Signals flashing through the air,
I don’t even seem to care.
No expression, sit and stare,
Mind withdrawn: I am not there.
Dissociation is, I believe, a defense mechanism, a way of getting away mentally rather than physically. For me it appears to be an unconscious reaction to some sensory or emotional stimulation – the first I often know of it is when I realize somebody is trying to get my attention and they say to me that I was “miles away”.
Don’t ask me where my mind wanders during these episodes – they are blank. I have no conscious memory of what has happened and no sense that any time has passed. In a way it feels similar to the hyper-focused state of flow in that my sense of the passage of time is distorted.
It’s not something that happens often – it’s far more common that I’ll shut down or otherwise become non-verbal and unresponsive while still being aware of what’s going on around me. But every now and then I’ll notice that there is a discontinuity in my memory – either I find myself in a new location with no memory of how I came to be there, or I notice that there has been some change around me. Different people, a change in the lighting. Perhaps the sun has set and I find myself wondering, or even asking out loud, “When did that happen?”
Jump cut reality/
Void in my history.
Returning to the here and now is jarring, unsettling. It’s like falling asleep in one place and waking up in another. There is a strong feeling of dislocation, of confusion. A sense of having lost something. It can even be frightening – being aware that I have moved in time or space but not knowing anything about the transit.
Bright, flashing lights. Loud, high-pitched sounds. Rough, scratchy touches. I find all of these overstimulating, sometimes to the point where they overload my senses causing physical pain and stress. It’s a cumulative effect – as I experience the sensory input I first feel discomfort. This builds along with my stress level.
There are times when I just up and leave to escape from the sensations. This is effective from my point of view but not so good when I’m in company. Then there are times when I dissociate – withdraw into myself – and largely stop being consciously aware of my surroundings. Finally there are the times when I am not able to get away from the stimulation, when I am not in a calm enough frame of mind to withdraw.
In those situations the stress builds and builds like a lake filling behind a dam. Only instead of water it is an inner rage. From trying to block out the offending sensation, I now find myself fixated on it – tunnel vision where all I can see is the source of the anger and pain. My muscles tense, my blood pressure rises. Unbidden, dark thoughts of violence rise from the depths of my mind, hurling themselves against the walls of self-control that contain them. I am beset by images of the destruction of my nemesis; I picture myself wielding sledgehammer or wrecking bar and pounding the offending object into mute submission as I scream and howl, releasing the rage.
I am not a violent person by nature – people know me as laid-back and easy-going. It usually takes far more to rouse me to anger than most other people, and I very rarely feel anger towards a human or other animal. But when the pressure builds inside… I find it exhausting to hold it all in, and when the dam breaks open everything I had held back floods out in a meltdown.
Afterwards is emptiness and exhaustion. And then, later, comes the shame. Shame of failure because I lost control. Shame of drawing negative attention from those around me.
Two things prompted me to write on this subject today. The first was this blog post about misophonia. The second was a very unwelcome change in my local pub: a slot machine was moved to a new position right next to where I usually sit. Bright, flashing lights directly in front of me – need I say more.
I was at a gig in the local pub on Saturday night; a local band called Fuzz Universe. I really enjoy live rock music – it seems to be an exception to my usual intolerance of loud noise and bright, flashing lights – and I had a very pleasurable time. I even enjoyed a brief chat to the lead guitarist afterwards: he’s one of only a few people to have recognized the subject of the painting on the back of my leather jacket as the character of Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
I had a brief moment of anxiety early in the night when the singer came round with the mike during Johnny B. Goode in search of some audience participation in the chorus. Unfortunately my nerves got the better of me and my mind went blank: I forgot the words! Both of them – “Go” and “Johnny”. Not singing was actually more embarrassing than if I had managed to do it. I got a chance at redemption a little later when he came round again during Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire and this time made a decent stab at it. The thing is I often sing along to songs I know reasonably well, just not loud enough that people can generally hear me. (I do the same when I’m driving: sing along to whatever CD I’m playing.)
I didn’t quite realize how loud it was until the band finished playing and I had ringing in my ears and a slightly unpleasant damping of my aural acuity – my own fault for spending almost the entire night about six feet in front of one of the speaker stacks! Surprisingly there was only one moment when I overloaded and almost blacked out – a brief second or so when the input exceeded some internal threshold and I stopped hearing – causing me a moment of disorientation before recovering my faculties.
The band finished with Foo Fighters’ The Pretender as an encore and I’ve still got the tune going round and round in my head – it’s a good thing I like the song so much. I’ve caught myself humming and singing it in the shower (another favorite place for me to sing). Getting tunes stuck in my head is something that happens to me a lot – I just hope I don’t start singing or humming them out loud in public. I attract attention by talking to myself now and again; I don’t want to appear even more eccentric by singing as well. I’ve never managed to find a way to get such a song out of my head except by listening to something that I find even more catchy. Usually each will reside for a few days before the next one takes its place: I wonder what my next one will be.