At 40 years old, I found out that I might have been having a neurological condition, though I can yet afford an official assessment and diagnosis. In the meantime I shall call this condition “AS”. I spent time reading about “AS” and it made me realise that the signs and symptoms were prevalent throughout my life. It is like these writers know exactly how I have been living my life though we have never met before. I start this “Weirdly Wired” series to document about my life experiences with the symptoms which all these while I thought were “normal”.
I THOUGHT I WAS A SUPERHERO
When I was a boy, I thought I was a superhero. Just like every other children think. But they didn't look like they think that they were. They only became superheroes or superhuman when they play. They didn't believe that they were during normal times like reading times, eating times, napping times etc. But I did.
I thought I had super senses. Like Superman or Spiderman. I could see things that people couldn't. I could hear things that people didn't. I could smell things that they didn't.
And then I checked with them. “Can you see that?” “Can you hear that?” Can you smell that?”
And they said yes.
So I guess it is just normal and I was imagining things. I grew up thinking everything is normal.
SENSORY OVERLOAD. HOW THE BRAIN PROCESS THEM.
I was disappointed that I am not superhuman and I cannot emulate a superhero. I am just another dispensable person.
But only recently when I read about “AS”, I found out that all those sights, sounds, smell, taste, texture all make sense. Yes everyone can sense them too but how the brain of someone with “AS” process them is different.
And some of it can actually been very, and have been, disturbing all my life.
When I became myopic at the age of 8, I resigned to the fact that I am not a superhero. As it worsen over the years, I had no choice to put on spectacles and keep changing them every year. My “degree” went up to 350 by the time I reached 12 years old.
Like I said, it's not that I can see things that people couldn't. It is how my brain process the things (and information) I sense.
When I was 34, I went for Lasik treatment and have almost perfect eyesight till today. From then on, it reminded me of what I have been seeing.
Let me try to explain.
Have you ever tried taking a photograph of a friend. And while you are trying to get the best composition, other friends try to photobomb. Behind, beside, in front of the subject and they cannot stop moving. They come in and out of the frame. Jump in and out. Making noises and screaming for attention? I'm sure you had.
That is the best analogy I can think of. That is how I see things everywhere around me. At first I thought I was easily distracted. Some people keep saying that I am easily distracted. Some people say I cannot make eye contact.
Yes. Everything around me just jump in and out, screaming for attention. Not in a ghostly or weird manner but.... let's say I am walking along a pavement, I will see a squirrel, a crow, a mynah, a finch, a cockroach, a rat, a lizard, a person crossing the road, a piece of cloth being dried at a nearby block, a flying plastic bag, a car with a dent, a policeman in a car adjusting his spectacles, it just go on. And EVERYTHING is demanding for my attention just like someone trying to photobomb a photo. All of them seem to say, “Look at me!” It is very tiring to ignore that I end up not ignoring. I'll just look at them, let my brain process them and even remember them for minutes, sometimes hours and days. By the time I've finished a few hundred metres of walk, my brain will be overloaded with images and information. Most of the time I get tired, close my eyes and massage my head.
Very similar to my sight. Every little thing that I hear is screaming for attention. It is not that I can hear a pin drop from a kilometre away like a superhuman. It is just that every sound that any other person would ignore, screams for my brain's attention.
Let me try this analogy.
Say you are driving down a road in Singapore. Windows all wound up. You turn on the radio and drive on happily. Actually there are sounds around you that you can hear but you ignore. The engines of other vehicles, the motorbike engines, the pebbles that you drive on, the friction of the road and the tires, the sound of your own engine, the wind, the trees ruffling, construction works, bumps on the road, etc. All these slightly masked by the music from the radio. And then you hear the sound of a horn from somewhere which got your attention and you became alert for that moment of time to see what the horn was about.
You see, there were other sounds but you ignore. Once you hear a horn, your senses heightened. Even though the sound of the horn may not be louder than your radio's volume.
So that is what I am hearing. Every sound around me is like a horn. All sounds jolt me or heightened my alertness to some degree. Every sound screams for attention. While I'm driving, I hear everything that I mentioned above without being able to ignore them. Let me copy and paste.
