The Intensive Pattern Dance of Meatspace Relationships: Patterns, Sensory Overwhelm, and Solo Polyamory

I feel your patterns with every sense. The ones you’re completely unaware of. All of them. You are drowning me with your patterns and crowding out my own.

Pattern clash.

Pattern suppression.

Pattern overwhelm.

Meatspace relationships of any sort are intensive pattern dances done at the terrifying tempo of synchronous, full-sensory real-time. I need daily doses of solitude and regular hibernation intervals to sustainably withstand any other human being. Only in solitude do I have the space to unfurl my patterns, un-beset by the outside, and recline into their regulated peace.

Like many other people who aren’t neurotypical, I become exhausted and irritable from too much outside stimuli, like having people around me or trying to make conversation with music on. I’m also not great at picking up on social cues or understanding when someone’s being sarcastic - I use facial expressions to sometimes determine jokes and pretend that I understand them. However, being on the spectrum makes me dive into what I love, and for this reason, even though I’m terrible at school, I’m pretty good at writing and communications. This allows me to work around my social anxiety, leading some people to believe I’m an extrovert.

Because I had trouble making friends when I was growing up, I threw myself into learning how relationships work by analyzing and writing about them - and by now I’ve dated my fair share of people and have a number of friends. However, lately I’ve begun to realize that even though I can hide things like exhaustion and irritability by staying out for shorter periods of time, the closer I get to people the more I have to be upfront about what I need. For example, I love my partner and enjoy being around him as much as possible - but as a person with sensory sensitivities, my body says otherwise. If I don’t have enough time to myself without outside stimuli, I start to become burnt out and snap at him. If you’re like me, you’ve tried to avoid getting close to others because you felt it was necessary for you to keep them in your life - but actually, the only way to have fulfilling relationships is to let others in.

It wasn’t until looking into solo polyamory I realized I don’t have to feel guilty for having separate needs from my partner. Solo polyamory is the idea that people are autonomous beings who have different needs and wants, and alongside good communication and mutual respect between all partners, no one puts rules on each other because no one owns one another. There’s this expectation in mainstream society that if you’re a couple you should want to be together most of the time - but with solo polyamory, partners respect how much time you can set aside to see them based on work, hobbies and other people who are important to you. There’s no pressure to converge lives the longer you’re dating because with solo polyamory commitment and time together aren’t seen as mutually exclusive. In a solo polyamory group I recently joined on Facebook, I found a thread where a number of people on the spectrum talked about how finding solo polyamory has helped them work through their sensory sensitivities without feeling like there’s something wrong with them. If they need to leave a date because they’ve had too much stimuli for the day, their partners understand because they’ve had those essential conversations on what each other needs as an individual.

Source: How Polyamory Helped Me Advocate For My Needs As A Disabled Person | Thought Catalog

Pattern discovery.

Pattern sharing.

Pattern meld.

When not taken exclusively or in excess, another’s patterns are satisfying and necessary.

Previously,

The Sensory Hell of Showering

I really hate showering.

It’s such a chaotic thing to find yourself in.

Source: LIVE WITH AURORA: FOR THE METAL PEOPLE – YouTube

Aurora gets it. Showering is overwhelming, especially the transitions. It can be sensory hell.

Sensory Hell is the opposite of something being stimmy. It is utterly and totally unbearable.

Maybe you’re thinking of the classic scenario of the autistic person melting down in a busy grocery store, and it’s true that grocery stores are often considered tools of the devil by autistic people. But anything can be a sensory hell.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture | The Aspergian | A Neurodivergent Collective

I need to stim at the thought of showering.

https://twitter.com/search?q=sensory%20hell%20shower

The Sensory Hell of the Lunchroom

Needless to say, the dining hall, as well as being busy, crowded and a source of multiple odours, was also very noisy, as trays were picked up and clattered back down, cutlery jangled, and metal serving dishes clanged against metal hot plates. Meanwhile, the children, squeezed into rows of tiny seats bolted on to collapsible dining tables, grew louder and louder to make themselves heard over the racket. Indeed, the lunch queue alone can be the place where sensory problems ‘can turn into a nightmare’ (Sainsbury 2009, p.99). Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, all of the child contributors to this book – Grace, James, Rose and Zack – identified noise and crowds as being the most difficult aspects of school from a sensory point of view.

Indeed, the school environment can present autistic children with a multi-sensory onslaught in terms of sounds, smells, textures and visual impacts that constitutes both a distraction and a source of discomfort (Ashburner, Ziviani and Rodger 2008; Caldwell 2008). There was also clear evidence from my own study that sensory issues, and noise in particular, can be highly exclusionary factors for autistic children in schools.

Inclusive Education for Autistic Children: Helping Children and Young People to Learn and Flourish in the Classroom

A recent discussion with neurodivergent coworkers brought up how overwhelming school lunch was for many of us, and likewise the group dining at our company meetups. I like to use the Brian Wilson biopic, “Love and Mercy”, to demonstrate how overwhelming dining at a crowded table can be. It has a very relatable dinner scene where Wilson is overwhelmed by the overlapping noises of utensils and conversation.

Getting lunch is a trip through “sensory hell” for many neurodivergent students.

Sensory Hell is the opposite of something being stimmy. It is utterly and totally unbearable.

Maybe you’re thinking of the classic scenario of the autistic person melting down in a busy grocery store, and it’s true that grocery stores are often considered tools of the devil by autistic people. But anything can be a sensory hell.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture | The Aspergian | A Neurodivergent Collective

Design for neurological pluralism. Let neurodivergent students eat without overloading them, melting them down, and burning them out.

This scene is quite similar to how I experience an autism sensory overload. When sounds, lights, clothing or social interaction can become painful to me. When it goes on long enough it can create what is called a meltdown or activation of the “fight-flight-freeze-tend-befriend” (formerly known as “fight or flight”) response and activation of the HPA axis; a “there is a threat in the environment” adrenaline-cortisol surge.

This makes seemingly benign noises a threat to my well-being and quite possibly real physical danger to my physiology. Benign noises become painful, and if left unchecked, enough to trigger a system reaction reserved for severe dangers. This is what days can become like on a regular basis for myself and many on the spectrum.

“Let me stick a hot poker in your hand, ok? Now I want you to remain calm.”

That is the real rub of the experience of sensory meltdowns. The misunderstanding that someone with Autism is just behaving badly, spoiled or crazy. When the sensory overwhelm is an actual and very real painful experience. It seems absurd to most people that the noise of going to a grocery store could possibly be “painful” to anyone. So most people assume the adults or children just want attention, or they can’t control their behavior. In work situations I get accused of all kinds of things. And when I leave a noisy situation like a party to step out to take a break, people will notice that I’m “upset”. They will assume or worry that I must be upset at something or someone. And that’s just if I do take a break. If I can’t take a break or get my life out of proper oscillations and can’t avoid noise or sensory/emotional overload, then I can get snappy, defensive, irritated and under very unfortunate circumstances even hostile.

What the stress of noise means, in the autism’s world of an over-sensitive physiology and ramped up stress experiences, is that that pain is warning of us of real damage being created in our bodies. So this anxiety and reactivity isn’t necessarily just perceived but is actually happening. We are not being overly dramatic or a brat (what those with Autism are often accused of). Damage to our physiology is what noise can actually do.

Source: Autistic Traits and Experiences in “Love and Mercy” The Brian Wilson Story – The Peripheral Minds of Autism

See also: