On balancing fantasy and reality with an autistic mind

Fantasy Realty

By Baylie Nixon

I was originally going to write this article before I left for a trip my friend, family and I planned this month. However, after spending some time in San Fransisco and feeling awe from the ambience I had missed for so many years, I believe I made the right call by waiting as long as I did to write this piece. I say that because the trip reinforces my belief in the topic that will be discussed here: A healthy and essential balance between functioning in reality, and living in fantasy.

I’ve always been one to live in my own little world, I’d daydream all the time; I often still do. For a long time it was a huge problem, because living in my imagination would often cause me to not pay attention in class. At its worst, I’d get so lost in what’s imaginary, that I’d ignore reality almost entirely. Sure, later in life I could function in reality when it came to doing well in school, and getting along with my classmates (high school was a much better time for me socially than middle school), but I didn’t really know, let alone care, what was happening in it. I was delusional, but also very happy. But that happiness was a lot more fragile than I understood, and I’d soon be given a nasty reality check not long after starting college.

I don’t want to go into the details of why early college forced me to see reality without fantasy tinted glasses, but I will say this: it was, and frankly still is, traumatic. The process I went through is what most people call “disenchantment.” It’s the process of losing belief in fantastic things once said to be real, like a child growing up to understand the truth about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Although I can ultimately only speak for myself, I also know that it’s a well documented phenomenon that autistics are more prone to losing themselves in their own imaginations. I encourage all you readers to take that claim with a grain of salt, because just because this is a “well documented” phenomenon, doesn’t mean it isn’t tainted with bias, and perhaps an ableist notion of what it means to “live in reality.” But I bring up said claim because if it’s true, it means something significant for what disenchantment means for us autistics: it’s something with which we have to work harder at coping. Major life lesson number one I learned in college is this: living in fantasy won’t protect one from needing to adapt and take care of oneself in reality.

After feeling immense hurt from disenchantment, I started to take the first major life lesson to the extreme. Even amidst burnout, sensory overload, and just overall being absent minded, I’d want to keep being productive with myself in the form of paid work, school, advocacy, art, languages, and occasional volunteer work. On the surface, that sounds like a success story in itself; if it made headlines, said headline would say something to the effect of “Once Delusional Autistic Woman Gets Life Together.” Success in those aspects is great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a flip side to it all: I was also failing to take care of myself in other ways. I was very unhappy. You see, the motivation to be productive at the time didn’t come from a desire to achieve dreams, it came from the fear of being a drain on those around me and society overall. I felt that bing a cog in the social and economic machine was the only way I could recover any self esteem lost to disenchantment. But no matter how “successful” I was, it was never enough. No matter how good reality got, it’d never live up to fantasy.

Without a touch of fantasy, the motivation to care for my mental and physical health isn’t there. Without fantasy, going through the day just feels like a chore. After I let the nostalgia for a life of imagination simmer in my mind, that’s when I realized: why can’t I have a little fantasy in my life? Did it really have to leave? Maybe there’s a way in between. This is when I learned life lesson number two: Living in reality doesn’t inherently mean abandoning what one loves, even if it isn’t actually “real.”

Not long after discovering this balance, I went on a vacation with my loved ones to San Fransisco, and it was there I felt this balance come to life. I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are a lot of problems San Fransisco, among other cities, deals with including but not limited to: homelessness, cost of living, pollution, and crime. But there were also giant skyscrapers in an urban jungle, glittery sidewalks, lively people, fun shopping (found some wonderful things for my jewelry!), great food, happy friends and family, Pier 39, nightlife, and gorgeous butterflies at the science museum.

The negatives of reality keep me grounded, but the positives of reality fuel my imagination, which in turn motivates me to do well in real life to keep the fuel coming. If I only focus on reality’s negatives, I become exhausted, depressed, and very bitter. If I only focus on the positives and the imaginary world which follows, I become complacent, childish, delusional, and just overall dysfunctional. A balance of both is essential to my ability to do well in life, and I have a hard time believing that statement only applies to me.