The engines of other vehicles, the motorbike engines, the pebbles that you drive on, the friction of the road and the tires, the sound of your own engine, the wind, the trees ruffling, construction works, bumps on the road, etc.
But they cannot be masked by the sounds from the radio.
It made me realise also that I don't actually listen to music. I thought I just didn't enjoy it. I realise that they are just more distractions and more sounds screaming for attention. Imagine while driving and with the sounds that I mentioned plus the music, my brain will pick up extra sounds and information from the music such as the bass drums, the bass, the cymbals, the strings, the screeching of the guitar plectrums, the singer's breath, etc.
This is only an example during a drive. Combine the hearing and the sights while driving. I don't know if you can imagine the chaos in my head and how tired I get.
I am not even going to share my experiences on sleeping.
Ok I share a bit.
I get tired so I become sleepy but I keep getting woken up by sounds. I hate the army because of this. The whole bunk is noisy. Worse during reservist. 40 years of getting tired but not able to get good sleep all the time. Imagine living in an HDB flat, 3rd floor, beside a street, a carpark, a coffee shop, a market. I really really badly want to have my own quiet place to stay to finally get a good sleep. But then again I am a peasant in my own country so I most probably end up in another noisy HDB flat.
Just to sum up this part. I cannot ignore any sound and every sound screams like a vehicle horn that begs for attention.
SMELL TOUCH TASTE
I guess you would be able to imagine by now how everything screams for attention. Sight and hearing are hard to control but the other 3 senses can be controlled so I don't really have much issue with them. I don't want to smell, I can cover my nose. I don't want to feel then I don't touch. I don't want to taste then I don't eat.
But I'll just share what I think can be interesting.
I can remember smells. I can associate smells to the last thing I remember of it. The person, the place, the situation. Some very generic ones like, this perfume reminds me of someone. The smell of concrete reminds me of some homes I went. The smell of haze reminds me of the worse haze in 1997 and 2013.
When I was working with ACT3 and I travelled to schools all over Singapore, I remember sharing with my colleagues that certain areas have its own smell. I cannot explain what they smell like but if I smell them again, I can remember. Areas with the most distinct smells are Jurong, Tampines, Bedok, Yishun, and Bukit Batok.
I always thought that I am ticklish. I remember when people tickle me, I would squirm. The sensation will stay with me for hours and I hate it. The only way for me to fight off the ticklish feeling is by screaming and beating the person who tickle me. I would feel this balance in my head and body and I can forget about the tickle. So if anyone tickled me, I would beat the person up immediately.
Some people with “AS” says that they get disturbed by things like clothes label at the collar or the inside of the shirt. For my body, I can feel the constant itch. Everything gets itchy and I just need to scratch or else I won't feel satisfied. Anything can cause an itch. A wind blow, a twitching eye, a person's touch, the clothes label brushing the skin. I've learnt to ignore them but if I have a choice, I would scratch every itch.
Also, when I touch something with my left, I must make sure my right will touch it also or I will feel an unexplainable imbalance. If I touch a lift button with the forefinger of my left hand, I will touch it again with the forefinger of my right hand. If I kick a football with my right foot, I make sure I'll kick it again with my left. If I scratch my right shoulder, I must scratch my left shoulder too.
As for taste, I don't have much issue because as I get older and with certain habits, I am slowly losing my sense of taste. But similar to the sense of smell, I can remember certain tastes and what it reminds me of.
WHEN ALL THE 5 SENSE COMBINE
That's pretty much I can say about my 5 senses. Previously I thought that all these are normal and I am just a weakling and a spoilt brat. I cannot sleep unless it's quiet. I get tired easily. I get distracted.
After reading about “AS”, all these make perfect sense. Just imagine one drive from home to work. All the information that is screaming for attention. I get tired when I reach my destination even though the day has just started. The information that was crammed in my head during the drive get stuck in my head for hours and imagine how many more information get forced into my head from the other hours. Everything I see hear and smell. The annoyance I experience when the things I touched are not balanced. I get tired when I reach home. I cannot have a good sleep because HDB flats have noisy surroundings and then tomorrow is another day.
These are just tiredness from the senses. “AS” terms it as Sensory Overload.
Next week I am going to share about another thing that apparently causes fatigue too.
NEXT WEEK : Masking and Fatigue
Categories : Weirdly Wired
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