Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts about Neurological Basis of Sensory Overload

Thoughts about Neurological Basis of Sensory Overload and Isolation and the role of music in making me more able to emotionally connect to others 

I, as always, did a lot of thinking today. Had a good time at event at museum that was celebrating a 100 year old Holocaust survivor, but that is not why, merely something I want to remember for the future, because being part of something felt good. 

There is a concept in brain research, that the brain is neuroplastic. That means it can change. The brain has a lot of real estate, and if one part of it is not lit up, that area will be taken over by a new function. That way, all of the brain is being used to its full potential. Except sometimes, what the brain ends up getting used for is not actually good.

I am starting to think that most likely, not being able to even perceive the concept of other people as people for the first thirteen years of my life probably left a lot of empty space in the "need some sort of input" part of my brain that was not being occupied by, well, emotional input by other people. 

So instead, the brain organized around the only thing it had, which was the sensory input it was getting and the feelings of being me in my body. Everyone's brain of course naturally does this, but if a person with autism or who is otherwise isolated does not have social connections... 
the brain instead devotes a tremendous amount of real estate to focusing on sensory perception, physical pain and the emotions and feelings of self. *** There is no "other" to balance these things out. *** They multiply and grow 100000x without any "other" person or feeling of others to balance them out. Which might be one reason life feels so intense for many on the autism spectrum - and so isolated. 

It also may be why for me to actually feel someone else in my head, my heart, my emotional space immediately just makes all of the previously mentioned physical and sensory stimuli a hundred times easier to tolerate, and why I keep seeking this feeling of connection with others in every way I can think of. The brain is neuroplastic, which means it can change. Having other people's emotional input in the area previously only reserved for my own feels good. Hopefully in time it will be there automatically instead of just occasionally. It goes away when the person goes away, at them moment, or maybe lasts a few hours after, if I'm lucky... but maybe it won't always be that way.

I was thinking earlier how I had started listening to music, coincedentally, the same year as I started to become aware of other people as people instead of just objects that I was afraid of and tried to dart around like a Pacman player avoiding blue ghosts that will eat them. I thought it was a coincedence, but maybe it wasn't. When my grandfather gave me a Walkman the summer before what I think was my seventh grade year, I got into 60s music and oldies radio. I don't remember when I started wearing my Walkman all the time in public, but a friend tells me I listened to it as early as seventh grade. I don't remember it until high school, but regardless, it was when I got into music. I didn't even like music before that, except for the soundtrack to CATS which I listened to over and over again. 

I wonder if having the emotional connection to the music made me feel safe enough and secure enough to be mentally and developmentally open to people around me. I wonder if that is what made me go from seeing people as objects to be afraid of to seeing a little more of what they were - I began noticing that people were in pairs, and had friends and did things with each other. They looked happy. I realized what the concept of friend was for the first time. It was a very basic conception, but still. My realization was something along the lines of "They seem to make each other happy." I realized I wanted that. I had no idea what it was, though, or how to go about getting it. That, of course, would set off years and years of pain and suffering while I tried to figure it out, but that is not the issue up for discussion at the moment. It was like listening to music and having emotional connections to it was a proxy to allow me to be able to understand the concept of emotional connections to others.

But I still find it so much easier to relate to music and connect to music than people. I still carry my Walkman everywhere to calm and soothe me and serve as a substitute for the human connection I so much want. Using it as a safe space, I am able to take tentative steps from it, reaching out to people and trying to connect with them, as long as I can come back to it and drown my frayed nerves and anxieties in it. I can start to feel what it feels like to have emotional connections with others, and it's wonderful and amazing and so not like anything I have ever experienced before. But it's also fleeting, oh so fleeting ,over almost as soon as it begins. A depth of emotion and connection that at once takes me over and makes me feel safe, warm and fuzzy and good, and then leaves, leaving me to fall harder and harder into the depths of despair as I try so desperately to get it back. This back and forth dance, quite frankly, sucks. But the only option I have, every time I fall back in to the craggy, barren, desolate atmosphere that it is my brain when it is isolated from other humans is to sigh, listen to some music to help calm me and help take the pain away, try to right myself, and throw myself down the cliff once more, trying to grab onto connection to fill myself up once more, hoping and hoping that this time maybe it will last. Maybe it does last for a little longer now? Maybe a few hours instead of going away immediately? It is hard to say. 
There are some times, now, when I can actually connect with the sense of connection to others in the depths of my despair, a despair that in so many ways has come to feel almost like a natural state. This is good, but I want more, and patience is hard. I so envy, but try not to, others who probably feel this sense of connection too others and basic calmness on a regular basis and don't have to fight, kicking and screaming for it. But in the end, my choice seems clear. Keep searching for the emotional connection, as it is the only way to survive. 

This will make one hell of a book when it's eventually finished. Assuming I don't lose all the various pieces and places where I've written about it over the years and can remember it all as well as I do now... 

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