Sunday, April 24, 2005

Limitation versus Stimulation

This afternoon, after some yard-work and other household chores, we packed the dogs in the car and went to Amherst to join in the Earth Day festivities on the lovely "town green" where so many festivals and events occur from early spring until late fall. We heard live music, saw friends, the dogs sniffed and did dog-like things with other four-leggeds, and we signed petitions at the Amnesty International table.

An hour later, attempting to order a burrito at a local Mexican place, I was hit by that powerful feeling of overstimulation that I often experience, coupled with a lowering blood sugar that clouds my ability to think clearly. When this occurs, I become thoroughly unfocused and ungrounded, irritated by the slightest sounds, overwhelmed by most all sensory stimuli. Some of you may be familiar with such feelings, to others it may seem entirely foreign.

Such is my lot, wherein my circuits are easily overwhelmed, brain turns to mush, and I must retreat quickly to a relatively unstimulating environment. Whether this is related to endogenous depression or is a separate condition akin to anxiety, I cannot readily say. I just realize that I have several personal limitations which impact my enjoyment of life, as well as Mary's enjoyment of life at my side. These "disablities", while not visible, effect my daily life and function capacity in the world, and it is my yoke which I carry.

Thinking back on my life in Philadephia as a young adult, it becomes clearer why I so often felt overwhelmed and stultified. At the time, I must have been in a state of near-constant sensory overload----traffic, car horns, noises, vehicles, all of the noise pollution of modern city life. You may laugh, but I experience complete overload in our small town of 20,000, a bucolic and relatively quiet college town in Western Massachusetts. As much as I love New York City and have spent much time there, I find myself avoiding making plans to visit several friends there, mostly out of a feeling of dread related to facing the onslaught of sound and visual stimuli which awaits me. While I occasionally can thrive and flly enjoy myself in such environs, I am most determined to spend the majority of my time in the quiet retreat of nature, or at least my own home, my favorite retreat.

I now think of the nature of my work which involves a busy, windowless office with ten people constantly moving, phones ringing, pagers going off, cell phones playing irritating ditties, intercoms sounding announcements. I am frequently at my desk, a cell phone in one ear and my desk phone in the other. I interact with doctors, patients, co-workers, others. How do I cope? How do I get through the day? What toll is this taking on my psyche, vis-a-vis the limitations which I described above?

Post-modern life is a maelstrom of input, connectivity, interaction, stimulation, information. Where does it end? How does one escape? At what point does one say "Enough!"? When do one's limitations actually dictate one's lifestyle, or do we simply allow our limitations to be pushed to their breaking point? These are questions worth pondering.
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