So, I had my monthly visit to my psychologist today, and we were talking about some of the posts I’ve made since my last visit (Feb. 15), including the hypochondria one. What she said was that she thinks it’s not hypochondria – which she considers to be a serious ailment where, to quote her, “you have a tic in your eye and think you’re going blind, or you have a pain in the back of your head and think you have a brain tumour” – but a hyper-awareness of physical sensations. She says that a number of the people on the spectrum that she’s dealt with (not all, but definitely most) have that hyper-awareness.
She also gave two more examples.
She has occasional migraines; she has an acquaintance who gets frequent ones, that present much more severely. But the acquaintance can still do things like make dinner while dealing with the migraines, while she has to be in bed, in a dark room, with white noise going, and no touching.
Another example, that she gave to a parent of someone on the spectrum, involved stomachaches. She has stomachaches semi-frequently, but can still go through an ordinary day with one, seeing her patients, going to the grocery store, etc. The girl on the spectrum has so much of her focus taken up by the sensation that she can’t do anything.
That’s the kind of thing she means by “hyper-awareness”. She said the other psychologist I will be going to see (the one trained in dealing with people on the spectrum) can probably explain it a bit better, but I managed to understand what she meant. Because of our sensory focus, dealing with sensations – either resulting from that hyper-sensitivity or not – takes up a lot of our attention, and we tend to feel them more intensely. So we tend to have a heightened sensitivity of and a lower tolerance for physical sensations.
Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone on the spectrum. We’re all individuals; certainly I tend to seek out touch, whereas a number of the other people on the spectrum I know / have met online have issues with touch, especially light touches. Still, I seem to be demonstrating that hyper-awareness, especially with regards to my sensory issues (see Sensory Overload Fun (Not!) and Hypochondria: Medical Students Syndrome? for examples).
It’s kind of a relief to have something that not only makes sense (and removes that hated word – I don’t care about the medical definition of hypochondria, as a child I believed that it meant that one was malingering, and the impression stuck), but fits in with my understanding of the Sensory Perception Disorder part of ASD. If we do have those holes in our sensory filters, it only makes sense that they apply to the sensations we feel from our physical body as well. And that’s even more sensations that allistics don’t get flooding our brain, demanding attention, which drains energy / spoons from us, which results in overload and fatigue, and… hey, there’s another whirlpool of positive reinforcement approaching!
So, what’s happening with me? I suspect (even more so now that I’ve talked to my psychologist and heard her theory regarding hyper-awareness) that I’ve finally stopped ignoring and avoiding the direct consequences of sensory stimulation. In the past, I would go into a situation like the supermarket / grocery store in Hypochondria, and come out apparently fine (can anyone say, “passing for allistic”? [/end sarcasm]) – and two days later come down with a serious tension headache or feel unwell for apparently no reason. Now, I think that I’m paying more attention to the source of those events, and so I’m getting the direct effects, the ones that I previously avoided, pushed to one side, and so suffered from worse later.
Well, that’s my opinion. Have any of the rest of you had some experience with this hyper-awareness; something that allistics would have a tendency to ignore or not react to as badly, knocks you out for the count? I’m curious to see how many of you have, I admit.