Highly verbal even when alone

“There was something I wanted to blog about today. I just can’t remember what it was,” I say to the kitchen tap as I’m filling the kettle. “I should have made some preliminary notes last night.”

I play with the cat a bit, until the water starts boiling. “Sorry sweetie, I have to make water now.” As I walk into the kitchen I tell the kettle, “Make water, silly, I meant make tea. Tea tea tea.”

Then as I’m rummaging around for the tea bags, I lift my head and say to my teacup, “Oh! I just remembered. I wanted to write about talking to myself out loud!”

I’ve lost my marbles… © Johnsroad7 – Dreamstime.com

I think everyone is familiar with the trope of the “town crazy”. We had one in the town where I grew up. An old woman swathed in several colourful coats, shawls, skirts, and other pieces of fabric, walking around town with a small grocery buggy and muttering to herself. Sometimes she’d yell things that nobody understood. The children were usually a bit scared of her but the adults said she was harmless, just out of her mind. The only thing everyone agreed on was to leave her alone and don’t engage her in conversation because… well, you never knew. After all, she talked to herself out loud.

As do I.

I also meep to myself, sing phrases to myself, ummm to myself, shhh to myself, berate myself and laugh at myself. I sometimes do this via my cat because it’s more acceptable to talk to a cat and say “Oh, owner was being a bit silly wasn’t she? Yes she was!” than to directly address myself and tell myself I’m being silly. Out loud.

“You’re silly.” Yes self, I know I’m silly. Now shut up.

It’s funny because I don’t think I’m crazy. It’s just easier to vocalise thoughts sometimes, to get them out of my head when it’s getting crowded in there. Or just random sounds. One of my coworkers was the first to point out that I constantly made small noises while concentrating on a task. I’d never noticed. And while I knew I liked the sounds of certain words, I never realised I would sing them to myself over and over if I went to do something associated with that word.

“Cuppa tea cuppa tea cuppa tea tea tea.”
“Ooooh! Books! Books books books books books.”

(Note: I am actually choosing examples here with words that sound fairly similar in Dutch and English. I can’t make myself use an example where the Dutch word is just completely different, because translating it to English simply sounds wrong. I can’t do it).

So now I’ve described three ways of talking to myself. One is just sounds, meeps, ummms, pompoms. One is probably echolalia, repeating words or phrases (even though I’m repeating myself, not repeating someone else or something I heard on TV, so I’m not sure if that counts). And the last one is fully formed sentences that are a logical representation of what is going on in my head. A one-sided conversation, if you will.

It sort of feels like they all serve the same function. A way of soothing myself, of making myself focus, or helping me think and make concepts more concrete. It doesn’t feel very different to just be pomming to myself or to speak in full sentences. Except that with the full sentences, I become gradually aware at that particular moment that I’m talking to myself out loud and that this is the sign of a crazy person and not socially acceptable. But I don’t really give a damn, to be honest.

I’m still struggling with wrapping this post up in a nice and tidy conclusion.

The thing is, it’s all new to me. Not the talking out loud or making sounds. But the awareness of it. The fact that these are all well-known autistic behaviours. I didn’t even include any of them in the list of symptoms I wrote for my therapist. So other than describing what I do and how it feels to me, I’m at a loss to interpret any of it and give it some meaning. At a loss to embed it in the autistic framework that I’m slowly building for myself.

Never mind the social implications.

Because that old lady talking to herself? She’s just like me.

42 thoughts on “Highly verbal even when alone

  1. Yes. Yes yes yes. I feel like I could have written this post. Honestly except for the parenthetical about Dutch, and the fact that I’m a coffee junkie and not really about tea, I can relate to every word pretty much. I just really appreciate how articulate and open you are about this, because it’s hard for me to address for some reason.

    So THANKS.

    • Coffffff…feeeeeeee. Coffeecoffeecoffee. Cuppacuppacoffee. Yeah, that works. 🙂

      And you’re welcome! It means so much to me to know that people can relate to this.

