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.

the dilemma of trauma

 

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One week of excruciating physical pain. Stress reaction. A serious one. I was caught by surprise this time, I didn’t expect my body to react so viciously.

I was physically assaulted last Sunday. By someone I know. The person has admitted to me it was a psychotic episode. I am psychologically and emotionally intact, but my physical body has reacted fiercely from the traumatic shock.

Last Sunday, I attended a theatre performance. I was standing outside the theatre, in a basement lobby teeming with chattering voices bouncing off pristine white walls, waiting for the show to begin, when a pre-show drama literally exploded in my face. Continue reading

dissociation

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dissociation
dɪˌsəʊʃɪˈeɪʃ(ə)n,dɪˌsəʊsɪˈeɪʃ(ə)n
noun
  1. the action of disconnecting or separating or the state of being disconnected.

Shared stories from neurodivergent people differ in hue, colour, strokes and intricate detail about their experiences of the state of mind-body disconnect that is “dissociation”. But all bear one similarity – that it happens because of pain, too much pain for the mind to bear, like a meltdown from sensory overload, though in this case the sense is excruciating pain, pure and unfiltered.

I wrote this Ode to Dissociation for all those who know it and are living it, the brave who have no choice but to be. This is not about death, really, it is about living in unending hell. That is what people who experience dissociation tell me. I think they must be right.

Dissociate

Depart from me, tender soul, your presence is not wanted. Inside tumultuous raging sea, this vulnerability attracts destruction, and annihilation becomes an inevitability.

Leave this terrifying arena, you have not the grit and boldness for the gory fight, you are but a diaphanous delicate entity, and the pounding hoofs of bulls are crushing you beneath.

Empty the soul, stand outside, dissociate from the incessant kicking of steel-capped boots, turn away if you can, do not watch, as this shell becomes limp and wearied, as it withers away.

Depart from me, tender soul, your presence is a burden that hastens annihilation. In death, we shall yet remain alive. This is an ancient trick, a grand sorcery of the mind, for survival of the fittest!

drain

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Drain. The physical object. That little channel ushering its contents into the nether regions of our consciousness. The act of it. That actual movement, going, flowing, evacuating, emptying. And being drained. Emptied, while still alive, until there is no more. At which point does it translate into actuality? How long can the human soul endure? Continue reading

clement space in the city

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I spent the last few nights and days in this sofa, positioned right next to the loo. For safety, because I nearly fell down the winding stairs connecting to the loft bed. And for convenience, in case I had to throw up. A good thing I am short, but still, I have not laid down properly in a bed, stretched out, for this entire time. Continue reading

amplified senses

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What happens when an autistic person with hyper senses becomes unwell / sick? Do those hyper sensory antennae suddenly shrink to ‘normal’? Nope. They are amplified still, as ever, if not even more so. The pain is compounded, and searing terror all the more gripping.

Staring into my delicious bowl of hot potato and leek soup this morning at the Arthouse Kitchen, after an entire night spent retching into the loo, I felt a sense of relief – just simply because I was no longer trapped inside the swirling sphere of excruciating agony. Last night, it was as if time had snapped its back and was lying on the ground in a crumpled heap, sneering at me each time I convulsed, perspiring profusely like a tap at full blast. Not a pretty sight. Not one I’m happy to allow any to witness, so another episode came and went, with only the cosmos as voyeur, and my paltry words to record. I don’t want or need anyone to hold my hand during the ordeal, no thank you, it adds to the distress, really. Yet, being all alone in the cold, stark artist’s studio while teetering on the brink of physical and mental breakdown, was admittedly most frightening.

I couldn’t swallow more than 6 spoons of the goop, no matter how tasty. The throat is inflamed from all the coughing and sputtering. Sorry, Massimo. Please don’t take it as an insult to your culinary offering.

It was a comfort to sit in an old favourite and familiar space. Though with a sad twitching tingling feeling, because that was one of ‘our’ places to be – Lucy and me.

Takeaway: Autistic hyper senses = amplified horror and pain when unwell. Spare a thought for us, we’re not being dramatic. In fact, we prefer to hide inside our excruciating terror. But being nearby and knowing that you are somewhere does help a bit, if only to call an ambulance if needed.

accommodating Self

 

Yesterday afternoon, a friend took me to a little nooky cafe, tucked inside an industrial estate. A former hardware shop, the entrance decorated with eclectic vintage clutter served as a thematic introduction to the atmosphere within. As soon as we pushed open the creaky door, I felt a draft of musty, humid, cool air blow directly into my face, then wrap around me like a nebulous mouldy snake. My skin tingled, as my olfactory senses picked up the various miasmic odours emanating from each visually charming piece of history on display.

The waiter ushered us towards the back. Slipping within a split second into a bubble of wordlessness, I followed obediently, semi-somnambulant, my sensory system already engaged in a (routine) contrapuntal wrestling match with the onslaught of smells, sights, and sounds. As we were about to sit down at the allocated table, speech suddenly returned, and words fell out of my mouth like marbles, tumbling down and bouncing sharply against the concrete floor.

“I don’t want to sit here, it smells funny. I don’t like the smell here.”

Continue reading