April 12th 2012

Motor oil, air intakes, vacuum cleaners, and coffee pots all require filters.  Filters are a great way to allow what we want or need to flow through, while blocking what we don’t.  They work great when we change them regularly so they don’t get plugged.  When we don’t change them they tend to plug, and even overflow.  If I forget to change the filter in my vacuum cleaner it over heats and shuts off.  Same thing for me hair dryer.  There are some pretty bad side effects to not changing the oil filter in a car.


Did you know our brains use a filter?  Yup, they do.  This week I have been thinking about filters since I met with a new neuro-psychologist who explained this to me.


The filter in our brain takes all of the information we get from our senses, including some we don’t usually think of, filters it and sends it to the proper destination.  It is how what we hear gets to the part of the brain that interprets that, while also getting to the part of our brain that formulates a response.  At the same time it filters out the sounds we don’t need or want.  For example, it filters out the hum of our computers when we use them, or the sound of the dishwasher when we are watching TV.  It also allows us to sit down on the couch without being constantly aware that we are touching another surface with a large portion of our body.  The information that we don’t currently need is being filtered out.


Now imagine a filter is broken, plugged, or even overflowing.  What happens?  The filter may stop letting through what we need and want, and what we don’t need or want may get through, or even spill over.  When a coffee pot overflows the hot water and coffee grinds spill unto the counter because the water still flows into the it.  When the filter in our brain is broken, plugged, or overflowing we don’t stop taking in information with our senses, and that information overflows into other parts of our brain that try to compensate.  When this happens we literally become overwhelmed with the volume of information we are receiving, and our brain desperately tries to interpret all of it at once.  Just like a vacuum will stop working if the filters aren’t cleaned or changed, the brain does not function normally if it is not filtering the information properly.


That describes me.  I am light sensitive, sound sensitive, and sometimes touch sensitive.  I take in more information then I need, and my filter no longer filters out the parts I don’t need or want.  The ticking of a clock isn’t filtered out, so when I am in a room with one I constantly hear it, tick tick tick tick tick.  Yes, it is annoying.  My ears pick up everything, even sounds many can’t hear because they have learned to filter them.  No, it is not my imagination, the sounds are there.  Sometimes there is so much to take in, so much the filter misses, that it overflows and my brain tries desperately to compensate for that.


When this happens my automatic reaction is an attempt to reduce the amount of stimulation I am taking in.  Sometimes that may be as simple as plugging my ears or closing my eyes.  Sometimes, far to often, it means leaving the room even in the middle of something.  When I can’t reduce the stimulation, or leave the room, there are unfortunate effects.  All that stimulation in my brain that is overflowing makes my brain want to get rid of energy, and it has to come out somewhere.  It isn’t always the most pleasant thing for me or those around me.  I cry, I argue, I cover my face, I try to walk away, sometimes I look like I am going melt down.  Since most people don’t understand what is happening they attempt to help, but only make it worse by increasing the stimulation.


Eventually if I cannot stop taking in more information then my brain can filter I start to shut down.  When the oil in your car overflows all over your engine, the engine will stop working.  This is a perfect picture of what happens to me, once every few months my brain simply cannot compensate enough for the overflow of information.  When your engine stops working you cannot reason it into working again, only the mechanic can fix it.  Fortunately the mechanic can get parts!  I can’t get replacement parts.  When my brain stops working right only time helps.


Is this annoying, most certainly.  I can’t just go to the parts store and buy a new filter, though that would be very convenient.  It is annoying because I can’t control it, and I hate that!!  It is annoying because it effects the people around me.  If you happen to be the person around me when I am getting close to shutting down, you end up being the witness to the worst side effects of the surgery I had.  Most days I act just fine, function just fine, and look just fine, but that doesn’t last long once the filter starts to plug and overflow.  I know it is going to happen, I just don’t always know soon enough to stop the intake of information before it overflows.


Most of you who read this have never witnessed this in me.  You may have seen glimpses of it on my social network sites that sometimes get spilled all over when my filters start to fail.  When the filters are failing, my reactions and my judgement aren’t always very reliable, so I say and do things that most adults would not consider mature adult behavior.  I know this as well, but unfortunately I don’t control when, how, or on what, the filters overflow.  I try, I do my best, but I fail.  My failures are really apparent, really obvious, and really bothersome to anyone who witnesses them, there is no hiding them.  My failures are only made worse when people judge me for them.  No one should be judged for the failures in their lives, because we all have them, some of us just can’t hide them very well.  The worst reactions I get form others are anger, and a refusal to understand, both of which cause the problem to worsen.


If I could get a new filter I certainly would.  I do my best to clean my filter, and to avoid what causes it to overflow.  Yet life is not avoidable, and on any given day the thing that might plug my filter is not predictable.  I refuse to let this broken part of me determine my life just to avoid failing.  I may fail many times, and apologize many more times, but I will not stop trying because I fear the failure.  I live the life God has laid before me, accept that I will fail, and pray those failings will be less intense and less frequent over time.


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.