At the risk of this sounding like an over generalisation, it seems to me that neurotypical people mostly take in their impressions of the world through their heads and their fingertips whereas, as someone with Asperger’s (and I have read about this trait a lot in Aspie accounts), I seem to take in my impressions of the world via the whole of my body, like one giant informational interface that is every bit as complex as a brain. Does this post only apply to people with Asperger’s? I suspect not but then I also suspect that those who count themselves as highly sensitive and prone to processing the world very differently are amongst those who might want to consider if they are undiagnosed Aspie’s, as I found myself to be (and discovering this has been the biggest breakthrough of my life).
This trait of taking in so much information via the body feels directly linked to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which is closely linked to Asperger’s, and feels like it might be some-sort of preference-driven trait that encourages tissues of the body to err on the soft-side; as some-sort of facility geared to whole-body information gathering. A rigid body is more like a suit of armour, or a machine, but soft tissue takes on impressions the same way that the string of an instrument needs to be just-so but certainly not taut to make a resonant sound. Yes, this has very-much to do with responding to frequencies and is an aspect of how the human body gathers information that is far from understood by conventional medicine.
What kind of information do I refer to? Well, I know I take in data to do with people’s moods and mental/physical states, changes in the weather, electrical frequency, the movement of water through my household heating system, the transit of people and vehicles in my vicinity, the food that I eat and even food that I come into close proximity to and of course frequency to do with light, sound and touch, plus I believe my body registers how my furniture and fabrics are constructed too. All this is just the beginning of what I take in as impressions of the world….and all with the consequence that my body tries to handle, process and, often, store all this information in the giant storage vault that is the body’s cells. We all do this to some degree…but I suspect people on the autism spectrum do it more; dismissing far less of it as superfluous to whatever cognitive agenda we are in allegiance to since we tend to lack the kind of executive functioning that filters what we see to what we have decided we want to see, as is more neurotypical (NT).
The analogy that came to me, and which marked a significant breakthrough, was to compare my EDS body with memory foam, that twentieth century invention devised by NASA to enable astronauts to cope with the G-force and crash landing on space missions.
I’ve had a top-notch memory foam mattress for about ten years now and its been a lifesaver for gaining a comfortable night’s sleep with fibromyalgia. Recently, following my health crash in the summer, I added a new memory foam topper to that and now have one on my sofa; so , you could say, I’ve given a lot of extra thought to memory foam and how it works of late.
So, perhaps this is why it sprang to mind (excuse the pun) when I was feeling my way into the revelation that I have probably had EDS all my life; a lightbulb moment that is on a par with the penny having dropped that I had Asperger’s. It shed so much light on my long-running health issues and the fact my body doesn’t seem to react, or respond, the same as other peoples, even to efforts to help it.
Yet it was the analogy that occurred to me, between the memory foam I sleep on and the actual tissue of my body…and its propensity to “hold onto” sensory impressions like you can leave a handprint on a memory foam mattress… that was an almost bigger “pow” moment in that it allowed me to understand what it is that is so very different in my case. To really grasp the idea, imagine a scenario where it was most typical for body tissue to be like conventional foam….it goes up and down with pressure but doesn’t hold on to the imprint for more than a microsecond, meaning that the foam learns nothing in the process and remains relatively inert; valued for strength but not particularly for sensitivity since some other part of the system (the brain) is entrusted with that. Memory foam is different; it is designed to warm then soften to the touch and to remember every impressionable thing that occurs to it; at least, for as long as it is designed to do so in order to do the job that it was designed for. This means the body lying on it doesn’t have to keep pushing against its resistance; it moulds and then it holds, allowing the body to align more naturally. Through being malleable in this way that learns, it allows the person’s body to inform it of its preferences and it does its best to acquiesce in what becomes a reciprocal arrangement. In other words, it is doing its best to be helpful.
