I’m nearing the end of my third year living with an ABI (Acquired Brain Injury). Over time I have be able to recognize and tune into about a dozen signals my body gives me when I’m nearing the limits of my sensory loading.
Within the context of dealing with sensory loading, often someone will ask how I’m doing. When casually meeting someone it varies how I answer the question. My answer would be ‘fine’ if I considered the question a greeting. My answer would involve greater or lesser details if it was a question about my well being.
When someone is asking about my well being a succinct response would be easier. I usually respond with varying degrees of detail. A brief response would be easier and more helpful.
Stop Light Metaphor
I have been thinking about it using the image of a stoplight. Using a three colour response has it’s benefits. As a thumb nail-type of overview it is short and to the point.
When I’m operating in the Red zone it’s a clear message that I’m near my limit or into overload. I’m unable to make casual comments. My neural fatigue interferes with my brain’s ability to properly process what I’m hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting.
When I’m in the Red Zone my body simply reacts to outside stimuli. When something unexpected happens I react. The reaction is triggered because I can’t anticipate the sudden change or some danger that suddenly appears. In the Red Zone I am easily startled. In some environments, depending on the frequency of being startle, it will compound my neural fatigue.
Along with not processing sensory input very well, my response lacks coherence. In responding to others my thoughts are not very well formulated. I also find myself going onto momentary tangents, a diversion from the flow of the conversation. If I’m responding to a direct question I might miss the main intent of the question.
When I’m operating in the Red Zone physical touch can range from very painful to uncomfortable. The pain can best be described as a burning sensation.
When I’m operating in the Red Zone I regularly find myself humming. Nothing melodious – it’s a tuneless hum.
When I’m operating in the Yellow Zone I’m able to make coherent comments in response to what’s happening around me. When I’m in this zone I’m processing conversation and other sensory input with reasonable clarity. However, in this zone it takes too much neural energy to initiate conversation.
When I’m in the Yellow Zone I’m more aware of what is happening around me. That means I’m planning ahead and able to anticipate. As a result I’m not as easily startled by sudden noises, unexpected touch or other changes around me.
In the Yellow Zone I will find myself involuntarily humming as well. When I’m in this zone the humming will be a recognizable tune.
When I’m operating in the Green Zone I am able to initiate conversation. My responses are much more coherent because I’m able to take in what’s happening around me; the sensory input is making sense to me.
When I’m in the Green Zone I will catch myself spontaneously whistling a recognizable tune. That also serves as a reminder to me that I’m doing activities that aren’t pushing me to my limit. It’s also an indicator that I’ve cleared the sensory accumulation of the previous day or previous days.
Using the stoplight metaphor is giving me a better gauge on how my sensory loading that day is being managed.
Even if I don’t respond to greetings by announcing one of the three colours, it does increase my mindfulness. That is one small way in which it’s good to be around other people even if I’m not functioning in the Green Zone.
When I’m in the extreme end of the Red Zone I’m not able to respond to direct questions. That’s because I’m struggling to understand the question, I’m struggling to think of a coherent response and I’m not able to formulate the words. I am able to nod or shake my head in response to appropriate questions.
I’ve considered wearing coloured wrist bands, a red, yellow and green one. It would be kind of like a medic alert bracelet. In extreme situations I could just point to the red wrist band. For this to be helpful I need two messages on the band. “I am not in pain,” and “I just need a quiet place.”
I have an idea that many non-ABI people would want one of these wrist bands. Just to give a subtle message when everyone around you is clamouring for your attention; kids, co-workers and…