Right now, it's about 90 degrees outside. That's 32 in Celsius and 305 in Kelvin. I'm going to ignore the Rankine scale because it's stupid.
I have the window open and a fan in it, so I'm actually quite comfortable, temperature-wise (though I had quite a lot of trouble doing the chores this morning--it's too hot to move around much unless you are sure of a cold shower afterward).
The neighbor is mowing his lawn outside (smell of grass, sound of mower, exhaust fumes) and the children on the other side are playing (shriek, shout, laugh, slap-slap-slap of jump rope), and they run by my window, drawing my attention whenever they pass with their white clothes flashing in the sunlight... This, and the usual background feeling of glasses on nose and clothing on skin and bra straps and the pressure from the chair and the warm plastic of my keyboard, of course...
So why is this interesting? Well, right now I'm fairly calm, fairly relaxed, still thinking quite clearly, and I've got the chance to actually observe what these little sensory irritants are doing to me.
Observation one: I'm annoyed. Physically, that asserts itself as a sort of mild tension in muscles, and increased skin sensitivity. Emotionally, it's a desire to escape, a sort of trapped feeling. I know I can't shut out both the heat and the noise at the same time, so I'm a bit frustrated. I feel this tension in my arms, especially, but also in my legs, which are still a little sore from exercising this morning. (Earplugs would help; I can't find mine. Of course they would feel funny in my ears, too, so in my case they are not always a net benefit. Your experiences may vary.)
Observation two: I notice the background sensations more than I normally would. The tiny messages from the little hairs in my skin being moved around by the wind from the fan are much stronger than they would usually be. The feeling of wearing clothing is amplified, as is the feeling from the parts of me that aren't wearing clothing and are exposed to the air. I can understand why when I was a tiny girl, I used to take off my clothing whenever I could, especially since my mother, who didn't know how much wool bothered me and wanted to keep me warm, often made me wear things that didn't feel good. Thankfully, she didn't mind too much, and I grew out it eventually; and now I simply buy clothing that feels as good as not wearing clothing.
Observation three: My threshold for tolerating other sensory stimuli, as well as frustration of the regular sort, is much lower. At the moment I've been working with a computer program that is supposed to help you learn chemistry; and my computer's not running some components properly. I'm much more annoyed at this than I would normally be; have, in fact, given up on it for now and gone to write this post. When I was just dealing with the man and his lawn mower, I was coping pretty well; but the lawn mower made me more vulnerable to the children--a multiplicative, not additive, effect. (Think about it this way: Either the lawn mower or the shrieking children alone would have been about three points on the scale; together, they're not six points, but nine.) An observer might have thought that I did not have problems with lawn mowers, only with shrieking children, because I only started to have problems when that second stimulus was added. That's part of the problem with looking for "triggers" in children who have meltdowns; it's often not the immediate effect that causes problems, but the cumulative effect of all the factors in play.
Observation four: I'm seeking comforting stimuli more than I usually do. I pause typing occasionally to hold a smooth, heavy, cool pebble. I've been running my fingers through my hair, too (well, running my fingers across my hair--it's down to a quarter inch again, as I trimmed it with the clippers again last Thursday--something I do for comfort, without which background annoyances would include the feeling of hair brushing against forehead and ears.) I find myself rocking slightly, too, but that might just be something I'm doing because I'm thinking about comforting stimuli.
The tension should dissipate pretty quickly. The man with the lawnmower is on the other side of his lawn now, and the children have evidently (and understandably) been drained of some of their energy by the heat. I'm in a safe place, and alone; no social demands, no intense anxiety. If I like, I can go into the next room and pull my pillow over my head. It wouldn't be so easy if I had to be in a public place, if someone were constantly demanding that I interact with them. Oh, yes, I'm happily asocial today; I've had my fill of socializing this morning when my mother called to discuss alternative medicine, messianic Judaism, and the way she gets tired at work if she talks to people too much.
I'm twenty-six. I've come a long way since sixteen; a long way since six. And yet... I have the same tendencies as that little girl who used to refuse wool sweaters and have tantrums when things got to be too much, who used to run away from class, hiding at the edge of the playground or behind the closed door of her room.
The single biggest change in my life since I was a little girl is that now I understand a great deal more about myself and about the world around me. I've learned both to control and understand sensory input and the results of too much of it. And I've learned to take advantage of the extra sensitivity that lets me see beauty in small things, like my pebble; or see patterns most don't notice; or enjoy simple pleasures--sunlight on skin; smell of paper; rhythm of leaves in the wind--that many people have left behind with their childhoods.
"I can't believe you noticed that," they say.
I can't believe they didn't.