Long Time Coming
It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone
And it appears to be a long
Appears to be a long
Appears to be a long time
Yes, a long, long, long, long time before the dawn
-Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Long Time Gone
I seem to be filled with contradictions. As an example, on the one hand, I seek and require a certain clarity of rules, in order that I can function most efficiently in the human world. On the other hand, I regularly tear rules apart, toss them away, and step beyond them, in order to free my mind and spirit.
The contradiction I am pondering this morning has to do with sensitivity. On the one hand, I can be exquisitely sensitive to both the world of outer sensory input and my own inner thoughts, sensations, feelings, emotions, and reactions. On the other hand, it can sometimes take a very long time for me to notice things.
I can sit for hours, growing slowly more tired or irritated, only to realize that I have a slight but impacting headache, and that I’ve had it for quite some time. I can go about my business and get more and more panicked or hurried, only to finally realize that I’m cold. And then I can go even longer before it occurs to me that I could put on more clothing, or adjust the thermostat.
But it’s not just pain that I fail to bring into awareness. Sometimes I’m happy and don’t know it, and so therefore fail to clap my hands. Sometimes I’m sad. Sometimes I’m angry. And often, it’s not until Sally notices, and asks me a question, or looks at me with her empathic, gooey eyes, that I get in touch with something inside me that I didn’t know was there.
It was like that for Facebook, where eventually a series of interactions brought to awareness how deeply difficult it was for me to interact with others inside the FB structure a friend called “the fray.” How tired I was of the experience. How very sad.
It’s been like that with certain relationships in my life, where it took so very long, years even, for me to bring into awareness a truth that had long been true for me, and to then bring it to light, and turn it into change.
In general, it’s been like this with regard to becoming aware of what I want and need and feel.
I can look at this as a wiring problem. Circuits shorted and lines crossed and all that. Some sensations overwhelm the system and cause alarm bells to go off. Others override and shut the system down. I like to think that I’ve gotten better at noticing since I’ve become more clear about how my neurology seems to work. These days, when I notice an overhead light shining in my peripheral vision, I get up and go turn it off, because I know that, if I don’t, it’s just going to bug the shit out of me. (Note: I’ve been working on this post, off and on, for the past couple of hours, while also reading and tweeting. All that time, I was only peripherally aware that my back was cold. I just noticed that the window right behind me was uncharacteristically open. I closed it.)
But there are three other factors at play, I think. The first is that I was never really taught to pay attention, or assign worth, to “what I want” or “what I need” or “how I am feeling.” (While that might sound silly to some – the notion that we must be taught to know what we want – I would invite you to consider that we are born into, and live inside, a culture which works tirelessly to steer us away from getting in touch with what we most deeply and truly want and need, in order that it can entice us with its marketplace of substitutes.) I was raised and taught by busy, tired, distracted people who’d been brought up in a crazy culture. What I truly wanted and needed would have been an interruption and inconvenience to the systems in place. And why should I get what I most need, when they weren’t getting what they most needed?
It has often not been okay to want what I want and need what I need and feel what I feel, so why bother becoming aware of such things?
The second reason is this: my interior life can be so compelling, my “special interests” so special and so interesting, that I don’t want to be bothered by wanting and needing. I’ve got an article to read. A blog to write. A book to edit. A thought to think. A job to finish. I don’t have time to worry about such silly bodily distractions as cold and pain and grief.
The third reason is this: I have two defining stories that get in my way. One I call “Over the Rainbow,” which refers to my seemingly inborn belief that there is, indeed, a place where “there isn’t any trouble,” and that if I just work hard enough, stay the course, tie up loose ends, and be good enough, I’ll eventually get there. The other one I call my “Moses Syndrome,” which directly conflicts Dorothy’s nabob nattering by convincing me that, while this promised land “over the rainbow” might exist, I will not be allowed to enter it.
With these two stories arguing incessantly in the back of my mind, it’s little wonder I spend so much time in panic and shutdown, and disconnected from certain things.
So what is it? An Aspie deficit in “executive function”? An example of the eccentric, absent-minded professor? A study in learned helplessness? Like so many things, it feels difficult to tease apart the wiring and proclivities from the trauma and reactivity.
As is so often the case, the answer is probably “all of the above.”
(Note: It was not until I hit publish that I was able to notice that I am still cold, and I got up and found a sweater. And then some socks. And I put them both on!)