I both love and fear fire.
You could say fire is my favorite example of the complications of our emotional brains; fire embodies our potential for creation and destruction. Fire is the rebirth of the phoenix, the stove in the kitchen, and the glory hole in my graduate glassblowing class.
I’ll be exploring more about my feelings on fire (as well as my feelings on “cures”) at Wattpad next week—during my next week-long writing challenge, after I finish this one-week aromatherapy challenge, here at Cleo’s Autism Awareness—while I write a fanfiction based on my favorite video game character, Rydia:
Today though, I don’t want to talk about video game fires… or any virtual fire, really.
I’d like to discuss the fascination—the potential for visual stimulation—in real fire.
In a candle wick.
In candlelight dancing near the bath tub you otherwise find too hot, too cold, too distracted by the blaring roar of the bathroom fan.
Since candles are one of the safest, and most aromatic, ways for us to appreciate fire, I truly believe in their benefit to provide not only aromatherapy, but a fresh breath of air from an otherwise visually overstimulating world. They’re like double-whammy relief.
I’ll approach this conversation in three parts:
- What is visual stimming?
- What are good candle choices for visual stimming?
- What are good candle choices for aromatherapy?
Then tomorrow, I’ll conclude my 5-day exploration of aromatherapy through an #actuallyautistic lens by exploring bath bombs and music as scent- and aural-based therapeutic stimuli.
What is Visual Stimming?
Since we’re talking about visuals, I’ll start with a few visuals…
Visual stims are anything that happens in a pattern or rhythm in a way soothing to the observer; they’re also the most common form of stimming I see neurotypical people enjoying. Here are some everyday examples of visual stims that are pleasing to people:
- fish swarming together;
- fountains flowing around;
- cars driving by under a bridge;
- snow falling into your hands (you may like the temperature stim of this, too!); &
- rain pattering on the window (you may like the auditory stim of this, too!).
The reason visual stims fall into the same realm of comforts as hand-flapping, spinning—self-stimulation for the sake of calibrating the brain—is because of the cyclical, repetitive nature of visual stims.
For many autistic people (especially those of us who try to get by in our “high function” masks), cyclical and repetitive stims outside our bodies are safer than making spirals with our bodies, so even though they might not feel as satisfying—nothing from your environment ever feels as satisfying as warmth from within—we often opt for these external stims for midday breaks.
What are Good Candles for Stimming?
Bath & Body Works candles are widely available (most malls have a BBW store), reasonably priced (although you can do better price-wise at ethical big retailers like Target), and wide. You want your stimming candle to be wide and contained if you’re looking to shake it back and forth, since the wax will swish-wish everywhere:
Of course, you can also pick up one of those novel spherical candles—like the ones that range from the size of a tennis ball to a bowling ball—then melt it until it has a burrow. They make a fantastic bowl for not only appreciating the visual stim, but sticking your finger into the wax for temperature stimming (i.e., repetitive feelings of moving from hot to cold… one of my favorite ways to stim!):
You can burn a row of tealights. You can skip the candle and head for the fireplace (with recycled mail, of course); the beauty of visual stimming with fire is the limitlessness—the creativity and ingenuity that springs forth from it.
And speaking of getting creative, you can try candle-making by visiting Michael’s Arts & Crafts and/or Amazon; I used to candle-make as a child. Carving candles is an effective and combo strategy for calming the mind through tactile and visual repetition:
Infusing Aromatherapy into Visual Stimming
I’m a huge fan of combining calming, circular motions through as many sensory faculties as possible to create a whole-body, whole-mind relaxer for the autistic brain; and to do this with candles, you need to consider the scents you put in them.
If you’re thinking about candle-making, you have the freedom to research and play with blends; but more often than not, you’re interested in purchasing candles. If you’re leaning more to the market and less to the DIY, these are the questions to ask while shopping:
- How strong is the candle? Just like how you can make an oopsie with dosage of essential oils in a diffuser or topical application, it is possible—and common—to turn an aromatherapy experience into a headache by buying an overbearing candle; and for people on the spectrum, the threshold from “this is nice!” to “open the window!” is much easier to cross. You can always sit closer to a candle (okay, not always; singing nose hairs is no good), but if you get too far away, it ruins the visual experience; so start with subtle scents.
- What’s the mood of the candle? I find relaxing blends—such as candles with lavender, peppermint, and/or chamomile—are better for visual stimming than energizing or romantic blends. Candles that are sold as sleeping aides or stress relievers all fall into the relaxing category.
- What aromatherapy blends do I already use? Often candle-makers, soap-makers, and essential oil distillers are cut from similar cloth, so if you’ve already looked into aromatherapy through other avenues, don’t be afraid to apply your favorite scents to your search for candles; for instance, just like how I love peppermint for topical applications, mint-scented candles are my preferred choice.
I plan to make candles in the future and either burn the magic out of each one, or share the magic on Etsy. If this sounds exciting, subscribe to Cleo’s Autism Awareness; I’ll announce (probably with way too much enthusiasm) our first Etsy listings in August!
Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at Kourtnie.net or Wattpad.com/user/KourtnieNet.