The title of this work comes from this blog post, which I think everyone should read.
Sherlock had learned a long time ago that it wasn’t acceptable, not in public. There were some things he could do that would escape notice, like tapping a foot, wringing his hands or running his hands through his hair. But he couldn’t do any of those for long, or he would be noticed. So he managed to channel his need until he could do this in private.
And oh, how glorious it was, how freeing and relaxed he felt when he was at home, when he could spin and rock and hum to his heart’s content.
And that’s exactly what he was doing this day, when John Watson unexpectedly entered the flat they shared.
“Sherlock, I was wondering…” John’s words trailed off as his flatmate came into view.
Sherlock was perched on the edge of his chair, his arms wrapped around his knees, pressed into his chest. He was rocking back and forth, his eyes closed. A monotone hum rang through the air. After a moment, Sherlock became aware of John’s presence in the flat, of the fact that he was watching him. His eyes flew open and a deep crimson flushed over his face.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…interrupt. I’ll just…go.” John still had one hand on the door.
“No, don’t,” Sherlock said with a hint of sarcasm. “By all means, stay and watch the Freak.”
“Sherlock, I…no, you’re not…um, I’ll go. You…um, continue.”
Sherlock sighed as the door swung closed.
John Watson wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened. He had come home early from the surgery, unexpectedly so, to find Sherlock in some sort of reverie. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have even questioned it at all, but Sherlock’s reaction – well, he reacted as though John had caught him wanking.
Sherlock had turned bright red. Clearly, this was something he did in private, and had chanced going into the common area because he believed John wouldn’t be home until much later.
But this was nothing to be ashamed of, John thought. It was just a few repetitive movements, just a gentle rocking back and forth and a humming coming from Sherlock’s lips in a simple monotone. To the untrained eye, it would appear that Sherlock had been meditating. In fact, John wasn’t even certain that he hadn’t been meditating.
But he had reacted to John’s presence with fear, shame, and even anger, laced with a bit of self-deprecation. His words had been sarcastic, biting as they usually were, but there was something different in his voice that caused John to believe that perhaps Sherlock had been teased about this before. That for some reason or another he had been shamed into thinking that whatever this was, it was wrong and he shouldn’t do it where other people could see. And maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was just a form of meditation. Maybe self-awareness wasn’t something that a Holmes did.
These were the thoughts running through John’s mind as he drained the pint in front of him. He tapped his fingers against the glass and attempted to figure out what the big deal was. This was Sherlock, after all. He often did odd things. Why would he be so worried now?
The mood back at the flat was tense; there was no denying that. John had thought, well, hoped against hope, he supposed, that he and Sherlock could just talk – but Sherlock wouldn’t even look at him. Great, John thought. That wasn’t going to make anything awkward.
After a few very audible sighs, a half-arsed attempt at pulling some sort of response out of Sherlock – anything – to no avail, John retreated to his bedroom, cup of tea and laptop in hand.
It had been three days since “the incident”. Things had been…awkward, to say the least. It was one thing to avoid each other while at the flat, but they had been called in for a case. At least Sherlock was speaking to John again, but the tension hadn’t dissipated much.
Sherlock was on edge, and John wasn’t the only one who had noticed. Donovan had made several barbed comments about their lack of interaction, which Sherlock had completely ignored. Lestrade had pulled John aside to ask him whether Sherlock was on something. John resolved that after this case was finished, they would need to talk.
It had taken a bit longer than usual to wrap up the case. Sherlock had been brilliant as ever (when would John ever get tired of noticing how fantastic his deductions were?), but he had also been distracted far too easily. John had noticed, and it had unnerved Sherlock. But in the end, Sherlock had managed to deduce the location of the missing woman. They hadn’t stuck around for the tearful reunion.
“Sherlock,” John began, as they entered the flat, takeaway in hand. “We need to talk.”
“Do we, John?”