        • Sometimes as celebration after I’ve received coffee. 🙂

          Mostly, when I’m alone, I’m pretty quiet, unless I’m in a hurry, in which case, I keep a running monolog of everything I’m doing to help keep myself on track.

          Unnnnlesss I’m walking into a bookstore, in which case I’ll be all, “booksbooksbooksbooksbooksbooksbooks….”

          Basically, as my excitement level goes up, the odds of me doing that goes up proportionally.

  2. I’d been trying to find out if I was the only person doing this! All the literature I could find only talked about echolalia, but never anything when it comes to having a one-sided conversation with yourself. XD This explains what I do very nicely, thank you!

    • You’re welcome! It’s been quite fun,figuring out the ways in which I use sounds and language. Like you, I didn’t feel like echolalia covered all the bases. Maybe another example where literature only looks at children, not adults. 🙂

  3. I talk to myself all the time. I always thought it was just because we were around animals a lot when we were younger, especially horses, so it was a good way to let them know where you were (especially if you were behind them). But maybe it isn’t.
    I sing things a lot too. Just my thoughts in random song-form. (My friends like to tease me about the time I got really excited by animal-shaped macaroni and cheese and sang a song about it in the grocery store “animals! animals! animal macaroni…”)

  4. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. (And now I caught myself repeating the sentence I just typed! I’ve referred to it as autoecholalia which I feel is a valid formation.) I converse with myself at work, especially when I’m working on something requiring intense concentration, and I do find it helps me focus. I’ve had the odd funny look from people at work in the past but after working there over 6 years they seem to be used to my oddities by now. Oh, and the humming and random sounds. Used to be worse when I was at school: one of my more obvious stims was repeatedly clicking my pen which did irritate others: it’s one of the few things I’ve actually been asked to stop (I’ve been lucky there I guess).

    • Pen clicking always gets on my nerves, even when I’m the one doing it! So I am aware that what is a stim to one person can be an irritant to another. Sometimes you simply need to find a compromise that works for both parties (as long as both parties agree and accept each other’s needs). I had the feeling my random noises amused my coworker more than they annoyed him, so that was ok (and he didn’t make me feel ridiculous either, huge plus!). So a bit like you said, just getting used to each other’s oddities. 🙂

      I like autoecholalia!

  5. My gram used to say that she talked to herself when she wanted to have an intelligent conversation!

    Also, auditory learners need to hear their own voices in order to learn. Talk away!

    • Yes, I read somewhere that all children repeat sounds and phrases when they start learning how to talk! It’s kind of fun to do it as an adult, especially the singing of words feels very happy and childlike.

    • I agree. I found exams to be much easier whenever I talk over a concept out loud. Hearing myself talk helps me to focus. If I don’t do that, I get distracted pretty easily and the concept just flies out of my brain as though I’d never learned it before.

      • Same here. I need to repeat information to myself in order to retain it. Like going to the supermarket to get coffee and bread and eggs. And repeating that list softly to yourself constantly so you won’t forget. 🙂

        I think nearly everyone does that to some degree. But I still think I have far more rights to the word crazy because I sing to my teacup. So there! :p

        • I can really relate to the supermarket thing. Even though I use a written list I still repeat the items I’m looking for at that moment out loud, and then discuss the merits of the different options with myself: “Ham, ham, ham, where’s the ham? Right. Hmmm, no, no, hmmm, maybe. Do I want smoked? I don’t think so. What about that? Too thin?” And so on…

          And for the record, I don’t think there’s anything crazy about singing to your teacup. It’s strikes me as a happy, positive thing.

  6. Very well described, and I really think you’d have nothing to worry about (if you actually did). I think when someone has conversations with themselves while they know that there are others present, it may be a sign of something not quite right, but making sounds when you concentrate, or talking to yourself when you’re alone: I think almost everyone does that (but most people would be afraid to admit it). I’m not autistic, but I talk to myself all the time when I’m alone. It’s a way of clearing my head and I’ve never thought it’s weird. I don’t make sounds when other people are around, but I’ve worked with many people who do, and mumble to themselves as well. I don’t think they’re ‘crazy’. The brain is a complex thing, and every individual has their own way of dealing with it. Thanks for being open about yours!