This “trying to be helpful” stance is typical of how I have tended to make sense of my physical quirks. However challenging my health has been, I have tended to want to perceive the underlying “good intention” of my body to do its best to adapt to a world that it finds, through no fault of its own, pretty challenging. It gathers information and tries its best to adapt to fit around the, often unfathomable, way that things are; and the more unfathomable things are, the more it seeks to gather data to help inform me.
As such, its as though my “system” is fixated on gathering as much data as it can, soaking up information like a sponge that knows no boundaries or limits, just gathering it all in from my environments (both inside and out, which means my thoughts are another source). It does this, scooping everything up until I become so overloaded with so many patterns and rhythms (for that’s what information boils down to in its essence) like a telephone exchange struggling to process far too many calls on wires that become frayed and prone to bursting into flames.
Its a given that I already know I am highly sensitive and impressionable, topics I’ve written about many times before, mostly from the stance of “personality trait”, being a Highly Sensitive Person (as per Elaine Aron’s criteria) and an INFJ (as per Myers-Briggs personality types). However, the use of that word “impressionable”…also applicable in the context of a memory foam mattress which, by design, is highly impressionable…is where my light-bulb moment came from. If my body is anything like that then no wonder it holds onto sensory impressions from every minute piece of sensory data “out there” in the world at large; but why…what is its purpose or intent? I’ve never been one to assume that my foibles mean I “must be broken” so from where does this trait derive, where are its roots in Nature’s design?
When you look at where the human nervous system evolved from, there are hints since we are all distantly related to the sea anemone, which flinches and responds to every sensory current going on around it. I learned about this when I was researching lions mane mushroom, which I have been taking (with great success) for three years now to help repair myelin sheath on my nerves, to make my body less over-responsive to the kind of triggers that tend to cause pain. My whole-body migraines (another clue there…my migraines affect the whole of my body, not just my head) have impressively reduced, in both infrequency and intensity, since I began that regime but the memory of the sea anemone has always stayed with me.
So when did we become so head-centric as human beings and why do some people with Asperger’s seem to operate rather differently, engaging their full body as a data-collecting device?
Don’t be fooled by the ingrained idea that Asperger’s means being the boffin, living in your head like the little scientist; and especially not for Asperger’s women. Sarah Hendrickx reports from her studies, in her book “Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age”, that the most favoured interests for Asperger’s women are, resoundingly, art and literature….hardly subjects confined to the left hemisphere of the brain.
As it seems to me, the NT version of humanity seems to have retreated to the head, making its control centre smaller and smaller as it has become more logic driven, retiring to the brain and specifically favouring that room on the left whilst closing down and throwing dust sheets over all the other sensory and informational “rooms” in the body…but its not necessarily like that for someone with Asperger’s. Far from it, I suspect.
Perhaps in a more animalistic way than NTs, we have kept all our rooms open and our experience of life can be a whole-body thing through an interface made up of many communication portals, not just those hinged on cognitive thought. Is this so wrong or is it it just different; for, it could be argued, so much that is worthwhile has been surrendered by human beings on that never-ending quest to refine the empirical approach to life and, if the world is a problem for us Aspie’s to live in, perhaps this is simply because we wouldn’t have designed the world to be the way it now is if we had had any say in the matter….and nor would any animal, truth be known. The world we live in was designed by neurotypicals though, interestingly enough, those to come along and blow-apart old paradigms, making giant leaps into the future, have often been individuals thought to have had Asperger’s (Einstein amongst others). So, we seem to make the leaps…but the day-to-day running of things is very-much done to neurotypical preferences and is as head-centric as it comes.
If we all felt what is truly going on around us instead of blocking most of it out with the directive of our thoughts, to suit convenient belief systems designed to manipulate our way to a man-controlled environment, this isn’t how things would look (or feel…) living in our shared environment. The fact our world is now in such a heinous mess is testament to a way of being that has focused so thoroughly on living from “the head”, as though the rest of the body was just some sort of carrying device for this all-important processor.
