I've been going through another sometimes tedious phase during which the world is too much with me. My clothing is too loose/too tight/too scratchy/too hot/too touchy/too all over me. I can hear each tire on each car that drives by as an orchestra of four grating industrial instruments. Even with my cold, smells are so powerful I can barely eat most days.
This happens to me sometimes. As far back as my memory reaches, right back to when I was one-and-a-half, the world has been a loud place.
I can still remember the specific crunch and scrape of the blue shag carpet on my chubby baby knees in my earliest childhood home.
It wasn't until sometime in my mid-thirties that the colour red stopped being a vibrating, moving thing that danced in front of my eyes.
I was constantly prodded into more social-seeming behaviour as a child and teenager. At summer camp, I was pushed to join in with the chaos of group games where I couldn't keep track of anything while I tried to figure out where all the noise was coming from and what was expected of me and what colour flag from whose waistband was supposed to go to what end of the field and for what reason.
I much preferred sneaking away to drag a canoe into the creek. The water was low, but it was delicious to pick my way along among dying reed stalks with my paddle. My drag in the water told me how hard to push. Cold creek mud dried to a cracked film over my toes. Snails slid into the dark nose of the boat.
Away from the chaos of other kids, I could expand into the world and feel my place in it. My thoughts could fall into order.
There was no air for me on the playing field. The sensory overload forced me up into my brain, and my memory of those moments is a jumble of colours and shapes and words like an internal collage. It's as though the external stimuli were too much to even record.
I could not make patterns out of all the distraction, and so it became an assault bright as electric static.
In the canoe, I could feel the air move into and through me. I still know the particular sound of the lick of shallow creek water lapping between that green fibreglass boat and a protruding island of organic mush while I slid beneath a low tree.
I can go through days during which the world is less cacophonous, but I have to take care to retreat regularly into quiet spaces where there is very little movement and competing noise. If I don't give myself space to decompress, I end up exhausted and suffering from full body pain.
This is not a mere matter of introversion. It's a physical demand.
I've never been diagnosed with anything that explains this. I've had general practitioners sigh as though I'm just another woman with an hysterical ailment. I've had psychiatrists puzzle over test scores on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory 2 test and tell me that the best they could do was make a loose guess and offer me a prescription drugs just to see what they might do.
I don't like being anyone's guinea pig.
I have actually learned to appreciate my physical need for introversion. It makes me take time, time that I think most people don't get to stop to take for themselves.
I have to stop. I have to listen. I have to sit in the quiet and let the world sink in.
Until I was about 34 years old, I pushed myself beyond the breaking point all the time. It was a daily event for me to beat myself up for what I thought were my consistent failings at being a worthwhile human being, because I had always been pushed to behave against my grain, but then cancer and a nervous breakdown pulled me up short and said Following a path that you have not played an active hand in forging is breaking your heart. You will die like this.
There was no hyperbole there. I had to live a different way.
And so now I teach myself how to take the time, albeit slowly. I learn to listen. I have finally come to understand that the aggressive, wealthy extrovert that our culture holds up as the success story is on a road I don't even want a map to.
I was not given a road. I was given a forest through which I must bushwhack a trail, and, as it turns out, when I am not blinded by what I perceive others' expectations are for me, I actually like bushwhacking.
I know something now about this psychological/spiritual/physical bushwhacking, though, that I could never see before life made me listen, and it's this: if there is any such thing as a pointed universal consciousness, if there anything akin to divine bestowal for this avowed atheist, then I have truly been blessed.