Emotion & Empathy: The sixth sense

Originally Published 23 August, 2020 By Autisticly Aar Jae Williams

Hosted on ND Neuro News Wordpress (Defunct) Re-editted with additional content

When we think of senses we can only seem to list five senses to name: sight, sound. Smell, taste and feel. Such a narrow list and a list so black and white when we know temperature is also a sense and there could be more than what we are lead on from such a narrow list that seems to be innately woven into the fabric of our minds since an early age.

But what if empathy is its own emotion we all know we all experience empathy but what we experience as empathy is very colourful and a grey area to the quantifiable senses listed above, the black and white senses. We are able to explain in clear words or if not find the means to find out the answer to questions or being instantly tell whether its too loud or too quiet, too bright or too dark. But emotions aren’t as easy as that

We could be feeling multiple emotions at once sad, angry, happy, depressed, proud, enegised, tired. The list goes on but no one could tell you how you are feeling, some may try, but only you can know.

For people with mental illnesses or neurodivergent conditions such as autism, dyspraxia, ADHD present challenges with processing emotions. I wouldn’t think of autism as being a mental illness. But don’t think that autism, dyspraxia or adhd are illnesses are developmental conditions, disabilities or neurodivergencies. Different minds to what in a todays society is different state of mind and neurotype to what in society is thought is the typical normative brain. Because of external issues, trauma because of being misunderstood by proffesionals, those who are close to us and what little they know about our way of thinking that can be traumatic. As autistic dyspraxic dyslexic and those with ADHD have encontered many times of ableisms within society, many still exist in society today have caused mental health issues for many neurodivergents.

So I say be mindful and consider that we could have mental health challenges but never define our conditions as. I personally am aware, that I haven’t faced the barriers and the discrimination many of my fellow and dyspraxic people have. I understand from hearing about they experiences they faced many challenges still in society.

Thats not to say I myself, haven’t been diagnosed with or had challenges with my own mental health Ive always felt that I was born anxious never could remembered a time I wasn’t affected by feelings of my high anxiety something I am to this day working on. But felt with little understanding of my own autism till what I think till the age of ten contributed to my own anxieties.

With hindsight the past few years as only recently taken a retrospective look of what I can activate from my childhood. Although now with it becoming aparrent the wait and why having a diagnoses even at the age of ten is still a priveledge diagnosed originally ten years ago which in the scheme of things still pretty recentl. Atleast in my books, was diagnsosed under the old now considered out dated and ableist language of having mild Asperger‘s Syndrome. Now no longer would refer to my self as having Asperger’s Syndrome after being, utterly disgusted behind the abhorrently ableist and callous persons Hans Asperger was the harrowing tales of how He worked for Nazi Germany to think its worth saving people the that era of time with Aspergers to exploit and use their brains as currency as commodity in a dehumanising manner. Can go research further if you wish. This isnt intended to get into the harrowing tales of the history of the term.

I also denounce the use of the word ‘mild’ or ‘having’ it as realised and being enlightened you could never be more than or less than autistic theres the intrinsic problem with a linear scale and I could never seprerate the autism from myself.

The fact that I was ever considered under medical diagnostic language and guild lines as being mildly autistic. In hindsight in my words find that just means I was more able to blend and try to mask in to the background of the neurotypical environment around me. Felt since a young age I must behave or do what is expected of me I always came across determined at school and mild mannered.

But since a young age can remember on there was a time I struggled knowing what to do to fit in or socialise in a loud environment and know how just to operate to play and interact with those in primary.

Remember, having panic attacks or being distressed by the such a big room the school hall is being quite tall rooms halls are and haven’t still quite small felt very very small nd the room I was in was very very big. I am dyspraxic so maybe it was a feeling of special awareness feeling isolated bothered by loud noises. But now I question, yes it is a sign of my anxiety but is also due to having visual processing difficulties the size of the room dwarfed me making me feel anxious but was it due to being overstimulted. Remember, in Year 4 when aged 9 found it much easier to eat lunch in the class room because became anxious in the surrounding of being in a hall with those eating packed lunch.

So what I question is can some of our challenges of sensing our emotions come from not being able from those around us to be able to understand the way our mind works. But how is someone able to tell you how your mind works.

