It’s Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining, it is warm – finally a proper Spring day. I decide to go outside for a walk. The day before when I went to the shops I spotted a beautiful mushroom but I didn’t have a camera, so now I take my phone with me to take a photograph of it.
As soon as I go outside, I am subjected to the noise of traffic going past. I take the same route to the shops as yesterday, and while I only live in a small town, the road is quite busy. Sunday afternoon is the time when everyone takes out their car or motorcycle for a spin. And round these parts it is fashionable to set your exhaust to maximum roar. If you can get it to backfire just as you pass me (or my house), that’s a welcome bonus.
Is it just me, or is the road actually busier on a Sunday afternoon than on a Saturday morning? Of course, not every car going past is super noisy, but there is a roarer coming towards me about every minute. Only a few of them are so loud that I actually have to stick my fingers in my ears, but if you could see me you would notice the tension and fear on my face.
By now I have walked past the point where I thought I saw the mushroom. The plan was to go there, photograph the mushroom, then turn back and go a different route to a local beauty spot and enjoy a bit of quiet nature. Of course, it’s never completely quiet there either. There are always people walking their dogs, and if you are unlucky there’ll be a group of teenagers with a blaring radio, trying stunts on their bikes. Still, there are no cars round that particular area, so you should get a bit of respite.
I find, however, that the anxiety caused by the loud cars and motorcycles has mounted to a point where I decide I can’t go on any longer. It’s not like it’s a constant barrage, but you start listening out for them. When you hear them approach from a distance, you tense. Is it coming my way, or is it going in a different direction? How bad is this one going to be? Is it going to bang as well as roar? Your stomach muscles tense, your neck and shoulders are rock hard, your jaw is clenched. As soon as you have survived one, you have to listen out for the next. You can’t let yourself be surprised. You have to maintain CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!
I can feel the tension in my body almost like an electric current. I can’t take any more. I turn round, go home, and seek refuge behind a closed front door, a cup of tea and a biscuit.
The fear of loud noises is nothing new. I’ve had that since I was a small child. And I’ve been subjected to roaring and banging ever since I moved into my current house 10 years ago. Weekends are the worst, because then I’m actually at home, and the traffic going past my house is surprisingly busy, at least during daylight hours. Often enough I have to drop the book I’m reading and protect my ears as one of the worst offenders approaches. The chapter on sensory sensitivities in Tony Attwood’s “The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome” will forever have pretzel crumbs wedged between the pages, because I repeatedly had to drop the snacks I was eating while reading it to stick my fingers in my ears. There’s irony for you. It’s not that every car that goes past goes Bang, but you never know – if it roars, it might Bang as well. CONSTANT VIGILANCE, remember? I’ve actually become quite good at judging from the sound of the roar if it’s going to backfire as well or not. Does not really help you to concentrate on your book, though.
Today, however, I’ve felt it worse than ever. And I think I know the reason for it. Ever since I started this “Am I Autistic?” investigation, I’ve been observing myself much closer. I’ve been paying attention to my actions, reactions and feelings. I’m always tense when I walk alongside a busy road. But today I actually noticed how this tension manifested itself in my body. The question now arises: has my close observation actually made it worse? In other words, have I caused the tension to rise by putting it under the magnifying glass? If I’d ignored it, would it just have gone away? This is the little devil sitting on my shoulder, trying to tell me that it’s all in my head and I’m making things up. Am I?
I don’t think so. Yes, I could have ignored the mounting tension, as I have probably done all those times in the past, resigned to the fact that that’s how the world is and I have to put up with it. I could have pushed it away, but I would only have suppressed it, and then wondered later why I feel vaguely unhappy and stressed.
No, I think this self-observation project is worth conducting. I think some interesting patterns are going to emerge, as they did today. I think I’m going to discover a lot about what my environment is actually doing to me, things that have always been there but which never really rose up into my consciousness. Unpleasant as today’s experience was, I think it’s part of the discovery process I have started in which I hope to get to know myself better than ever before. So something good has come of it.
Oh, and the mushroom? I never found it. I guess I misremembered where I saw it the day before. Oh well.