I’m sitting on the couch in the living room. My partner, the more physically coordinated and adept of us two, is in the adjacent kitchen, preparing dinner. I know I should be helping, and to ease my conscience, so as not to feel lazy or ungrateful, I asked if he needed any help early on in his preparations, to which he answered “nope, it’s all good”. (Part of me accepts this on its face as truth; the other part of me figures he was telling me what he knows I secretly wanted to hear…because although I am grateful, I do tend toward laziness at times.)
Dinner is almost ready, and my partner is rinsing out the plates and bowls. The apartment/flat’s open floor plan positions the sink almost right behind my head. A bowl slips out of my partner’s hand, into the sink, making a loud noise.
I flinch. The familiar Aspergian/autistic sensory overload is undeniable and instantaneous.
It happens again. Soapy bowls are slippery. And again. And a few more times.
Each time a bowl hits the bottom (or the side) of the sink (the sink is small), I begin to realize that I feel a physical sensation that I can only describe as a shockwave through my body. My entire body. No area of my body is unreached, unaffected. Nothing is immune to this noise.
It’s more than “just” a jolt or a startle at an unexpected, surprising noise; it’s physical. First it creates a slight crackling in my ears, but it doesn’t stop there; it flash-fans outward, extending all the way to my fingers and toes.
As the noises continue, random and unpredictable, I attempt to brace for the shockwave, only to realize that I cannot. No matter how much I may try to tense up, distract myself, brace myself, and so on, nothing works.
I also realize that I can feel myself becoming more and more irritated, in a step-wise fashion, inching up a notch with each instance of the noise.
I’m not irritated at my partner–at least, not at first. For the first few times, it’s only the sound that is overloading. But eventually, the irritation does drift toward my partner a little. OK, maybe more than a little, especially as the noise repeats.
My partner is a guy, sometimes consistent with the mannerisms of the “‘typical’ guy”, if there is such a thing. Society has taught him that it’s not necessary, or even desirable, for a guy to be “dainty” (i.e., graceful) (which also i.e., sensory-friendly).
I attempt to decode the irritation. Part of it is obvious–the noise itself, and the fact that it is loud. Another part is likely due to my own frustration at not being able to “handle” it. Another part probably arises from my inability to prepare for it, physically or mentally. And yet another stems from my assumption that this noise is quite unnecessary. My partner may not realize he’s facilitating these sensations, nor does he have any idea how unpleasant those sensations are. He’s not doing it on purpose. But it’s still unnecessary. He doesn’t need to be that loud or obnoxious. He could exercise a little control.
…And I could speak up about it. I don’t expect him to read my mind. I don’t expect him to cater to my every quirk or idiosyncrasy, especially if he doesn’t realize it exists. I could attempt to collect my thoughts, translate them into cross-neuro-culture-friendly words, and approach him after my frayed system has been soothed and calmed and made serene again, after the waves fan out to ripples and the bobbing in the center has faded. I can gently, tactfully, constructively let him know what I experience.
I could begin with something like…
“I really, really appreciate that you make dinner every night and you’re an awesome cook! I can’t express what that means to me. There is one thing I need to tell you about, something that experience during dinner preparation, and I make a small suggestion.”
That’s a shockwave he’ll be able to brace for. It’s small enough. I’ll be gentle. I’ll be calm. I think I’ve phrased my words correctly. I’ll take care to ensure that I’m not coming off as ungrateful, and that I’m telling him about my experiences and my needs. I’m not criticizing him personally, and I’m not self-deprecating, either.
It is what it is.
He already understands sensory sensitivity, so that’s an advantage. He understands that I have sensory issues in other places, such as, oh, the grocery store.
It might surprise him that the bowls and frying pans clanging against the sides and bottom of the sink actually bother me. After all, I’m hearing-impaired. But that doesn’t mean I’m deaf; I can still hear quite a bit, and what I can hear affects me greatly. (This is why I’m actually a little thankful about my mild-to-moderate hearing impairment; I’m not sure I could handle having excellent hearing. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum having excellent hearing and it appears to present many unpleasant experiences and additional sensory issues.)
What I did that day, because I hadn’t yet thought of having such a conversation, is to honor my fight-or-flight response–the physiological response that occurs during times of stress–and instead of becoming combative, I finally left the apartment. I didn’t leave in a huff, leaving him wondering; I simply said, “I need to go outside for a bit.” He understood; I do that a lot anyway.
Going outside gave me a two-for-one benefit: first, I was able to get away from the noise with dignity intact, and second, I was able to obtain a little bit of Quiet Alone Time to myself. Score! 🙂
But there may be times in which going outside isn’t feasible. Maybe there might be company (such as my parents or a friend) who might raise their eyebrows at such behavior. Or perhaps it might be too hot, too cold, or too humid to spend very much time outside. Or I might be in physical pain or illness, with limited mobility.
Thus, a conversation about this is necessary after all. I think I’m ready. 🙂
(Image Credit: Films & Fashion Academy)