It seems like emotion or empathy is the thing that sometimes can piece all of our other senses from the environment around us, the teller of how we feeling. I find sometimes our own struggles with how we recieve stimuli like light and sound which leaves us over or under stimulated and due to that being understood as being autistics we find from processing our senses. Since, we internally having trouble with having different noises things to look at can be over bearing to process at once and trying to compute how to understand that and how we feel and maybe from societies norms. How since often feel the urge to mask, how we should feel this is part of why we have burnout meltdowns or shutdowns. Having this challenge without being able to turn the volume down makes it difficult to deal with what’s around us in the present.

This is why i don’t function mildly as I too have challenges with this which means its a challenge for me to function independently. As I’ve never been able at the age of 19 to have been able to go out independently without assistance which isn’t the most easiest thing to say. As sometimes i find the challenge of this difficult to talk about as can be difficult to talk about how the fatigue, worry and stress of one time I did remember having to work my way back from a getting some food on lunch break to get back to the sixth form menat crossing some roads and navigating my way back was dropped of had to work the way back on a phone call with my mother didnt quite remember or knew how to by the time, i got back to sixth form I was bit teary proud that I did it and anxious shook up but have was able to find a quiet space then.

Our own environments can be so demanding that can affect our how we function our sensory imput that is that as we have to focus on what’s around us. Sometimes, having a head where the world around you seems so loud where you cant dial it down. This means, we do feel but sometimes with an overloaded brain we just simply dont know how to express it.

The last thing most of us neurodivergents want to do is to express our emotions in ways we cant or aren’t able to. We dont want to be insensitive or seem careless. But sometimes due to being either hypo or hyper sensitive means that emotions and empathy are an incredibly challenging for us, not that we have the emotion of Alexa or Siri but we feel too much and just dont know how to show it.

Since sometimes, due to also emotions or expressions meaning multiple things we can have trouble telling wheter they being honest or clear with how they read due to the challenge of trying to process different things aren’t not intirely able to know what that means thats why we may wrongly interpret a situation.

I have found empathy and find my fellow autistic people have come across empathetic and passionately lead by that in case of social justice you only have to look at the likes of journalist Sara Looterman, Activist Greta Thunberg to see that. I personally find it becomes a challenge for myself when watching dramas fictional I know but can emote strongly with the characters thats why I prefer if watching television to watch sit-coms its not that I dont feel sometimes if you feel to much in protection of your own mental wellness need to remove your self from emotive stimuli.

This can be quite challenging and draining but can be neither a positive or negative. But can be difficult if you become to numb to your surroundings with the barrage of doom and gloom in the news which over the past months have left me speechless. For a certain time recently to the question, How are you? Which my mother and sister kindly ask Ive had to reply I dont know because it has been emotionally exhausting too know not that I dont feel but in this case I didnt know how to. Ive smiled cried and sobbed felt bit lonely and times depressed during this wild ride of a year that is 2020.

Ive also this year when the doctor who had to oversee medication I was on due to the troubles with my embarking on change and becoming overwhelmed by that. I told the doctor once they and I say they as I have which isnt ideal and is such a challenge not been able to talk to the same doctor every time. They ask how the tablets working for me and in my honest answer I say I dont know, felt better than once were. Its the case of what makes the indeciveness within me that makes things like this incredibly difficult. The foggy grey emotion and sense like no other that is emotion as for me when asked questions like that, feel unable to answer as I want to put trust in the doctor I’m no medical proffesional. So when I dont know its the inability to be able to breakdown what in side me can interpret what changes my mood my emotion what causes me too empathise things more or less.

Its a challenge for me the sense of empathy the cloud and fog within that gives me the fog. But think still can atleast give for a different perspective speaking optimistily.

This maybe emotional fog and cloud hopefully will and is the key to feeling more liberal with breaking from social norms one thing from others I admire the ability, to not to be concerned and bogged down with the negative mirroring of the judgement of others.

What Is Alexythima ? — JUNE 8 WEDNESDAY 2022

Since the original publication of this article I’ve come across a new term (new to me), I didn’t think I touched on or reflected on in this article. So with bonus bits apart of the re-edit of the new title ‘Unmasking Autisticly Aar Jae’. Its something I’ve learnt from tweets, Tik-Toks and instagram posts how i find most of my stuff on autism and neurodivrgency. I wrote on it on other platforms twitter and the likes so this bit will be touch of collecting bits of what said on it before and any general musings on Alexythima.

