Growing up, it was just me and two of my three brothers all the time, isolated while homeschooling. The rare interaction with children outside of my home were magnified in significance and re-projected in my mind; however mundane, these moments were played again and again, hoarded in my memory.
I was 9 or 10, my family lived in a nice neighborhood with a pool. I was swimming along, minding my own business when a boy laughed at me and said, “You have boogers!”
In that moment I felt terrible.
I felt terrible because I was being laughed at because there was something apparently wrong with me. And I felt terrible because I didn’t even know what boogers were. And not knowing a word that another child would use (or, so confidently hurl at me) felt shameful.
Every night, the brain conjures up visions of places and faces and creatures. We are carried away, perhaps taking flight in the narrative produced by our minds. It’s no small production, a dream. When we break away from that vision, sometimes we grasp for it, feel its loss like a fall to the earth. Sometimes those first rays of light pierce through our awakening eyes to our bodies, and we recoil, cover our heads.
Everyday our brains conjures our surroundings, and we must navigate many distractions and interruptions, and attempt to maintain a coherent narrative, accomplish our goals. It’s taxing, isn’t it? Yet we forge ahead. We keep our faces straight and our bodies tall. No outward recoiling from the interruptions and little falls.
But what if the world is even more of an interruption than you can stomach? What if noise reaches in beneath your skin, so that the click-click-click of the clock is prick-prick-prick upon your nerves. What if intensity of the light increases to piercing like a hangover, though you weren’t out drinking the night before.
We say reality is subjective. We say the world is observed with our individual senses, but how often to we claim that people should be able to modulate their experiences of it? Play it cool? Someone can be too sensitive, as though sensitivity is a personal problem–not a human one. If the world is too hard, too loud, too bright, too crunch-and-munching (eating-you-alive), you just need to toughen up.
There’s a terrible habit among the not-as-sensitive to correct those who are sensitive, thinking that bearing with it will make us stronger. But it doesn’t happen. We don’t get tougher. Instead we lose a part of ourselves in trying to pretend we are fine. We lose touch with humanity by trying to pretend that we’re not bothered by elements of it.
Whoever unsympathetically reminds us to “ignore it” needs to be reminded about that incredible work of the brain. Whether dreaming or wide awake, conjuring the world before you (the noises, the sights, the smells) is not a simple task. Sometimes that noise is more than we can bear.
Your sense of safely existing demands a degree of stability. For most, a rollercoaster doesn’t offer enough enough stability, leaving heads spinning, leaving you feeling uneasy to the core. For some, smaller interruptions are too much. No one can get back to the stable, unshaking ground, by pretending that everything is okay.
The same way other people need food and drink, you may need a share of silence. Perhaps that’s why you pull away. Perhaps you’ve told people how you feel, but they just dismiss it. They call you inconvenient. Picky. Controlling. But you’re not any of these things. You’re different, and you’re human, too.
We all have this complicated equipment and cannot demand that it all functions exactly the same. Doing so would be tyrannical. Accommodations aren’t always too much to ask for. After all, each of us hold this narrative of ourselves; each carries forth a beautiful person inside–and in order to be ourselves, we need a safe environment.