Monday, August 2, 2010

Sensory Input as a Relief

Four hours have passed since the events of my, "Hypervigilance" article happened. I am tired, and still feel as if my arms have more adrenaline in them than should be legally allowed by law.

As I was thinking about how I felt, I determined that this feeling of overall tiredness is something I feel rather often. This past weekend was a rough one for me in that regard. I slept, but woke up tired and stayed tired all day.

These feelings I can say are due to thought and input. When my mind is stressing on something or trying to predict what will happen in the future I feel this same way as when a stressful event occurs in my presence.

Is there something that can counteract this sensation? Perhaps there is because the racing chair I got and built on Friday gives me an interesting and somewhat confusing sensation.

The first time I sat in it on Friday I felt relaxed. I, at first, just thought it was the sense of accomplishment, but the feeling didn't go away. What was this feeling? Being relaxed is something that is, for me, only felt when I am in an intense game, or traveling in my car or destinations that are far, far away.

On Sunday, when my body ached due to just being exhausted, I sat in my chair and noticed how clean it felt, and the pressure it put on my hips. As the picture shows (this is not my chair or room, the picture I had, well, wasn't all that good) the sides wrap around. There is pressure, but it isn't overly apparent that it is there.

I have been playing around with the thought that the issues I have are all centered around the processing portion on my brain. It is like my feelings and emotions of events are felt, but they never can go away as they stay in one spot. It is like this until there is some form of sensory input that sort of distracts the brain and allows for information and emotions to be properly processed and filed away instead of staying all in one spot.

I was talking to Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint Autism Services, about this and he asked me if I wanted to do another science experiment. I said, "sure" and he suggested that I try out the squeeze machine.

The squeeze machine is a device that Temple Grandin came up with that allowed her to calm herself down. I have always been hesitant to use it because I don't like the thought of me laying down exposed in a machine like that. I was assured complete privacy so I decided to give it a shot.

I was amazed at the amount pressure the machine can give, but for me the maximum amount of pressure did nothing but give me the sensation of being squeezed.

After some thinking, I thought back to my racing chair and realized that it may not simply be pressure, but the amount of. I started to slowly press the knob that controls the amount of pressure and I found an amount that gave me that feeling of relief, but then it was instantly gone once I exceeded that amount. I tried to get it back, found it, but once again lost it.

I go back to the saying that, "If you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism." because what gives me that feeling of relief is different from other people that use the machine.

This concept has fully intrigued me since I first thought about this earlier today. What is it that creates that feeling of relief? I don't know much, if anything, on the way brains work, but from my own personal experience it feels like the right amount of pressure creates a distraction in the brain that breaks the non-stop processing that is always occurring.

By the time I checked out and left the grocery store this morning, I was twitching and twirling my belt loop. The release of stress experienced by the simple motion of twirling my belt loop has gotten me through many stressful events. But why?

Again, I fully believe that it moves the activity in the brain and frees up that part of the brain that processes input. Many things can do this, some of them perhaps aren't the best of things. On Saturday, as I pulled up to the house from going out to get food, I dropped my phone underneath my seat. As I was digging for it my finger was cut by glass that still hasn't been removed from my car from my run in with a horse two years ago.

When I cut my finger on that glass it hurt, but then there was relief. It hurt, but the sensation distracted me, but then I started feeling anxious again when I had to go find a band aid once I pulled the small piece of glass out. Yes, it hurt when I did that.

Pain has provided a relief, when I get really stressed I will push about my sinuses, but that feeling isn't as strong as the feeling I experience when I am in my racing chair. That chair provides the right texture and pressure and is a perfect fit. I'm sure each person's sensory bliss will be different, and could be radically different.

I did 30 seconds of research on this topic and the results seem to be divided. I personally don't care what research studies show because I know first hand that there is something to this. Most of the time I am tired and edgy because my mind is just fatigued from dealing with all the normal input of life, but when I am in that chair there is a relief that is not common. Life seems easier, things make more sense, and I can deal with the emotions that normally stay with me but don't go away.

There's more to this, I'm sure, and each person who has experienced this may have a totally different story than mine. I wrote about an event that was highly freeing in April, that was caused by riding in an inner tube on water.

Again, there is something to this and maybe there is a study out there that has already verified this. If so great, if not there should be because there is something here, and I know after my morning I am waiting with high anticipation to sit down and allow that chair to swallow me so I can just be without all the thoughts and fears. I can't wait to just be.


  1. It doesn't surprise me that a chair which certainly looks like a car's seat would relax someone who feels relaxed when driving.

  2. Sensory integration is the magical theory that explains all this and more. I know the basics of it. Don't know if I am going to get a certification in this area yet.