A Creative Take on Sensory Processing: Part Three3 min read

If you haven’t already, click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this 4‑part series.

Looking back, my extreme self-absorption shielded me from a world of pain. I’m selfish. Because I struggle to con­nect with the out­side world, my own inte­rior thought con­sume me. I can’t put myself in other people’s posi­tions, so it never seemed worth­while to put effort into any­thing that didn’t directly affect me.

I spend all my time thinking about writing and music, obsessing about the past and fearing the future, and ana­lyzing every deci­sion I have ever made, it doesn’t leave much time to worry about what other people say

Thinking about it now, it’s almost funny. Whatever my uncle said, I prob­ably could have for­given him much sooner than the rest of my family. Emotions and loy­alty weigh them down. I have emo­tions, but I can’t process them well, so they have a weaker effect.

I’m not used to intense feel­ings. I remember how shocked my sister was when she saw me cry at our grandma’s funeral. She said that was the first time she’d ever seen me cry. But I had cried in pri­vate many times before.

Emotions are tricky. When my mother thought she had Huntington’s Disease, I don’t remember feeling much at all. When my par­ents lost their house and sent my dog to a shelter, I barely reacted. (Months later, a two-legged dog ran across my TV screen, and I started blub­bering uncon­trol­lably.) 

Somehow I still got a second date. But those moments are rare. Usually, the only feel­ings  I rec­og­nize are fear and anx­iety. Sometimes hap­pi­ness, but my hap­pi­ness looks more like antic­i­pa­tion. The rest, I bury.

I never needed anyone to pro­tect me. I mas­tered the art of avoid­ance all on my own. Some avoid because they don’t want to feel pain. I avoid out of con­fu­sion. My brain can’t process them cor­rectly, just like it can’t process sen­sory input.

Yet, I know the burn of the wine goes deeper than sen­sory chaos. Taste doesn’t stain. Taste for­gets. A squirt of lemon juice wipes away a nasty after­taste. But emo­tions, those linger. Those stay with you.

Some say people on the spec­trum don’t feel at all. Some say we feel too much. The two can seem inter­change­able when you’re living it. For all of my unfeeling, all of my most vivid child­hood mem­o­ries are bound together by a common emo­tional thread. Despite living so close to Orlando, we only took one family trip to Disney World.

The only memory I have of that week is a hand punching a wall. I assume it was my Dad’s because I can’t imagine my mother ever punching a wall. I don’t know if it was a hotel room or the house we lived in. I just know it wasn’t Disney World. 

I remember hiding every time I stood up for myself, afraid of being hit. I remember every time my dad called my mom a bitch. I remember every time my dad stormed out, took off in his car, and left me won­dering if he’d ever come back. I remember sit­ting at the top of the stairs, my tiny knees glued to the carpet as my dad screamed vio­lent threats, holding a tool as a weapon in a moment of caveman hos­tility.

And I remember crying stop over and over again, so many times, on so many occa­sions, they stopped feeling like mem­o­ries. I think it was a hammer, but it could have been a saw. Frankly, it could have been a wood chisel. I can’t tell a wire cutter from a needlenose plier. My family insisted it was another side effect of how dis­gust­ingly fem­i­nine I was. As an adult, I can now con­firm that tools are boring and out­right dan­gerous. (My dad lost half a thumb on a power saw.)

Growing up, I couldn’t tell you where we kept the monkey wrench, but I always knew where to find the knives. I’d see them sit­ting on the kitchen counter and in my head, I’d map out the fastest route from the bed­rooms to the kitchen. I couldn’t look at a window and not see an intrud­er’s entryway, and I couldn’t look at a hammer and not see a weapon.

Click here to read the con­clu­sion to this series.

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