For the person with Asperger’s, who is not generally this way inclined (or, I speak for the women I have compared notes with), this creates a problem and it’s a big one since they have to share the same world as everyone else. This is because they seem to react to it more wholly, more completely and diversely, than someone who compartmentalises and filters their chosen information in their head and blocks out the rest. Before anyone argues that the latter way of being is “right” and we are so very wrong, lets consider where this propensity to direct thoughts in ways that are convenient and agenda driven, yet not so very honest or holistic, has got us to in a world run by a dominant strain of human that turns their gaze from whatever doesn’t suit or directly involve them. Its been like a bank account running on overdraft; one day we will all be forced to look at what we don’t like about our world and it will come as a far bigger shock to some than to others of us, who live with it every day as the sensory assault we are faced to navigate as our “normal” yet largely alien living environment.
Here’s one other thing I notice about this, in my case (and I know there is a link here for many on the autism spectrum). Because I am a synesthete, emotions and thoughts get easily translated into sensory data and vice versa; colours, sound and other “effects” interchanging seamlessly with the vibrations and moods of information that first arrived in my nervous system in some other form. Whether this indicates confusion (NTs would say “brokenness”) by my processing centre as though all its wires are scrambled, or a lack of facility to express all the data that it is party to (like someone might lack the words to express something that defies conventional description), thus the need to draw on all its resources at once, remains a mystery. This effect of every player in my sensory orchestra being recruited to play the tune of my experiences can be organismic…and it can be horrific, a cacophony, far too much for me to cope with, depending on the circumstances. Mirror touch synesthesia comes into this as I seem to mirror rhythms and pulses of non-organic origin as well as environmental and human/animal sensations, feeling them as though internalised within the micro-environment of my own body (to say I feel what the planet feels is no overstatement).
I should add, I don’t tend to share other’s emotions so much as I experience their physical sensations, unless I know them particularly well; and I think this is down to the non-relatability of most people’s thinking/motivations to me and yet I can tell something much more intrinsic about their fundamental state of wellbeing or, you could say, frequency. This makes use of the word “empath” tricky since it can, these days, be taken as meaning that we relate to someone’s emotional state (which is really sympathy…) and I might not be doing that, yet I truly empathise in the original sense of “feeling” someone else’s state “in the muscles”, which is how the word was described when first coined in English. These days, the messages I receive about most people’s fundamental state “in my muscles” and the rest of my body is not generally a very happy or balanced one…
It feels like no coincidence that a high-pitched alarm sound has become the accompaniment to my life, day and night, for over a year now, as though the amount of sensory bombardment that my system is having to cope with is now so overloaded that all the data of a certain bandwidth has been rolled into a single white noise pitched at quite the alarming level. I have no doubt, EMF frequencies have a big part to play in this systemic interference I am party to (and it is well known that birds, bees and many species of animals are also distressed by these man-made frequencies) yet the vast majority of the human race plough on as though nothing has changed.
Back to that memory foam analogy; this has helped me to devise something I termed ”the cosmic dump” the first time I did it, which was on waking one morning in a lot of random sensory interference (it seems more honest a word than “pain”); compared to which my wonderful new memory foam topper beneath me was the only foil. I got to thinking how that topper was also shaped to my experiences yet would spring back into its intactness the moment I get out of the bed and so I decided to be that memory foam; to direct my body to release all the impressions it was holding and return to neutral at my instruction. This turned out to be remarkably potent as directives go, enabling me to reclaim what could have been a deeply unpleasant morning and, with the help of a dose of CDB and some gentle stretches on my yoga mat, to resume some semblance of my intended day.
Throughout my recent trip to Amsterdam, which I had been so concerned about beforehand as a city break is always going to throw a lot more sensory triggers at me than a week in the country, I continued to use this practice as needed and am convinced that it significantly helped. Its not far from the “letting go of whatever is not mine” practice that I have used for many years and yet, somehow, by introducing the visual of a memory foam mattress, I’ve managed to sink far deeper into it (excuse yet another pun) and let go of even more, quicker.
