Sensory, empathy, fight and flight
As I was buttering my toast this morning I felt a gentle breeze blow across my arm. The kitchen window was open; there was the smell of damp grass mingled in the cool breeze. This combination of coolness, scent and light touch instantly took me into a visual replay from when I was about 10 years old.
This memory was a happy memory of a camping holiday. I was quite happy being back there with Mom, Dad and my brother. I was lying on the top bunk in our little touring caravan. Dad was making toast outside and passing it to Mom so she could butter it just the way I liked it, while it was still piping hot.
(I wouldn’t eat toast if it wasn’t buttered correctly; I didn’t like the texture…hehe)
Now usually the smell of toast takes me back to my Nan’s kitchen. So I pondered on the differences that the emotional and visual response had through my sensory system. My visuals are as clear as a film; it’s as if I step back in time. Sometimes though, if it’s a negative experience, I have no visuals, I have blank spots and just emotional reactions that I cannot place or understand. It was this that made me stop and think as I know I can misplace feelings especially fear.
What I asked myself…
Could it be that such a subtle change can cause me such a different response?
Does this happen throughout my days without me noticing?
Is this another thing that affect my emotional and mental state?
What does this mean to me personally?
I also thought about how I can be perfectly happy some days and then for no reason I can understand suddenly become so anxious and insecure I can barely function.
I then processed deeper
Those who know a bit about the Autism Spectrum will have heard of the fight or flight response. Fear is what makes all people either run and hide or fight for what they believe in. Those of us with sensory processing disorder (SPD) can’t always understand the feelings or emotional reaction we get from fear. We can also misplace fear with other stimulus. I have been told that I seem aloof; this is how I am perceived in a group of people. I am not an unfriendly person, those who know me know I love being with others. I just struggle to process when there is too much going on. This makes me shy away so I can feel safe.
My mind is puzzling all this out for my own benefit at the moment.
I know from past experience that the only way I have been able to not let the actions of others or the ways of this world affect me, was to isolate myself and switch off to caring about people. It was a sad a lonely place that I don’t ever want to return to. But in not caring about people I also stopped caring what people thought of me, why I wasn’t part of things and why I was always left out. When I didn’t care, nothing seemed to matter.
Through allowing myself to care, to feel, to switch on my heart means I experience empathy at a whole new level. But it also means I am not alone and I have found deep friendship. Allowing myself to be in the shoes of another and feeling the pain they carry means I feel it too. I have found prayer helps me most of the time. However on my not so good days I am unable to release this pain through prayer because I am looping too much in my mind. These days I have to retreat and not add anymore confusion to filter through.
I know that I am an extremely sensitive person. I can’t always process the overload of emotional and sensory input. I choose to not hide anymore, I choose to ask questions and seek answers. I choose to find others who are like me so I no longer feel alone in the world. Through the internet I have met many people who are like me, spiritual, sensitive, loving people who courageously choose to keep giving.
I wrote a post back in 2010 called Toys and Empathy.
It talks about how as a small child I watched some film footage of starving children in a third world country. The emotional and physical pain I carried from this visual was so intense it pushed me to giving all my toys to charity in the hope I would save a child’s life.
In that post I also said this…
I think that the lack of empathy thing is just a shut down mechanism of self protection because emotion is so intense…
I just know that when I gave my toys away it was because I cared deeply for children I would never meet, and I was willing to go without my faithful friends so they would live. I don’t believe that I lack empathy and I don’t believe other Aspies do either. But this is just my understanding.
I read a post recently that is a new theory written by a professional. It backs up some of what I am saying here. Aspies do not lack empathy; we switch off because we feel too much.
Quote from the post…
A groundbreaking study suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy—rather they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.
Link to that post… A Radical New Autism Theory
I am still processing all this information.
Once I pull my thoughts together and find a way of helping myself through this I will share more. I can see that as a small child I seemed to know myself so much better. It is trying to fit into what’s considered the social norm that has chipped away at everything I once was. But it has also given me who I am today.
Thank you for reading. Love and hugs. xx