A sensorially surreal morning. Breakfast was strangely green hued, not sure why, it just felt the right colour today. I made avocado and anchovy paste, then added mozarella slices and olives, folded the wraps into little parcels and lightly baked them. Extremely filling! We walked to the post office – it was warm and sunny, with temperatures above 20C, it just didn’t feel like winter. I decided to get a takeaway lunch at my favourite Southern Wok cafe. I didn’t feel up to doing any cooking today. My senses still feel raw and frayed from the sorties we made yesterday and the day before. I chose the steamed chicken with ginger and spring onion soy sauce . Delicious, but I am not so sure it was the right choice after all. I do feel a little too stuffed and heavy laden. However, the food did give me some energy and I vacuumed the floor and wiped the bathroom. The dishes are still lying forlornly in the sink. I shall attempt them later.
Many people have asked me, “What does sensory meltdown or overload actually feel like?” I am hard put to describe it accurately, though it is a project I am duty bound to confront and contend with. Today is not a meltdown day, but the senses are shaken, stirred and somewhat swirling around still in a sort of aftermath-shock. Grey specks swirling around in murky churning vomit-yellow liquid, low visibility, sharply acidic and a droning groan in shades of dirty green.
Here is a sharp, concise and yet simply sweet post about autistic meltdown. Of course, the phenomena is a complex one, with myriad triggers, a thickly encrusted circuit board of periphrastic connections. To the uninitiated, these pleonastic, rambling intertwinements seem convoluted and confusing, but to the autistic person, they are perfectly logical and unembellished direct links between hyper acute sensory receptors, transmitters and triggers. That many of us do not have the semantic language to describe our experiential mindscapes does not mean that we are unaware of Self. For some of us, the language of the majority is a challenge to come to grips with, and for others, like myself, we find little in the English vocabulary that lends itself well to accurate description of our sensory and mental topography in real-time encounter.
I have mentioned this before, the lack of sensory nomenclature in English. Perhaps there may be a better resource in other languages, of which I am unaware, but my limited knowledge of the Chinese language, especially in its classical form, leads me to suspect that it offers a great deal more expressivity. Some day, I shall attend to this quest, one that I promised my father to do, to learn the Chinese language with some vim and vigour. Till then, my father’s legacy of the classics and his handwritten lexicon of Cantonese words and pronunciations lie neglected, gathering dust, on the top shelf in my bedroom at home. In the meantime, I struggle on, as valiantly as I am able to do, scrambling for English words to string together that may offer some depth of meaning and auditory resonance to my message, which is also a common message shared by autistic persons, about how profoundly affected we are by our sensory hardwiring.
Explanation of a parallel embodiment is inevitably fraught. Firstly, people (all people, regardless of neurological predisposition) find it difficult to imagine and empathise with anything that is completely alien to their personal sphere. Secondly, and more importantly, the ordinary neurotypical man or woman in the street has most definitely not spent all his or her life observing and trying to understand the autistic mind, whereas, the opposite is true of the average autistic person. Plain and simple. Practice makes perfect. And the majority of us spend an inordinate amount of time, often at our own peril and to our detriment, analysing, musing and agonising over, and trying to understand the neurotypical mindset. I am not talking about the grand argument over Theory of Mind. That, to me, is quite the no-brainer. WHOSE Theory of Mind? Nope, this is about basic empathy. We do NOT lack empathy, not in the way pop psychology is purporting. In fact, the opposite it true. We spend so much time puzzling over the neurotypical social and mental domain, that we end up pandering to Other at the expense of Self. This attentiveness is not reciprocated. That is a statement of fact, not blame or recrimination. As a result, the average neurotypical has little idea what our inner worlds really feel like, their perceptions are steeped in the projections fed to them by popular media and even by neurotypical interpretations and biases in neuroscience. With this scenario in place, it is inevitable that the task of any autistic self-advocate to introduce the realities of Self to Other, becomes an onerous and formidable one.
My own research and praxis focuses on finding ways to resolve this tension and conflict between mental demographics, through non-verbal artistic experiences. At the same time, although my autistic Self much prefers stimming to the sounds of Glenn Gould playing J.S. Bach, gazing at the beauty of a sunbathing Angel, making jewellery for my Princess Greyhound, trying to grow chilli, tomato and capsicum in my balcony, cooking up a storm for one, doodling, sewing Greyhound Princess pyjamas, crocheting flowers, and making paper chains from old Ikea catalogues, I am nevertheless painfully aware that words still matter to the world of Other, i.e. the general populace. And I need to pay the bills somehow. Hence… I still have to write this Ph.D dissertation in words that convey meaning to be read and assessed by the prevailing neurotypical systemic powers that be.