I heard there was a secret chord: autism, synesthesia, and the dentist

You hear the word synesthesia and to you it might mean seeing the color blue when you hear jazz music. That’s cute. I wish it were that simple.

I have autism. You know this because you know me. I’ve told you to your face, or you’ve read it here. But I don’t present as autistic. I look people in the eye. I’m well-spoken and charismatic and even cute. But underneath all of this dyed black hair is a paragon of an autistic brain.

What I figured out at the dentist today is that the downside of being too much is that my pain shows up in unconventional ways. I have the better understood synesthesia but I also register physical pain, vibration and sound in traumatic ways. Numbing my nerve endings with Novocain isn’t enough because my brain has workarounds for that. I still feel the pain But not only do I feel it, I see explosions of light. Fireworks on the backs of my eyelids.

The only way to keep me in the seat is a combination of nitrous oxide, music and meditation. Even then, tears streamed down my cheeks from the trauma of being tied down to a chair while salty blood covered my taste buds and stinging and tingling ran rampant throughout my brain and untouched parts of my body.

Both the dentist and the dental assistant asked me if I was ok. I told them to keep going. I can’t not have this dental work. Twenty-four thousand dollars and counting so far. And all of it necessary.

It took me 40 years to put all of this together. Nine years ago, I figured out the very first baby step to unlocking who I am. You call it autism. I know it is so much more. I’ve been having ongoing realizations of every aspect of what this is, some of it with the help of meditation while on nitrous oxide.

What I know to be true unlocks so much about not just my brain but the brains of a whole lot of people. Some of it answers questions being asked. Some of it answers questions people aren’t ready for. That’s ok. I hear the secret chord.

But my synesthesia realization today goes beyond the scope of the dentist. Why does every autistic I know obsess about music? Does it affect our brains differently? Why do a lot of the gifted people I know have strange sexual predilections? No, really. Not me sooooo much…maybe a little. But pain as pleasure is a constantly repeated theme. In my early 20’s I used to joke about the Venn diagram overlap between Star Trek TNG fans, libertarians and S&M aficionados. Now it makes so much sense I feel like it’s obvious…if only to me at this point.

But push beyond just the sensory issues. Why is autism so prevalent? Why are we suddenly hyperaware of this? The possibilities I’ve been considering are bordering on the woo woo. But I don’t think I’m alone in thinking them. I think it has something to do with evolution. Or maybe even needs of the planet.

Think about it…there’s a strong correlation between autistics and justice causes. Greta, for one, who was so traumatized by ecological devastation that she stopped talking an eating. I know this pain too. It registers in lots of parts in the brain. It’s another one of our sensitivities. There’s so much more. But I’m not ready to share. I’m paying tens of thousands of dollars for these realizations. And I keep seeing how badly they are needed by so many people. But I have a lot of learning to do before I can share. I’m doing my best.

As for the dentist, I told him I needed five minutes of his time after we were done. Fighting back tears, I told him what I had learned…that the pain was torture…that my disability was hidden…that I wanted to be a good patient, and I was grateful for his kindness (no other dentist has ever understood).

He kissed me on the top of my head. And then he pulled up a picture on his phone of a little girl with curly brown hair…she was missing a hand. “This is my granddaughter. I want you to know I understand.”

I’ve needed to hear those words my whole life…from so many people. When I finally did hear them…in such an extreme time of need…I finally felt safe to let the tears flow. He hugged me.

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