    • Thanks Ruth! It’s not something I really worry about but hyperbole is a very effective literary device. 😉

      I think you are absolutely right about most people being afraid to admit it, which is one of the reasons I blog about things like this. To bring it out in the open and make it something people can talk about. In the words of Brian: “We’re all different!” (I’m not).

  7. THIS. SO MUCH THIS. I talk to myself all the time, perhaps more so since starting uni. If I’m nervous, the talking-to-myself becomes the calming voice of reason, the “come on, you can do this, it’s gonna be okay, okay, okay” voice. I also repeat words if I’m thinking; for example, someone at uni asked if any of my French class were at a certain college and I just repeated “Magdalen Magdalen Magdalen Magdalen” to him for at least a minute. (I should add it’s pronounced “Maudlin”). Oh, and I sing/hum to myself a LOT too. 🙂

  8. Huzzah! I’m not the only autistic that does this! I’ve had full blown conversations with myself, even answering myself, since I was five! My foster carers used to punish me for it, telling me only madpeople do it. I find sometimes that the only person that can give me an honest, proper answer is myself! Thanks for making me feel better about this habit!

  9. Yup. I talk to myself too. A lot.

    I also used to describe the steps of what I was doing, sometimes, and I had no idea I did it. I think I have stopped doing that in public ever since an university colleague (back then) told me I had just done that and I realized that I did. I still do it alone, however.

    • I think the talking helps to structure and organise what you’re doing. I do it a lot when cooking! Like a running commentary. It helps me to focus and sort of mentally prepare for the step that needs to come next.

  10. Since reading this I’ve become so much more aware of how much I talk to myself, how much I verbalize my thoughts. I was aware that I did it but hadn’t noticed how prevalent it is.

    It is certainly true that verbalizing as opposed to simply thinking about a task helps my mind to organize better: there must be some region(s) of the brain that it stimulates which assist with executive function.

    • It does. I do talk to prepare myself to the next step. I also talk to myself to remember (bad short-term memory), to keep focused on what I was doing, and sometimes to convince myself of something that needs to be done and I don’t feel like doing. I take care not to do that in public, though in my present job I can do a bit of self-talking (not too much) with no bad consequences (programmers are supposed to be a bit odd, right?).

      But I also talk to inanimate objects a lot. The computer (of course), applications, devices in general, cooking implements, the list goes on.

      (disclaimer: I do not think I am autistic. I believe I am somewhere in the middle, not quite NT but not really aspie/autistic either).

  11. Tangentially-related question: anyone here was very distracted as a child? (in my case, so distracted that I my hearing was evaluated because I had a phase when I would hear a question and intend to answer/react but then forget because I was distracted by a thought. I had a couple of odd phases as a child…).

    I know back then I started repeating what I was going to do when I had a chore to do because I would often forget if I didn’t repeat, but I then got better at focusing and thought I had stopped doing it (I didn’t. I simply didn’t do it as often),

    • I can only remember whenever my mother sent me to the shops to get bread or things like that, I always repeated to myself the exact phrase I needed to say while walking to the shops. Not sure how easily distracted I was, though. I was extremely focused on reading, often to the exclusion of everything else.

  12. I am lucky to have always been fairly comfortable talking to myself to help me remember what I am about to do or when I am feeling stressed; but it might also interest you to hear that my (undiagnosed aspie) partner not only sings to herself but also repeats words that she likes the sound of after she has said them – sometimes that means saying it without really noticing just for the sound & sometimes it means using it in sentences whenever she has forgotten the usual word or doesn’t have a word to express her meaning.
    Words and sounds are really important to her so it feels natural.

  13. Pingback: The Non-Verbal Fairy Part II: Revenge of the Words | Notes On Crazy

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