Firstly, ahead of the personal takes, thoughts and digestion on it i’ll provide a definition to the term. Alexythima is a term that describes a personality trait that is a greek term that not as well known to many but it means in translation ‘no word for emotion’ described in Healthline a second diagnoses that goes alongside mental health condtions that are pre-existing and pre-diagnosed before the confirmation of a professional psychologist when is recognised by those who are already receiving therapy from a medical proffesional. Something often for those who experience it have diagnoses and display signs of autism and depression. This isn’t something all autistic or all people with depression experience. Each and every autistic person has different experiences with emotion but describe emotional differences from allistic people. It isn’t and shouldn’t be seen as apathy which is lack of interest and enthusiasm. Alot of autistic people who may experience Alexythima as a trait of being autistic maybe engaged and enphusiastic about things that interest us but still a loss of words for our feelings and isn’t a lack of empathy.

Its thought that a third to half of people with depressive conditions postpartum disorders and schizophrenia experience alexythima. As something that can relate to trauma and common experiences with those with condtions like epilepsy, alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injuries and damage, multiple sclerosis, parkinsons and few other conditions that impact and change neurological activity.

So, what does it feel like to have alexythima looking at the case of how it presents with autistic people signs can be confusion, dufficulty with reading faces and interpret other peoples emotions, panic attacks and physical symptoms related to anxiety which with depression is often diagnoses that goes hand in hand, some people may see lack of affection this may be the conventional ways that allistic people see as affection like hugging and touching in ways that many see that are conventional expressions for emotions. Another sign listed is anger.

For me anger is something I rarely experience and dont recognise within myself this is because I can be annoyed and frustrated but anything that would seem anything remotely that would cause anger. scared of conflict and unsure how to express, communicate and process what could make me angry folds into panic and what is an autistic shutdown where in ways like burnout quiet dark room is needed. Its feeling overstimulated and unable to process anything.

Then taking the right time to process in anyway if I am feeling anything its like a murky fog. Therapies help can be group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotherapy talking to therapist in a counselling session. Its been several years 2015 I think since I seen my childhood therapist who I saw for 5 years from 2010 from before I had my autism diagnoses as a primary school child age nine for general anxiety and experiences of phobias something I think I might not had an autism diagnoses *AT ALL*. So I’ve not in therapy since I learnt how autism affects me and waiting to counselling again. Alexythima isn’t something I’ve been told I have its not a separate diagnoses its a trait. I dread having to do therapy, did all those years ago then, do now. Its a huge act of trust and draining experience. Something I struggled with at the time describing how I’m feeling or what things make me feel its like a lack of language and to do the processing its hard work to have the patience to try to fathom and accumulate words you don't have. I find I need to have time to speak in those experiences where become vulnerable. I get anxious sweaty palms shaky voice and choked up on my words. Sometimes it would be much easier if I could open a window up for people to see what is going on it sure would then in counselling and when need to ‘get real’ its much, much easier to get depersonalised and focus on things that don’t need the pressure of thinking about emotions or what you could have.

It is much, much easier for a person with alexythima to tune off if can and avoid situations that demand the emotional processing in social situations. Where you dont need to think about what you feeling. The layman’s terms alexythima is the mental state where ‘don't know’ is the default state of mood this can extend to other areas of decisions of what to have for food, and do you want to do this and that. For me I find these things my mind can shutdown switch off and decide it doesn’t have a decision on a thing and nothing will change that in that state of mind. It’s like emotion and decision paralysis that can be expereinced with ADHD people I suspect I also have and other conditions. This is incredibly frustrating when the decision making leaves you frozen in step and can take out time of what should be easy things and leaves decisions to others around us and others perplexed and confused of what we feel.

Its like not having the same emotional language as everyone else and don’t really are fluent in our own emotions its draining, fatiguing and gets like processors overheating

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Wills Word - A Williams

Wills Word - A Williams

This is a blog beyond the twittersphere where I’ll be talking about politics, power, ideas for change in how we deal with current crises.