It starts in the brain and moves from there…
I’ve been working on final edits of a book I started writing in 2008-2009, about how sensory processing difficulties affect one’s frame of mind and psychological state. It’s called “The Deepest Day” and it draws from both my own experiences with light, noise and touch sensitivities, as well as vestibular (balance) issues, along with a fair amount of research I did when I was trying to understand what was going on with me… and why I felt so terrible all the time.
Sensory processing issues (or Sensory Processing Disorder / SPD) can have a lot of sources. And it’s often mixed up with autism, ADHD, and other conditions. When I first came across it, I felt like a door had been thrown wide open to a shadowy part of my life. Suddenly, so much was clear. I did write a bunch back of posts in 2008, 2009, 2010 about sensory issues, and I’ve written a lot more about particular issues, but it all got too overwhelming to think about. I got turned around by all the talk about what it’s all about, the politics of it, the healthcare territorial disputes, and so forth, and I had to take a break and focus on other things. So I stepped away from the research and focused on my daily life. Plus, the proverbial ship of my life was running into some proverbial shoals, so I had to focus on what was in front of me, day to day.
Still, knowing one of the main sources of my distress was hugely helpful, and it made it possible for me to take corrective action that — no joke — has changed my life dramatically for the better.
I’m inclined to believe that my sensitivities are related to all the times I’ve gotten clunked on the head. I have had a number of mild traumatic brain injuries over the course of my life, starting when I was a young rough-and-tumble kid, and from what I read about TBI, sensory processing difficulties often go hand-in-hand with TBI. When I read the “laundry list” of possible symptoms/issues following TBI, all the physical issues read like a narrative of my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had sensitivities to noise and light and touch. I’ve also had severe balance issues for a long, long time. I never really understood what was happening with me when I was a kid — or as an adult. All I knew was, the whole world seemed like a hostile, hurtful place.
And for me, it was. When sound hurts your ears and light hurts your eyes — not always to the same degree, and not always in a predictable way — and it hurts when people touch you, the world turns into an ordeal to be survived. And that colored every aspect of my relationships to life and the people in my life.
Looking back now, I realize that people weren’t trying to harm me. They were just doing what people did. And they had no idea how much it was hurting me. If they had, they would not have done it, I’m sure. A lot of people have loved me over the course of my life — they’ve really cared for me and tried to show it in kind and caring ways. But those ways hurt me, because of my sensitivities. And because I didn’t understand the nature of my issues — nor did I know how to address them — every interaction with other people was a struggle to be survived.
When I first wrote The Deepest Day in 2009, I had to walk away from the book. Seeing in words what a usual day in the life could be like for me… it was just too much. It’s one thing to deal with constant pain and discomfort, as well as balance issues. When you’re in the midst of it, it’s just there. It’s just how things are. But when I stepped away from it and looked at everything as an observer, the sheer magnitude of my issues was simply overwhelming. And I had to stop thinking about it.
I tried to write the book in different “voices” — as both a man and a woman. I wrote it as a first-person masculine “I” speaking. Then I changed it to a masculine third-person “he/him” narrative. Then, after studying a number of different books and papers and reading different accounts, it occurred to me that the way people talk about sensory processing disorders seems to differ between men and women. The way people talked about sensitivities with women seemed in some ways to be more alarmist, yet also more dismissive. I have a big problem with the differences in quality of healthcare for men and women, and I believe that starts with how we conceptualize “men” and “women”. So, I rewrote the book in a female first-person voice… then changed it to a third-person “she/her” narrative.
I also experimented with second-person “you” storytelling, putting the reader directly in the shoes of the main character. But that felt too strained. So, now I’m rewriting it in a neutral gender (very similar to this blog), so that readers can make the main character any gender they want, and experience the book in the way that makes the most sense to them.
Anyway, gender and healthcare aside, the book is finishing up nicely, and looking closer now, I can see how close I was to being done, back in 2009 before I stepped away. It was just too much for me, I guess. And I also needed to do something about those issues.
I have done something about the issues, since then, and it’s made all the difference in the world. I will be the first (and possibly only) person to tell you in writing and for all the world to see that when it comes to TBI, sensory processing issues can be a massively complicating issue which completely mess with your head in ways that can easily be mistaken for psychological issues. In fact, sensory issues do produce psychological issues, but in a way that is hidden and hard to diagnose by the folks who are looking at your state of mind.
Healthcare providers and psychologists just don’t seem to be trained to deal with sensory processing issues, and like me, a lot of people can end up going down psycho-drama ratholes, looking for emotional or relational sources of psychological disorders which in fact have a physiological basis. That whole mind-body thing…
And when you are working with a psychologist who has a poor relationship with their own body… then things can really get clouded.
Because chances are, they’ve trained themself out of even remotely considering their physiology, when it comes to their psychology. Dealing with their body is not “safe territory” so they avoid it because their own fears and anxieties keep them from conceptualizing clearly and cleanly.
That doesn’t make our physical experience any less impactful. If anything, it just heightens it. And The Deepest Day really brings that home for me. Just thinking back to how off balance I was, how nauseated I was all time time, how turned around and dizzy and in pain I was… and then you throw in the light and noise sensitivity on top of it, and whammo — you’ve got yourself a potent recipe for a messed-up head.
Personally, think that TBI recoveries are impeded by physiological issues more often than most folks can guess. Here’s a “mind map” I created of the issues, back in 2008. It’s still relevant today.
How one thing leads to another – click the image above to see the whole map
Those physical problems add stress to our systems, and when stress is in the mix, it makes it more difficult to learn. TBI recovery is all about learning and re-learning how to live your life effectively, and if your ability to learn is impeded in any way by environmental stress, well then, you’ve got yourself a prolonged timeline for recovery — if you have recovery at all.
That’s what was happening to me in the years after my fall in 2004. I was having more and more problems that were more and more stressful, and although my neuropsych says that my actual functional capabilities were not completely wrecked, and my difficulties arose from the way I was conceptualizing and relating to my injury and life situation (I’ll rant about that later), the stresses around the experience were adding up in ways that made things increasingly worse over time.
The impact of my injury was disproportionate to my actual injury, and after searching high and low like a possessed person for years, I can tell you exactly why that was, how it happened, and how I dealt with it all to get where I am today — happier, healthier (for the most part), and more functional than ever before in my life.
The Deepest Day is a start to an extended conversation we all need to have about the real causes of difficulties after concussion/mild traumatic brain injury. Or any brain injury, for that matter. Stroke. Aneurism. Encephalitis. Whatever. It’s all related, it all directly impacts our experience as human beings, and our Sense-Of-Self. Clinically, our injuries may not be noticeably impactful. In terms of scientific measurement, they may not even register. But something is happening, and that something really matters. For us, for the ones in our lives, and everyone who is even peripherally impacted by our difficulties (including the countries we pay our taxes to).
The longer we ignore or downplay this, the longer we make it possible for people to suffer. The more we deny the connections, the more we guarantee that this problem will persist — for us all.