Up for more than two hours between 2-4:00AM. Since we couldn’t sleep, even with a dose of prescribed chill pills, we got up after 1.5 hours. Tried some self-soothing, ate, did some Crossword Puzzle. It was fun to see the puzzle again this morning, after we slept some more and were more coherent. We had solved some words without understanding the clues. This morning, we understood the clues, which is more satisfying than filling boxes with letters that are simply “accurate.”
Crossword puzzles are the activity we discovered that, for us to perform at our peak, can engage the most me’s in our dissociative identity disorder (DID) system. If we listen very carefully, someone is likely to whisper an answer. This is training us to listen to ourselves. This is training us to speak up. This is training us to trust ourselves. This is training us to work cooperatively.
We were not interested in crossword puzzles until recently. Our parents solved crossword puzzles when we were growing up, and our Older Sibling adopted the habit. The reason we never liked crossword puzzles is that the questions lack context. And they are purposefully tricky. The clue could be “present.” Do they mean the verb “to present” or a gift or being present (as in showing up)? AJ does not like to be tricked. This is AJ’s purpose in life–to prevent us from being tricked. So how did we adopt crossword puzzles as a healing hobby?
A few years before our first trauma hospital stay, Older Sibling took us to breakfast at a restaurant, and Older Sibling invited us to solve the puzzle together. It was slightly enjoyable as a social activity. It took the stress off to not be the one with the writing utensil and the puzzle in hand, as though having to imagine the grid and the clues lowered expectations of our contributions, which made each contribution seem impactful.
We also remember being in the break room at our last employment and hearing some colleagues socially attempting to solve a crossword puzzle, and we knew almost every answer as they were collaboratively attempting to solve it. We did not speak any of the answers–we were not part of the group dining; we were simply cooking food nearby–and this also increased our confidence.
Fast forward a few years to our first trauma hospital stay, and a group of patients decided to socially solve the daily crossword in the newspaper, and we were included and we also knew many of the answers. We were surprised at how we knew so many answers. Someone asked us, “How do you know these things?” And we could not answer them. We did not know how we knew so many answers.
At our next hospital stay, we intentionally brought a book of crossword puzzles to solve, and that is when we unpacked the hidden workings of our system: we could solve the puzzle if we collaborated. If solving the puzzle was particularly challenging, maybe that was a clue that we were not working together, not listening to each other, not giving a voice to those who might know.
AJ can still get frustrated by the lack of context for clues, and E-squared can appreciate the cleverness of some of the clues especially for their capitalizing on the lack of context. It can make solving them even richer.
We take our time solving crossword puzzles most days. We savor the two puzzles in the Sunday paper over the course of the week, often finishing in time for the next week’s delivery. We have books to supplement if we feel particularly collaborative. We solve socially with Younger Child and Spouse sometimes. They feel pleasant when they know an answer. We especially need help with anything current Hollywood!
In case you like crossword puzzles or are interested in starting them, many newspapers (and their web sites) publish their easiest puzzles on Mondays, and the puzzles get progressively harder each day. Often, the Sunday puzzle has a theme for some of the clues (only some context, AJ!) and is longer/bigger.
Some clues and answers will repeat throughout a week or even year-to-year so that crossword puzzle knowledge can build. For the first few years of solving puzzles, we could not solve beyond Monday and the occasional Tuesday of _The New York Times_, easy days by puzzle solvers’ experience. Now, we can finish the Sunday puzzle with an average of 0-3 mulligans (look them up on our phone).
New York Times seems to us pretty broadly artsy (the word “artsy” itself is a recurring answer; it means snobby about the arts); USA Today seems a little less challenging, though still hard, and includes more general knowledge; LA Times, as you might expect, seems filled with more popular culture (film, music), which you may recall is not our strong suit!
Learning the system of the puzzle grid, building some common answers (opera song: aria; fencing sword: epee; Dadaism founder: Max Ernst) over time because we are not as strong as we would like at remembering repetitive answers; and listening to inside people have all contributed to our solving the puzzles, and solving the puzzles has contributed to our healing.
Do you like crossword puzzles? Do you have a different activity that brings out the best in your abilities or makes you feel masterful?