T h e A d v e n t u r e s o f C h i c a g o J o

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Sensory Overload

2007-07-13† Ė† 5:50 p.m.
If you went with me to an art museum, Iíd warn you to keep an eye on me. Thereís a very real chance that Iíll one day be kicked out and that youíll see my photo printed out and hanging by the front desk with DO NOT ADMIT stamped across it. No, itís not because I get so incredibly bored at art museums that I cause any mayhem (which, yes, would be a good guess since my attention span for most art is nil). Iím just drawn to touch the paintings.

When in an art museum, I intentionally keep my hands folded or in my pockets. The gooped-on paint is just too much temptation for me. With millions of dollars on the line, art museums do a good job of posting enough people on guard to keep my hands from wandering, but I will admit to breaking the ďno touchingĒ rule at other museums.

From way back when, I remember this compulsion. Donít fingerprint the large geode at the museum weíd go to as kids; my eight-year-old prints are all over that sucker. I remember intentionally setting off the do-not-cross alarm with my shoulder so the guard would think that I wasnít doing anything maliciously. Thatís pretty sneaky for a Student of the Year candidate, if I say so myself.

More recently, I was fortunate enough to get VIP tickets to Body Worlds 2. Only a couple hundred people were in attendance, and all of us were assumed to be large donors or pillars of the community. I, though, was a faux-date for my friend who was screwing someone on the museum board. With apparently no respect for the science or thinking of the children, I took advantage of there being very few security guards.

Yes, I touched the dead bodies.

I find myself touching things all of the time. From the braided metal on the elevator walls at work, to any statue in the park, to globes with their oh-so-glorious mountain ranges, to rubbing that soft spot between my own ear and jaw.

I touch plants, claiming to be curious if theyíre fake or real. I prefer Hambone to other cats partially because heís so much softer than others. When I pass a water fountain outside an office building, I have to touch the water as it falls. Iíll toss a perfectly good tube of lotion if itís too slick or too sticky. When my hair is dirty, I canít keep my hands out of it. I burn through bars of soap in the shower. When thereís a container of beads, beans, or nuts, I have to stick my finger in it, if not my whole hand, before I lift it up and left them sift through my open fingers.

The list goes on and on.

I was thinking the other day about my penchant for hairy-chested men, and I definitely think itís related. Hairy men have so many different textures. Theyíre an out-right smorgasbord, actually. Their faces feel different than their chests, which feel different than the legs, which feel different than the arms.

All men will have the same smooth spots. The side of the torso. The inside of the bicep. The nook of the neck. And when thereís chest hair, itís a bonus -- one more texture to enjoy.

I love the juxtaposition. The proximity. The instant gratification.

On a seemingly unrelated topic, this afternoon my intern mentioned going to lunch. He named a few places, and I rejected each.

I donít like sandwiches right now. Sauce is runny. I donít want anything gooey. Crutons are too loud. Chocolate melting grosses me out.

I never noticed it before, but he pointed out that all of my objections were sensory related. Simply put: I donít like the way these foods feel, so I didnít want to eat them.

He started Googling for disorders, jokingly saying that I had something wrong with me because cotton candy freaks me out. And although he came up with nothing specific, merely saying that because I placed odd restrictions on eating that it was technically an eating disorder, his Googling sparked a thought when I combined the eating preferences with the hairy chest/art touching topic.

Googling for tactile sensitivity brought up a whole host off pages to read though. And although I donít have violent reactions and have learned to ignore (or talk myself through) certain things that I know are weird, I had quite a few of the indicators marked off on their lists.

I have to cut the tags out of the sides of my shirts, or else it feels like theyíre cutting me. Heck, Iím to the point that I canít tuck in my shirts without it being excessively uncomfortable.

I have *never* liked my face being touched. Being in a close and intimate situation is the only time that I overlook it. I had this Turkish neighbor who used to touch my face every time she greeted me, and Iíd instinctively recoil when she patted me affectionately. Please donít get me started on cheek kisses as a greeting. My blood pressure raises just thinking about them.

About two years ago, I suddenly had to stop wearing shirts that touched my neck. Even today, when wearing those shirts, it feels like Iím being choked. Bye-bye turtle necks. Bye-bye Old Navy perfect cotton tees. All of my shirts are v-neck, scoop-neck, or have very clear marks that Iíve cut the collar off for my comfort.

I also canít wear pants that arenít low-rise. Anything that touches my belly button is uncomfortable, if not out-right painful. If someone poked me in it jokingly, theyíd have no idea why Iíd react the way I would. But, oh. Youch. Just thinking about it gives me a shiver.

For years now, Iíve had this thing about being touched. If you touch my arm in a direction that isnít with the flow of my arm hair, I start unconsciously rubbing in the so-called right direction. My legs are even worse. Iíve rubbed myself red, scratched, and raw in response to bumping wrongly into an object. Massages that go up or into the middle of the back bring me no pleasure whatsoever and must be cut short.

I told my long-time boyfriend about this. Although very sweet of him to take notice and be conscious of it, I felt like a freak. I decided not to tell the next guy who came around in an attempt to break myself of the aversion and subsequent rubbing, but those two years with him were uncomfortable (unbeknown to him).

Going hand-in-hand with my aversion to touch is hypersensitivity to sound. Iíve said for ages that I have super-sonic hearing. Itís my long-time explanation for why I donít like music and wear ear plugs quite frequently. Go figure.

The websites say that this aversion is part of a ďneurological disorganization in the midbrain region of the brain which is largely responsible for filtering incoming stimuliĒ. [gulp]

I may have science backing me up on the point that Iím a freak, but Iím sure the hairy-chested guys donít mind. †

Miss something?

Moving Day - 2008-02-15
Working from Home is Glorious - 2008-02-13
Speaking in Tongues - 2008-02-07
I Have My Reasons - 2008-01-25
Got an Itch, Fix it, Shine it Up, Sing it Out - 2008-01-23

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