John had to stifle a laugh. Sherlock was actually pouting. “Sherlock. Look at us. We’ve barely spoken. This case took far too long because I think you were distracted.”
Sherlock rubbed his head as he plopped down into his chair. “Infuriating, that was.”
“Right. So, I think we need to talk – just to clear the air.”
Sherlock sighed in resignation. “Fine,” he spat out. “Talk.”
“I don’t know what I saw the other day. I don’t frankly care.”
“No, I don’t. Meditation, is it? It’s different than what I’ve seen before, but I figure you must have encountered some form that I haven’t.”
Sherlock cleared his throat and found himself incapable of looking at John. “No, it’s not meditation. It is something I do to calm myself, yes. But it’s not exactly meditation. ”
“Frankly, I’m a bit surprised. I figured that you would have figured it out by now. You’re a doctor, John. Have you ever heard of stimming?”
John pondered this for a moment. “Perhaps?” He questioned. "It's not a term I'm overly familiar with, however."
Sherlock tapped his fingers together, eyes focused intensely on them. “Hmm, perhaps not; that term is a bit more common as it’s applied to children rather than adults. Stimming -- I’m told that it’s short for self-stimulation. When I’m overworked, overstimulated, it’s a way to calm myself.”
“So a way to prevent what, a panic attack?”
“Something like that, but more. There’s more to it than that… it’s just… well, it’s everything. It’s a compulsive need, yes, it’s a preventative measure against panic and anxiety, but it’s more.”
John nodded. “I think I understand. At least, I understand the purpose. But why did you stop – why did you act like you were caught doing something wrong?”
“It’s not very socially acceptable.”
John shrugged. “I’ve seen you do plenty of things people would consider socially unacceptable.”
“Yes. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would say it’s a leftover fear from my childhood. They’d probably be correct.”
“So it’s what, some behavior leftover from when you were a child? Like me casually biting my fingernails when I’m nervous?”
“Hmm. Yes, and no. People don’t look at you do ordinary things like bite your fingernails; you won’t appear mentally incompetent if you do so. But if I were to rock or flap my hands in public, people would talk. So I find other ways of stimming until I can do so freely.”
“Sherlock, you’re not mentally incompetent. Who could ever think that of you?”
Sherlock turned his back to John, his face hidden in his hands. “They wanted to institutionalize me.”
“My parents. When they found out I was…” Sherlock couldn’t say the word. “Well, when they found out I was different, what the prognosis at the time was for people like me, they wanted to institutionalize me.”
“Oh,Sherlock.” A wave of sadness enveloped John. What could have happened to the amazing person in front of him – how easily that genius could have been stifled. John found it difficult to even think about. “Sherlock, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I also don’t want you to feel like you have to tell me any more, or that you have to, er, ‘stim’ in front of me. If you want to do so in private, if it makes you more comfortable to do so, I’m fine with that. It’s all fine.”
“Oh.” Sherlock swung back around to face John. “So you aren’t moving out then?”
“Moving – no. Why would I move out?”
“Anybody else probably would.”
“Anybody else probably would have moved out when they found a head in the freezer.”
“That was for an experiment, John.”
“I know, Sherlock. Most people don’t have my iron-clad stomach for those sorts of experiments.”
“I’m not moving out, Sherlock. It’s all fine. All your bloody, mad, eccentric experiments all over the flat, your nicotine patches – if I can put up with those, Sherlock, this is the least of our problems.”
“But," John began, and he saw the detective cringe. "Well, maybe we do need to come up with something -- a system. A note on the door, perhaps? I think it'd be good to have some sort of sign so that if you do want it to be private, it can be.”
“John, that's brilliant.”
John rolled his eyes at the flattery. "And yet, genius, you can be completely daft. Moving out... you thought I was going to move out over a bit of humming and rocking?"
Sherlock smiled for the first time in the conversation. “I underestimated you, John. I do seem to do that far too often.”