Embracing Nature’s Soundscapes

20151012_113555
Peter’s Woods near Centreton, Ontario

Time and again I’m struck by the overlap between autism as it manifests itself and ABI (acquired brain injury). Often I can relate to the coping mechanisms that autistic people choose in order to get through the day or deal with a particular environment. One of the coping activities I read about recently is the choice to go non-verbal.

When I am in a social setting I might be verbally engaged for ten or fifteen minutes. When things get too busy, when the conversation wanders and requires more effort on my part I will experience a level of neural fatigue. At that point I will often choose to go non-verbal. I am still engaged with the conversation, but I will begin to conserve my energy and respond by nodding or raising an eyebrow or some other non-verbal cues. Should my neural fatigue increase I will look for an inconspicuous way to exit from the space.

Social interaction requires varying degrees of cognitive functioning. Over time the cognitive demands will create a level of neural fatigue that I need to address. The sooner I acknowledge the neural fatigue and address it the shorter my recovery time will be.

Recovery spaces

When I’m in a social environment and have reached my limit I need a space that will help me recover. Napping is usually the least helpful option, though spending time in a quiet room is sometimes the best that’s available.

Indoor sounds tend to have an echo or reverberation. The reverberation that most people don’t seem to notice, makes it hard for my brain to relax. Attempts to block out sounds and impressions puts additional demands on my brain.

When I’m outdoors there are so many sounds at a variety of decibel levels. However, it isn’t the decibel level that stands out, but rather the way different sounds flow together. Sounds are somewhat muted in their own ways.

Being outdoors in itself isn’t enough. It’s most beneficial to be away from intrusive mechanical sounds. Mechanical sounds such as commuter traffic, heavy truck, gas powered lawnmowers are jarring. The noise level varies greatly and can be unpredictable and startling.

Being outdoors in a natural environment is the most helpful for recovery. The natural sounds tend to be more mellow than mechanical sounds. However, the call of a crow or a blue jay can be quite raucous. While a heavy truck might create a jarring sound, a screeching brake or an engine backfiring, a crow or a blue jay might initially be raucous, but the follow up sounds as they begin to fade have a predictable pattern.

Sounds in a natual setting can better be compared to a symphony. The sounds have a gentleness to them, they have sense of belonging in that space. It’s the gentleness and predictablity of the sound that allows my brain to relax, to recover from some of the fatigue.

Sounds in nature are somewhat predictable. Each habitat, made up of a certain mix of wildlife, has its own symphony of sounds. The sounds have their own cadence as the sounds modulate, changing in intensity or volume. At the same time the sounds are not repetitive. That also contributes to a more restful state.

Natural sounds for Neurotypical people

A study was done some time ago to measure the benefits of walking to reduce stress. One group was assigned to walk for 20 minutes a day along city streets. The second group was assigned to walk for 20 minutes in a park or nature preserve. The study concluded that walking in a park or nature preserve had a much greater impact on lowering the level of stress than walking along a city street.

Sometimes I find that my ABI sensitivities can be used like a ‘canary in a coalmine’. I develop habits or find environments that are critical to my quality of life and my ability to recover more quickly. What is critical for me to function better, often are the same habits or environments that are helpful in improving other people’s quality of life.

 

 

Advertisements

Searching for Comfort

Heidelberger_Katechismus_1563
1563 edition – Wikipedia image

Having lived with ABI (acquired brain injury) for almost three years, learning to pace myself has been one of the most important things I need to be mindful of. As long as I am reasonably mindful of how much I take on, or what emotional loading I expose myself to, life can be manageable. In fact, life can be very enjoyable a majority of the time.

The last while, which includes Christmas and New Years, I have been over taxed. I say “the last while,” but I have lost count. It’s just been too long (I haven’t posted since mid December).

I have been struggling with a plurality of physical challenges. Having dealt with chills, aches and pains while feeling nauseous had me wondering whether I was just simply dealing with a flu. It would seem easier if it was the flu. However, the way the symptoms persisted and varied, I knew it wasn’t the flu.

At other times I was dealing with vertigo, blurred vision, coordination challenges, acute headaches, extreme exhaustion, while unable to sleep. In an other life I would have wondered whether I was experiencing stroke symptoms.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I was urged to see my family doctor. I figured there was no point going to the family doctor, because there just didn’t seem anything concrete enough to expect a helpful diagnosis. Being told to rest and drink plenty of fluids  just wasn’t worth making an appointment and getting myself into town.

Hopeful respite

A couple of days ago I went to my regularly scheduled reflexology appointment. I was feeling good enough to make the 45 minute drive on my own. I gave myself plenty of time so I could pull over for a nap if I needed to.

As my treatment got underway, the reflexologist asked me how I was doing. With Christmas and New Year’s just behind us, she was expecting an upbeat answer.

I first mentioned the various physical challenges I had been experiencing for far too many days. I then mentioned that a dear friend had been killed in a traffic accident on December 21st.

That changed her approach. She recognized the various physical symptoms as a strong indication that my body was in shock. My physical care had been seriously disrupted as had my emotional well being.

The suddenness of the news initially made it seem unreal. The flash back to my own accident was not helpful. And the inability to pace myself while grieving left me very vulnerable.

The funeral service was scheduled nine days after the accident. I usually have a hard time getting through a worship service without a break or two. I did not and could not remove myself from the funeral service. I also wanted to accompany my wife as she had agreed to share some thoughts and memories during the service.

After the funeral service was over my wife asked if I felt up to attending the internment. That wasn’t the question for me. I was focused on the need to attend. I was looking for closure and hoped that participating in the internment would help. The internment was more difficult than I expected. At one point it took all of my will power to not collapse.

Maybe I shouldn’t have attended the internment. It’s hard to make proper decisions in a situation like that. I probably would not have heeded any advice given to me.

Looking for Recovery

Having learned to accept sensory overload as part of living with ABI, I knew I could expect to need up to four days for recovery. That usually allowed for enough time for recovery. That was usually the price I paid for not removing myself from an environment that was causing me sensory overload.

Grieving seems to override any attempt at self-pacing. My physical symptoms persisted as I struggled with the emotional overload. And not surprising, the emotional overload did not end with the internment.

ABI challenges

A clear challenge with ABI is having a hard time filtering impressions and emotions. I have gradually experienced some improvements over the past three years. I no longer need to pull over while driving when a touching story is being shared on the radio. I have since had a dental experience without needing four days to recover.

The intensity of losing a friend so suddenly is much more challenging than the other experiences of sensory overload. While grieving the loss of a friend it’s not possible to remove myself from the ‘overload’ environment.

The support and care of friends and family has been most helpful. Knowing that other people, even if they don’t fully understand, showing patience and care, helps keep things from becoming overly complicated or causing a downward spiral.

What is Your Only Comfort in Life and in Death

I was brought up knowing life is finite. I was also raised with the following understanding:

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ;   …and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; …

Heidelberg Catechism Lords Day #1

Knowing where to search for comfort helps to forestall hopelessness. Knowing is one thing. Being able to live with what one knows sometimes takes time. Gradually my body is catching up with me.