empathy overload

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I read this article about dogs and expressions of empathy, and my thoughts immediately linked to the empathy overload that many autistics report experiencing – feeling so much of the other person’s pain that one is frozen or implodes and unable to react in a way that displays gestures of comforting or soothing to the other person in distress. This gives rise to the misunderstanding by normative brains as the autistic person lacking empathy. (No outward display of huggy-kissy-aw-you-poor-baby stuff that non-autistics seem to expect and perceive as having empathy.)

This passage jumped out at me:

“During the task, the researchers measured the dogs’ stress levels. Sanford said dogs who were able to push through the door to “rescue” their owners showed less stress, meaning they were upset by the crying, but not too upset to take action. As for the dogs who didn’t push open the door, it wasn’t because they didn’t care — it seemed they cared too much. Those dogs showed the most stress and were too troubled by the crying to do anything, Sanford said.”

‘Taking on the mantle of pain’ so to speak. Lucy seems to do this when I have had meltdowns – she freezes and just stares at me – and somehow, because of this, I manage to self-soothe enough to get out of my meltdown state. I am brought back into the moment by her presence and driven by my empathy for her empathy to resolve my pain reaction, simply because I do not want to see her suffer from my suffering. Does that make sense? Dogs can teach us so much about our humanity.

trap

A little sparrow is trapped inside a corner in a large human-purposed shopping mall. It flies around looking for a way out, but to no avail.

My senses connect with the bird in its distress and anxiety, I feel a tingling in my scalp, shortness of breath and tightness in muscles around ribcage. Nausea creeps in before I know it. The taste of my orange juice at the back of my throat has turned into a vile, sickly yet sharp dry metallic-sour taste, like acid burning the sensitive mucosa around my throat. Dryness is setting in and I must remind myself to swallow and breathe deeply.

The poor bird. My mind is working out ways to capture the bird and take it outside. But I do not have a shawl or towel with me, and it is flying too frantically anyway.

The room is tossing and turning in concentric circles around me, and the soundscape of human voices and piped pseudo-jazz music is slowly distorting in my brain into a muffled, slow-motion eerie kaleidoscope of dark purple colours and rancid vomitus.

And the hapless bird continues to fly, round and round, across, up and down.

The humans inhabiting the space, dotted around the room at small square tables, are all too engrossed in either their mobile phones or social chatter. Not a single person averse their gaze to look at the sparrow, not a single expression of concern. They share no empathic resonance with this sorry, desperate creature.

Soon, it will become too exhausted and maybe even crushed by the impact of smashing against windows, and will just fall to the ground and die. A slow, anxious, fear-filled death.

Just a sparrow? Not to me.

A small entity exuding overwhelming pain, confusion and wretchedly forlorn fear. Screaming fear, even. Fluttering. Flapping. Smashing. Falling. Rising. Da capo. Until there is strength no more. Not a twitter. No time and mental space to cry out. Just white hot futile determination. And then, there is silence and life is spent.

My heart feels squeezed tightly like a wrinkled old orange.

Heavy with sadness.

Overwhelmed by elemental empathy.

——

(Shop staff have become aware of the sparrow. Let’s hope something can be done to help the poor creature.)

fail

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The dark despair of failure. Those depths of acrid, rancid, dissonant putridity. Purple – thick, viscid, slimy, clammy, choking and Stygian – swirling manic whirlpool inside corporeal core.

That feeling that one has failed a precious Parallel Embodied child. Closest companion. Most faithful entity who walks alongside without questioning.

Each and every decision affects this beautiful being – such cogent reverberations – in ways no human mind will ever fully grasp. Yet, just sensing the very peripheral waves, catching those soft crying top notes or unheard vibrating bass notes, is enough to thrust the human soul into the vortex of forlorn, hapless gloom. That is, if the human possesses just a sliver of empathic resonance for Other, and a tiny beam of light shining onto Self. Many, sadly, do not. Yet… Some humans really do. Some humans truly try.

What would one give to understand in full the abundance that thrives within the Canine Angel’s inner world?

What may this human proffer in exchange for this harmonic-rhythmic enlightenment  beneath the mantle of verisimilitude?

Would the knowledge and the weight of its pulchritude and agony annihilate the tenuous human fragility?

No words. No answers. The silence deafens, as the senses listen intently, skimming the surface of myriad textures, smells, tastes, vibrations, images, sounds… Ebbing, flowing, undulating…

Autism Acceptance?

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Autism MeetUp 2016, UNSW Art & Design

Community service announcement:

Dear organisations jumping on the Autism Bandwagon. You really need to do better than “everyone else” if you wish to win the trust and confidence of Actually Autistic people. That is IF you truly wish to be inclusive (as you so claim) and learn about intrinsic autistic modalities and paradigms, in order to properly support autistic people in respectful ways. This is the ‘homework’ you need to do BEFORE asking autistic people to do freebie work for your ’cause’. Show us that you are worthy of our efforts. Any other is at best mere tokenism, and at worst exploitation. Add to that, spreading harmful misinformation.

#actuallyautistic #autismacceptance #nothingaboutuswithoutus

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duet

Another brief interlude, just the two of us, baby-sister and me. Precious little clement spaces – our bubbles of Being Together. Free, unencumbered now, with no more jealous and possessive (other) siblings making bitchy snide remarks, we are children once again, shutting out the rest of the unkind world. I had a sudden desire for ramen, so we headed for the nearby mall, five minutes’ shuttle bus ride away. A hot steaming bowl each of slithery stuff soaked in thick miso-flavoured soup, and sides of tofu and maki. Our chatter, the rise and fall of voices, the intensities and dimensions, may all seem strange to the eavesdropping onlooker. But for us, this is just “our” way.  Space of Mind. Elemental empathy. Knowing. It is a very special co-existence within a common comfortable domain. And no, we do not need eye-contact to resonate and reverberate.

C’est si bon!

voicing the voice

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Off to face the world!

It began foggy, damp and cold. We lay in bed, unwilling to emerge from under our warm cocoon. Angel alarm has not been working for some time now. Is it her age? No matter, mumma’s turn to take over the waking up process.

All quiet, apart from the whirring of traffic and birdsong – absolute bliss. No anxious listening out for grating vocalisations and cling-clang-slam of doors etc, planning the morning dash to kitchen and bathroom to avoid having our morning peace cruelly interrupted. Or destroyed. Continue reading

gobbledy-goop

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goop

This is porridge. It is goop. You do not chew on goop. It is sluggish, it does not flow, it is not pretty, the sound it makes is murky. Goop does not sing in clear mellifluous tones. Goop just flops and blobs and generally obstructs refinement.

I have been living in a state of goop lately. Despite the unwelcome sensory atmosphere, or perhaps even spurred on by the discomfort and often sheer agony, I have been ruminating… and chewing… and gnawing… there has even been a goodly gnashing of teeth… over the colossal conundrum of EMPATHIC RESONANCE.

Let me try to put this mammoth in two simple, broad categories. Continue reading