I’d like to showcase a necklace for this very topic: its central feature is a pendant which has a Yin-Yang design, saying “reality” and “fantasy” in place of the dots normally found on the symbol. A rainbow burst is added to further emphasize the coexistence of reality and fantasy, where reality is represented in black and white, and fantasy is represented in color. The rainbow infinities dangle next to the main pendant to symbolize the fact that imagination and creativity is one of neurodiversity’s greatest strengths; something that needs to be channeled, rather than discarded.

Fantasy Realty

Fantasy ? Reality


Baylie NixonMy name is Baylie Nixon, I am 24 years old, and I am currently living with my family while I volunteer for an organization called Living Opportunities and study in post-bacc school. I am on the autism spectrum, diagnosed with Aspergers before the DSM V was published, and have been a strong advocate for autistic inclusion since I was a junior in high school. My activism really took off during senior year of high school when I did my senior project on neurodiversity, and then later in college I was in charge of a neurodiversity club for a year.

I recently graduated from Oregon State University with a BS in Pre-Clinical Lab Science, and I am currently enrolled in further education in order to be certified as a medical technologist. I have lived in Southern Oregon for half my life, while also having lived in Forest Grove to go to Pacific University for a couple years, spending another couple back home at Southern Oregon University, then finally finishing my bachelor’s in Corvallis. I am absolutely in love with the biomedical sciences, and am excited to put my knowledge and passion to good use. I am also an Etsy jeweler, my shop is called “Bao Treasures,” and its logo is a rainbow bird. I have been making jewelry for roughly half my life.

9 replies on “On balancing fantasy and reality with an autistic mind”
  1. says: Fred

    Have you tried spending time in nature? I have found that a few hours just admiring the countryside without another person around restores my mental health.

  2. says: David Goren

    Dear Baylie Nixon,

    I believe your article is correct for any person, not just a person on the spectrum.

    Your Yin/Yang Imagination/Reality symbol is great. So exact, so nice!

    Reality and imagination are not black and white. The imagination of mathematicians and scientists created much of the technological reality we live in today. Art is also reality. Your necklace is reality.
    Sometimes living in materialism is running away from life, and living a spiritual dream manifests in very real life of happiness which contributes to the world.

    Some people suffer since they lack the gift of imagination.
    You can help them.

    David Goren

  3. says: Baylie Nixon

    Just want to let you know this featured necklace has been sold! I will be making a replica to post on my shop. That being said, the replica will be slightly different to keep the spirit of uniqueness alive in how I do my jewelry work. Thank you all for reading!

  4. says: Sarah

    What a refreshing read! I feel sad though… I have become bitter about reality. “Normal” “Functioning Adult” “Mandatory” life weighs on me constantly. I feel so drained. Along with my autism, I also have some mental illnesses and CPTSD. So striking a balance is extremely difficult because my brain goes through random highs, lows, manias, and various phases throughout the month and even week. By the time I am ‘off the clock’ from my 9-5, my soul wants to desperately dive into fantasy world. I usually do this by playing dress up, writing stories, music or making art. Again, the tedious and demanding nature of society leaves me with little energy. I have noticed that my meltdowns have increased since I have taken on more responsibilities. To make matters worse, having to “play adult” and wear a mask all day at work exhausts me but mostly, it affects my ability to get back in touch with my true self once I am off the clock. I am allotted 3 precious hours that are fully mine but unwinding, deprogramming and reconnecting with ME and my true soul is very difficult. Not to mention the fact that the time limit gives me anxiety!! Oh geez. 🙁 I am so sad! Do you have any suggestions for that? Do you experience this too? If so, what helps you relocate your natural whimsical state? Thank you so much! <3

  5. says: Joel Shaul

    This is a terrific article. Thank you for posting it. I am a psychotherapist working with some individuals with ASD who are going through some issues with getting stuck on fantasy. I plan to show your article to several of them.

  6. says: Jim

    Thank you Baylie, I have struggled in bitter burnout mode. I’ve recently gotten onto a list to be checked for the autism spectrum. Am trying to keep painting and recording music. I sometimes go way too long without expressing creativity. This message you’ve written was forwarded to me by a close friend. Thank you so much.

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