Perhaps that uber practical and yet highly visual part of my Asperger’s brain needs this video of the reconstituted mattress in my mind’s eye to take this practice a stage further, and I really have…even using it when I was out in crowds that bothered me. There’s something about the way that it allows me to go soft without losing all my edges or surrendering my boundaries that is important. After all, the mattress doesn’t cease to be a mattress or turn into an amorphous blob when the person gets off it; in fact it becomes an even more intact and pristine mattress than when the pressure was on. Yet when it is being “put upon” by the shape of a person’s body, or anything else that makes an impression on its surface, it is simply doing its job, performing what it is best at, which is to adapt to variable circumstance in its own unique way.
What I am really saying here is that there is something key about the person with Asperger’s and/or EDS being able to own the particular way they are made; without feeling broken or like they are doing something wrong or “less well” than the next person…whether they are out in the fray, taking in a great deal of information that no one else seems to even notice or whether they have managed to carve for themselves a piece of neutrality, pulled away from the world and its effects, for a period of all-important respite. These are all important variables for someone with Asperger’s….yes, they respond minutely to many things but then they need those all-important periods of not having to respond to anything at all; in fact, do nothing except be alone with themselves. It’s all a case of being perfect, exactly as they were designed to be; there is nothing going wrong here, but this technique brings them some choices and some control over how and when they gather in data and then enabling them to take a much-needed break, and let go of what is superfluous, when they need to.
One thing we are apparently not so good at in many cases, and I would concur, is the ability to alter what we are doing, to change direction quickly or to cease doggedly ploughing along a particular trajectory that we have got ourselves onto. The important thing here is to step in and make it happen; to enforce the “stop” point and then to take the time to ritualistically let go of whatever is too much and which doesn’t feel good…recruiting the power of our minds, which is considerable yet sometimes we forget to use it for our own benefit!
When I use this technique, I simply talk to my body and gently request that it gather up all the sensory impressions it has taken on when I wasn’t noticing, or was bombarded by being around lots of other people and other triggers, rhythms, impulses, moods that are not mine, often gathered overnight when I was asleep or simply passing through. I gather them all up (in a generic sense, not having to go into detail) then request to let go of anything that is not useful to me or directly “mine”. I do the same with any thoughts that have rambled into my head that don’t feel of my frequency (these can be identified by lowered mood or niggles about silly problems that I can’t do anything about). I also ask that it release any associated toxins that have inevitably gathered around all those pieces of information that it has been attempting to store, in my body tissue, releasing this gently and appropriately into my waste-processing organs to be dealt with at a pace it can cope with. Assisting with plenty of water, perhaps a dose of colloidal silver, a celery or other juice and healthy but light meal can really hasten and smooth-out this process. Importantly, I visualise my body tissue springing back into its healthiest, most relaxed and well-functioning format and I feel all the integrity and strength of “who I intrinsically am” (just as a piece of memory foam is intrinsically “a mattress”) spring back into shape. The feeling is quite tangible; I can actually notice strength course back into my legs, my pelvic floor and other organ supports and my mood rise up, amongst other things.
One thing I have found on using this so-powerful technique is that when I release all those things that my body has taken on the impression of, by gently commanding that it let go, it is sometimes initially left in quite an acute level of pain from the suddenness of the release. It’s a contraction of sorts and, to me, it presents as sudden, intense nerve pain or perhaps a muscle spasm. As long as I don’t stagnate in that state, or go into fear, but get straight to any remedies that can help, I can shift through this phase fairly quickly. My first helpmate is CBD (which I often use under the tongue as I make the “release” request) since it distributes via the central vagus nerve and can be directed to the appropriate cannabinoid sensors in whatever part of the body needs to relax its white-knuckle grip on whatever sensory impressions it has picked up, allowing relaxation to sweep through in its wake. Herbal tea such as lemon balm or liquorice can also be a big help.
