The wires in my brain seem to be configured by some elaborate practical joke. There are either way too many or too few connecting this input to the corresponding cortex, or they are just connected to the wrong places. It’s like gremlins sabotaged my machinery.
This is not how most autistic people’s brains work, I imagine, but it’s how mine works.
I imagine that being inside my mind, depending on the instance and circumstances, is like an acid trip. I’ve never used psychedelic drugs, but it’s always struck me as strange to hear people gush about their experiences on an acid trip. I didn’t realize that most people’s brains don’t work the way mine does, but they were describing every other day in my head.
I’m not sure where the synesthesia ends and the sensory processing disorder begins, but I’ve got a heavy helping of both, and some other things on top of that.
1. I have mirror-image dyslexia.
This makes hundreds of tasks difficult for me that you’d probably never imagine would be a struggle for someone with a graduate education. I can’t look at illustrated directions and understand what I’m seeing.
I’ve almost burned down my house three times because I can’t understand the dots beside the knobs on my gas range. I light the wrong burner, the one that has a paper towel or oven mitt too close to it, and whoosh! Quantum physics is much easier than assembling an Ikea shelf from the directions because there are no words.
I walk or drive in the direction of my destination, panicking the whole time because I feel certain I’m going the wrong way. For at least half of every shower, I spend the time adjusting the water temperature because I never remember which tap is hot or which is cold, nor even which way to turn the knobs.
2. I see visions to go along with touch.
This is not a supernatural phenomenon. It’s similar to having a dream, in that I’m not seeing it with my eyes but from within my mind. I can’t handle anything touching my elbows or the backs of my arms.
A few nights ago, my husband rolled over in bed and a cold corner of a pillow brushed my elbow. It caused my brain to short circuit. I saw a vision of a countertop covered with bright red contact paper. There was a large air bubble under the contact paper, and the vision was as disturbing as watching a massacre happen.
When I touch microfiber cloths, I see a vision of a scraped knee. If I try to swallow slimy vegetables like okra, I see a dead jellyfish on the beach. My brain likes to torture me in metaphors.
3. My feelings are not connected to whatever caused me to feel.
Yesterday evening, I noticed that I was feeling intensely, but couldn’t explain what I was feeling. It was just categorically unpleasant. My discomfort gave way to extreme agitation. I started sweating profusely, and my chest watightening.
This happens to me from time to time, and I have this overwhelming sense of, “I need something but have no idea what it is.” Finally, after an hour, pain like knives shot up my arm. I pulled up my sleeve and was horrified.
I had multiple third-degree burns on my arm. Then, I had a flashback and remembered the grease popping on me. My brain decided to forget about it immediately after, so I didn’t put any aloe or water on it.
5. My depth perception is abysmal.
For many autistics, visual-spatial intelligence is low. My visuospatial subscores on an IQ test are more than 100 points below other subscores. I have, at all times, at least five bruises, broken bones, or knots distributed around my body from misjudging distances.
The most frequent is that I always hit my face on cabinet doors when I retrieve something from a cabinet. Stairs look like cruelly-painted ramps to me, and I tend to fall up steps frequently.
My first kiss was one of those horrid, teeth-on-teeth incidents because I thought he was farther away. I often have difficulty with photos and understanding what I’m seeing.
6. I feel color.
I am extremely tense around most shades of the color yellow, and I can’t stand to look at it. Non-metallic gold, mustard, goldenrod, dandelion, nicotine, amber, citron, pastel lemon, persimmon, and butternut are the worst.
I love the yellow of my daughter’s hair, of the flicker of a lazy flame, of bumblebees, and of photons. I need to surround myself with vivid and deep reds, mint greens, teals, and aquas to be happy, and everything I buy is in these shades, black, or grey.
7. I see music and feel it like motion.
Often, it’s pulsing, bright colors. If it has yellow in the sound, I never listen to that music. If a yellow song is playing on the radio in a store or restaurant, I leave.
But, this might be my favorite part of my sensory imbroglio. If the music and the mixing are right, usually orchestral music, then the visualizations that go along with it are powerful and intensely moving. I’m rendered a weeping heap on the floor, so overcome that I lose motor function.
I sometimes see vibrant landscapes in otherworldly colors or a three-dimensional grid against a backdrop of space, and the grid changes colors and morphs with the beat.
Rarely, but sometimes, music makes me feel motion, like the drop at the top of a roller coaster. I have to sit or even lie down listening to some songs because the motion is indiscernible from actual motion.
7. Eating is miserable.
The experience of eating and digesting food, especially if I’m on sensory overload and tired, is extremely unpleasant to me. I feel that I need to eat standing up. I’m not sure why, but it just feels like it’s less traumatic that way.
If I touch a bone, skin, or (I’m literally cringing and gagging as I type) bite gristle, I can’t eat any more for a long time and might go days or weeks without eating meat. There is almost never a food that I feel like eating, and I almost always regret eating what I’ve ordered.
It can take me longer than two hours to eat a snack. After a meal, I feel totally zapped, and the only way that I can process digestion is to lie on my stomach, in a dark, quiet room, propped up on my elbows, with my head lifted in the air.
8. I laugh at the wrong things.
More than once, I’ve laughed at the worst times. My language is processed in a different part of the brain from most people’s, and so sometimes the way sentences are configured are just so odd to me that they are hilarious. Certain words always make me laugh. Maybe it’s synesthesia?
l’ve burst out laughing, hard, during professional meetings. I laugh at my own suffering and awkwardness, too. Because of my impractically-detailed memory, nearly anything can trigger a memory of something hilarious.
I almost always laugh when the words diabetes, bishop, rag, or werewolf crop up in a conversation. If I see Old Bay, the seafood spice blend, I usually lose my composure.
These are just a few of thousands of odd ways my brain has managed the hyperconnectivity and divergent writing of my neurology. When I intake too much input and my brain is tired, signals sometimes get re-routed and crossed.
Some of my wires were crossed from birth, and the sadistic saboteurs that are my hippocampus and amygdala have managed to do the rest. It’s a perpetual macabre carnival to live in my brain.
At least, I’m never bored.
- Matthew Rushin, My Bias, and Your Bias — July 1, 2020
- Matthew Rushin: Did Virginia Beach PD suspect seizure and hide it? — June 29, 2020
- Matthew Rushin: Body Cam Footage and Forensic Data — June 23, 2020