimple? Dark twinkling eyes too. I think I had a crush on a nun. Sister Teresa Martin said, “Take your notebooks and pens and follow me,” then led us out to the football field. One by one she took each of us by the shoulders and put us in our own unique and ordinary spots and said, “Write about that.” So that simplified things. One square foot on the 20-yard line —a tiny bit of a cigarette, bent grass, dirt. Blue tile.


I hate following instructions, even when they are good instructions. It is bad with my brain and bad with my body. I just loved Sister Teresa Martin. We all did. She played the guitar and was the best on the nun’s basketball team. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have written about my little bit of grass. Also, I was more obedient then and it was Catholic school.


I am afraid of having my mind being taken over by someone else’s mind. Really afraid. Not like in the alien-beaming-down way or the sociopath-gas-lighting- their-victim way, but in the way of an immigrant who is afraid that they’ll lose the old country. So, it’s not actually the blue tile, but the being told to write about blue tile that makes my mind go whirring, thinking of all the ways I’ve tried to hold my mind to its own line, even now trying to not let blue tile send it skittering off of the tenuous grasp I have on what I knew before and under everything else.


No one else knows my mind’s line, the way it wants to move, so I’ve got to take care of it. If I think the new world way, then I might lose the old way, and this makes me feel terrible regret. I already feel terrible regret for all I’ve lost, for leaving so much behind like most of the dream when I wake, knowing that dream was important. I think this is what blue tile is making me write about, how when I hear “do this” my mind sentry jumps to attention. “Watch out!” it calls out. Are you going off your mission? Are you losing the scent? My mind sentry is going all the time. It’s going off all the time because it is so easy to lose my way what with there not being many signposts in the world and it being so easy to start seeing the signs that aren’t for me and to start following those signs with everyone else, and I just cannot do that. I am not supposed to do that. So, I must watch out every time someone says, “Go this way,” because they just don’t know that I’m out here trying to remember the way from someplace else to somewhere else and that instruction was like the alarm clock knocking the dream away.


When I was little, which may have been 15, or 10, or even earlier, but especially all those teen years when the voices of the adults and the other teenagers got so loud and demanding that I do the thing, whatever the thing was, I had to concentrate on the line with all my mind, and my mind ran all the way up and down my spine. I would have to concentrate on lining everything up or I knew I would break and not be myself anymore, but if I could line it up, it became bright like lightning, straight up my spine and through my head to the top of the sky lightning and my dad, as hard as he tried could not break that lightning because it was strong like lightning, which was a different kind of strong than steel or muscle.


Do some autistic people line things us to hold onto their lines?


I could make a sound for that line that I held onto inside myself and I can make it outside myself now, but I couldn’t then. Instead, I would run. I would run far, and the lightning would carry me fast. It was a way I fed the line. I also would not eat much, because that made me know I had strength to resist temptation to let go and do the easier thing and fall out of the line, but I knew if I did that easier thing, I would die —not like stop-breathing die, but I would die just the same, and I didn’t know how to bring myself back to life, just how to keep going, so I ran far and didn’t eat much and kept feeling the lightning instead of exploding into a million pieces.


Sometimes when I get very quiet, I am trying to not explode into a million pieces or explode the room or situation into a million pieces. I am trying to line things up inside. So, when people get upset that I “went away” or “closed down,” I just want to cry and really go away because I’m trying so hard to center, to be present.


People tell me I have so much integrity, am so authentic, but I feel like I’m just barely staying true. I am staying true, but I fall so far off. It’s because other people don’t see the line. And they don’t see hear feel what is threatening the line. When I was in college, the administrators wanted to start an assertiveness training class. I said I wanted to do it. The administrators knew me, or thought they knew me, and didn’t think it was appropriate for me. They thought I was already so assertive. I didn’t do it. That wasn’t very assertive! They didn’t understand that they didn’t know me, that there was so much that I hadn’t asserted, They couldn’t imagine how much I needed help speaking from that line that ran through me. It probably wouldn’t have worked. It would have been some other kind of assertiveness, not about the line at all.


So, all this time telling you how I can


’t follow instructions and then sometimes, well, it’s pure heaven. For a moment or maybe if I’m lucky longer, someone can tell me to do or not do something and I know they see the line or they see me going off of it and they are helping me stay on it, instead of manage my presentation. Sometimes, in touch healing work, someone can get hold of the line when I can’t find it. I felt this happen once and told the practitioner, “Let me know if I start going away,” and they laughed and said that they were just hanging on by a thread to me because I was going places they had never gon


e and they were going with me, and I said that’s okay, a thread is enough. Then I was so happy that I don’t know what will happen and that it will not be their idea or my idea, but we will be there together both listening for that thread.


Finn Gratton, © 2016


(Part Two coming someday: Some ideas on how we can get to that wonderful place in that last paragraph)




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