My next go-to is a boswellia lotion which I apply directly to any areas of tender muscle, nerves or facia. I’ve found that muscle rubs that heat aren’t quite right; the body is, after all, inflamed at these times whereas boswellia is a natural anti-inflammatory and works so well. Topical CBD lotion can also help for similar reasons as above.
I then go to my yoga mat if I can, to gently stretch out the limbs into a less distorted format, which can do wonders to process through these episodes. Soothing music, non-compulsive thinking and great diet and water, as above, can do all the rest.
Conversely, being around anything that is annoying or repetitious in its rhythms can have the opposite effect at these times. Its as though the overloaded tissue of the body, like a mattress that has been slept on by a very heavy person for far too long, now succumbs to anything and everything at this stage until it is flattened and you need the sensory respite to reconstitute yourself. Ticking clocks, internet connection and LED lights (which pulse) and songs or people that become ear-worms are best avoided for a while as you recover your equilibrium. Don’t understate what your impressionable body is taking in and making into its own rhythm without your say so if you are prone to this phenomena. You might think playing on your phone is just what you need but your clever body is likely taking in every pulse from signals going to and from it if you are like this…..and you will know this when you only feel worse, not better, after a few minutes. If this all sound like nonsense, consider that the adult body is 60 per cent water (even higher for children) and that water alters its very structure at the beck and call of frequency; and your propensity is to suck other frequencies into yourself far more readily, and in a much more wholesale manner, than the next person. I have no proof but such a gut-feeling that what I describe is something of how the autistic body-system works and that it will be better understood one day, when frequency is properly taken into account by health professionals.
This is a perfect opportunity for working on your executive functioning skills (eg organising, prioritising…) which, if you are anything like me and many Aspie’s, is probably one of your weakest skills, as is often the case with Aspie’s. Its time to pull rank and insist to yourself that you cease exposures that aren’t helpful and prioritise taking care of yourself when you become overwhelmed; putting a stop to habitual or obsessive behaviours in order to claim the respite that you need to spring back into a state of equilibrium. It involves knowing, noticing and admitting that sometimes you are far more impressionable than at others. When it happens, it’s time to pay attention, stop, release, relax, administer and wait it out until you entire nervous system, and everything else around it, has sprung back into comfortable shape. I can’t promise it will all be resolved, but it can get somewhat better once you take this firm hand with yourself…for yourself.
Here lies one of the pitfalls of Asperger’s’; we often don’t know when, or how, to stop ourselves and can keep going at the same task or preoccupation for so long that we have long ceased noticing the detrimental effect on our health…yet we, of all people (being so aware) should know how to do this well as soon as we make a priority out of listening, not avoiding, the cues. Now is the time to get far better at this; which is when we can start to claim the huge benefits of the unique way we are made, which isn’t faulty…just different or, one could say, innovative. Imagine; executive functioning combined with sense…what the world sorely lacks…we would be quite the tour de force and the world probably needs us right now. Rather than existing “top heavy”, conveniently (but destructively) detached from the natural world, we could model what holistic living really looks like.
Would I swop the way I am made? No I wouldn’t, not to be like everyone else; this is far too interesting and potential filled and I would simply like to get better at driving this vehicle, increasing my self-awareness to a very accomplished level, which is what I intend to do.
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3 thoughts on “Impressionable: a breakthrough in working with super-sensitivity”
Oh, this is very useful! I really like your memory-foam release technique! I’ve come to see the value in mini-meltdowns, especially if I can experience them consciously and in the garden, for they help me release the extra data I can’t and don’t need to process. Little shaking movements help to. And in recovery from too-much-data, yoga and music are lifesavers. Thank you for sharing these insights!
Oh I’m so glad that’s useful to you! I’d had this memory foam theme wanting to be written about for a few weeks but it all came together today after my trip (which went so well), which I will posting about shortly in my other blog.
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