Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sensory Overload and the Origins of The Gratitude Gallery

The Universe is full of surprises - it often takes you down roads you never imagined traveling, and for me, painting has been one of them. What I now call "The Gratitude Gallery" had a very unexpected and unintended beginning that I'd like to tell you about...

In early March of this year, I decided to attend a Reiki workshop in NYC for the weekend and needed a place to crash for the duration of it. Luckily, a dear friend of mine from high school lived only 5 blocks away from where the class was being held, and agreed to take me in.

Now, before I tell you about the origins of my Gratitude Gallery, I'd like mention that any Lymie who experiences "sensory overload" as an unfortunate neurological symptom of Late Stage Lyme Disease will tell you that staying in a city (especially New York!) is NOT exactly an ideal circumstance to be in. Here's why:

You see, most people are completely unaware and therefore cannot appreciate just how magnificent the brain is, particularly in its ability to filter out unimportant information about the environment you are in at any given second. 

It's all quite easy to understand if you imagine the brain as a very efficient, highly intelligent computer that is able to take all of the millions upon millions of GB's of data that is thrown its way every single moment of the day, and automatically (effortlessly even) determine what part of that information is important for you to be consciously aware of, and what part just isn't. It is only because of this ability that you are able to concentrate and focus on any task you ever attempt to perform - pretty cool, right?...

Now. Imagine that something gets into that computer and decides to turn that data-filtering mechanism OFF. You would now find yourself completely paralyzed and overwhelmed by your surroundings, being constantly bombarded by information that is simply too much for your brain-computer to process. This is Sensory Overload.

When this happens a couple of key self-preserving cautionary steps are taken by your loving brain in a vain attempt to prevent a total "system meltdown". First, you may start to feel a "tightening" pressure that pulls down from the inside of your head and spine. In medical terms it feels like your dura-mater and meninges start to constrict, tighten and twist - this is painful. 

Immediately following that, (or maybe even as a result of that) your brain will try to limit the amount of data being thrown at it by literally constricting your consciousness and therefore, your ability to be aware of (to "tune" into and process) anything that is beyond a ten-inch radius from where you stand. You simply WILL NOT be able to integrate anything else into your surroundings. I once heard someone describe this by saying, "I feel like the world literally ends 10 inches from my face". 

I used to try and describe it to people by saying that everything has become "theoretical" or "intangible". For example, let's take something that can only be theoretical in our minds and use it as a metaphor: The Milky Way Galaxy (What a marvelous creation!). 

Why can we perceive this very real thing only in theory? For a lot of reasons: because we don't need to integrate it into our surroundings to survive, because the enormity of it is simply not tangible; it's not something we can literally experience, touch and comprehend with our minds (lol - it's OUT THERE...). 

Now, what would you say if I told you I had that same feeling when looking at a chair that was five feet from me? - This is the best way I know how to relay to you what a constriction in consciousness from sensory overload does to my level of awareness.

Note: If this is happening to you please kindly turn around and go back home, you are not going to be able to come out and play today : ) 

Okay, so red alarms are going off in your head, something is definitely WRONG, but you don't heed my advice and go rest, you persevere and attempt battle through it. Unfortunately, I've made this incredibly stupid mistake on numerous occasions and therefore can tell you exactly what the next step in this grueling process will be: your computer-brain will start to short circuit. Ah...and this is where all the fun really begins...

When I imagine a real computer short-circuiting, images of sputtering sparks from melting electrical wires and circuits flying everywhere enter my mind, and ironically, this is not very far off to what actually happens to your body. 

You may start to stutter, become confused, disorientated, not understand where you are or where you need to go, your movements may become awkward, jolting, and stiff, your limbs may jerk or tremor, you might start convulsing or become paralyzed, your hands might curl inwards and become stuck like that, or - you might even start to seize... 

Since 2007 I have experienced this bewildering aspect of Neuro-Lyme (to varying degrees); needless to say - I've learned it's simply easier to not venture out too much.  

Okay! - back to my story. Because of this neurological condition of mine, during that weekend in NYC with my friend, Charles, I would go to class, practically run back to his apartment, sleep for a couple of hours and then have absolutely nothing to do for the next five hours. Charles is never in his apartment - he is always working, sometimes coming home way after midnight - so I had a LOT of alone time. 

When I first got there I remember him telling me three things: make yourself at home (thanks luv :), I work very late hours, and why don't you try and paint if you can? (he did have all the supplies)...

Having NEVER painted before, one night I decided to give it a try. Of course I was awkward and clumsy and wasted too much paint, but I LOVED it! How relaxing, how rewarding, how forgiving it was - if I didn't like what I just did, I could just paint over it! 
So I ended up with a small abstract blast of colors and swirls that I felt extremely satisfied with and overly proud of. So proud, in fact, that I simply had to put it up on facebook for display. I had accomplished something, CREATED something, and wanted to share. That - I thought would be the end of it.

A couple days later I received a message from a beloved Uncle of mine in Switzerland who asked me if I would be willing to try and paint a particular song for him that has haunted him for years. I totally understood what he meant - music evokes so much emotion, but emotions are blind and can only be felt... he wanted to actually see what he was feeling. I was totally game for it, downloaded the song, got my supplies and went to work. 

In the end, I think he felt deeply moved by what I had created, and thought that I should continue painting. As a "thank you" he sent me enough canvases, supplies, paints, and brushes that I was convinced could last a me lifetime.

At the same time I received these supplies, I was also selling a bunch of stuff on e-bay that some friends and family had sent me to help pay for my ongoing medical expenses. My disability was and still is in the processing phase, and I had been so desperate and in despair - not knowing how I could come up with the money I needed to continue my treatment, that I couldn't help but feel overcome with gratitude towards the people who cared enough to send me things to sell. I kept thinking to myself how can I repay such wonderful acts of kindness?? 

Turns out the answer was right in front of me, all around my room in fact. I ended up repaying them with paintings - paintings that were unique to them, that held their essence, and my gratitude. I wanted them to be able to look at it everyday and know that what they had done had saved me, I wanted them to look at it and remember that that kind of kindness could never be forgotten. 

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