Pain and Pleasure

If you read my recent article on Attention, you will know the other day I put my contact lenses in twice in each eye (you need to read the article!). That same day I went to the Hairdressers…

I enjoy the Hairdressers — the firm head massage when I have my hair washed, the girl who washes my hair always checks the temperature is just right and my hairdresser talks for England so I can sit and listen to him tell me everything that is happening in his world. When I have highlights, I just have foils now so don’t experience the pain of having my hair poked out of one of those horrible rubber caps. I never understood, did everyone else find that really as painful as me?

I have come to realise due to my autism journey, that probably not!

I struggle with pain:

  • I don’t like things too hot, hair washing, tea, coffee, food, baths and shower, anything to touch, even picking up a mug of coffee I can’t hold unless by the handle.
  • I don’t like anything too cold, washing hands, snow, ice etc.
  • I don’t like the dentist, especially the hygienist. I find the clean and polish so painful and I hate the drill as the noise hurts my ears. I have to hang on to chair so tightly and I’m sure she must think I am a real baby.
  • Even small taps or prods and I experience pain and go ‘ouch’!

When I had my first daughter, I had a horrendous experience. I had to be induced and the inducement pains lasted for 24 hours. I was left overnight with no pain relief, they sent my husband home because I wasn’t in labour, I was then ignored all night, told I was disturbing the other patients as the pain I was experiencing was excruciating and I had to keep moving around. I knocked over and broke a glass and I was left in a room for several hours with water and glass on the floor. By the time morning came around and my husband returned as I was in an extremely distressed state. Fortunately, a new midwife came on duty who ran me a bath and she got the pain relief under way.

I also experience a lot of pains in my legs, when I walk, I get lots of joint pains. I remember this from childhood as well but this has got worse as I have grown older.

I don’t like light touch either, especially people sitting close to me on the train who might just brush my arm or invade my personal space.

I do however, like firm touch, big hugs, firm handshakes, heavy blankets etc.

I often explain to people that my experience is like having a volume control, where I can only manage 0,1,2 or 8,9,10 and 3,4,5,6,7 I just can’t achieve. Everything thing is either on or off and I think this is the same with pain and pleasure. I experience pain at very high levels but I also started thinking about the pleasurable experiences and I experience pleasure in the same way:

  • I love beautiful sunsets, they can reduce me to tears
  • I love immersing myself in reflections in objects and water, the pleasurable experience is immense
  • I can ‘feel’ people’s positive energy and this gives me an overwhelming feeling of pleasure (I can feel the negative too)
  • Listening to certain music can make me cry

Everything for seems to be very turned up compared to other people’s experiences, but only when my attention is focussed on it. I think pain may have a way of grabbing attention away from other things which is why I can’t focus away from it.

I believe some of the above also may come from a form of visual/ kinaesthetic/ tactile synaesthesia. This is perhaps best described by a union of the senses, where 2 or more senses are involuntary joined together.

When I ‘see’ things it is giving me an involuntary experience in my ‘feeling’ sense so sunsets, my photography, reflections etc are all sources of immense pleasure.

If however, I see people hurt or injured I get overwhelming feelings of pain in my own body. I can’t watch horror films for example or the clips of people on “You’ve been framed” of people falling over and hurting themselves — I feel their pain.

I think as we gain more knowledge of sensory processing and attention in autism, we should be able to develop better strategies to increase pleasurable experiences and hopefully manage painful experiences for autistic people.

If anyone, has similar experiences, I would love to hear more examples….

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