Yesterday's explanation alluded to my bendiness being related to my Sherlock-iness, which probably strikes a lot of you as either hyperbole or insanity. It isn't.

The "stand-down" system mentioned previously is a nervous-system-wide organization which relies primarily on a substance called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA to its friends. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in humans (most mammals, actually, as far as I can tell). Its function in the fight-or-flight paradigm is, once threat assessment has established that there's no immediate danger, to shut down all the various subsystems responsible for adrenaline production, environmental hyperawareness, suppression of non-urgent autonomic functions like digestion, etc. All the side effects you would normally figure came from being in a state of mortal terror.

In other words, GABA is the off switch. Mine is sticky, if not broken. You have to bang on it pretty hard to get the abort signal to fire. This is why the only effective treatment I've ever found is benzodiazepines. Benzos work as GABA agonists, which is neurochemical talk for "a thing that hammers the same buttons as GABA does when GABA refuses to do its job". Benzodiazepines hit GABAA receptors, specifically subtype 1, which also control the hibernation button, so they knock me into a goddamn coma. But they do in fact hit the off switch, and the coma wears off after a few hours, so I find it an acceptable compromise.

GABA doesn't just function to cancel Red Alert. It's the inhibitory neurotransmitter for all systems. GABA augmentation and gabaminergic drugs are used to treat spasticity of the skeletal muscles, because when too many things fire at once effective movement gets pretty tough, and are about a third-line treatment for seizures, when nothing else will keep the electrical storms from cascading through the brain. They're pretty sedating, and can cause problems with awareness and proprioceptive coordination because of that, but when your alternative is literally twitching spasmodically on the floor for some or all of your life, this doesn't necessarily sound like so bad a swap.

One of the subsystems it's responsible for regulating is sensory collection and processing. Your senses -- both the external ones like vision and hearing, and the internal ones like intraception and proprioception -- take in insane amounts of data, constantly. The reason you can function through this is that there is a circuit specifically dedicated to sifting through this and throwing away anything that isn't relevant. We colloquially refer to it as 'attention' or 'concentration'. What it works on is governed by the prefrontal cortex (which hits switches largely with dopamine, the thing that ADHD drugs are meant to help regulate) and mediated with GABA, which just wanders around junking signals that aren't relevant just at that moment.

You may have guessed where I'm going with this, which is that if I'm short on GABA and that system is bad at manufacturing enough, it's chronically bad at discarding things. You know that state of mind where you're really amped up -- maybe scared, maybe just super excited about something -- and all of a sudden little details start popping up out of the background noise of the environment? Things that are not technically relevant to what you're doing, but wind up encoded, incongruous yet indelible, in your memory of the event all the same? It happens because your normal flow of GABA has been temporarily suppressed in the interest of making you sharp enough to avoid being a meal for a sabre-toothed tiger (or give your big presentation, or avoid throwing up when the roller coaster goes upside down, or whatever). You sacrifice proper focus on details in favor of being prepared to react to a threat you anticipate but have not yet identified.

That is my world all the time. It doesn't come across as scary-threat to me; it makes me paradoxically fearless. I've been like that all my life, so it has to ramp up considerably more to make me figure I'm going to be eaten by a grue. Compared to that, going up on stage to perform is really kind of not a thing. It just makes me very sharp, and very observant, and makes a much higher proportion of my memories the 'flashbulb' type that most people only store in high-stress or traumatic situations. I can tell when GABA agonist sedatives have completely worn off. It fizzes across my shoulder blades, like that moment just before the hair stands up at the back of your neck. There's nothing to react to, not quite, but as soon as there is I'll know it.

Telling people I have the mutant power of paying some fucking attention started out as a wiseass answer to a stupid question, but it turns out to be true.

I have made it all the way to adulthood without anyone noticing or trying to do anything about it because, to be blunt, I have a very big brain. I have enough spare bandwidth to accommodate all the extra information that my brain is supposed to be discarding but isn't, with enough left over to hammer it into a shape I can use. This is why I tell people I don't think I can teach them to be Sherlock -- the ability to process information into knowledge is an acquired skill, but the state of noticing enough information to pull off the trick in the first place is essentially an inborn error of metabolism. Normal people can probably attain it, but it involves a lot of panic or amphetamines or at least some questionable nootropic "supplements". I am entirely serious when I say it does not have an off switch.

I am also entirely serious when I say I do not want it turned all the way off. I like being like that. That hum of awareness is the feeling of hypercompetence for me. The vast majority of the time, it's an adaptive mutation. I have the capacity to shift the discard filter up into the conscious range and note-then-ignore enough stuff that it doesn't interfere in my ability to function. Only when I'm under prolonged survival stress does the kludge fail and make life difficult, and even then it's not actually that my aftermarket coping strategy is broken -- it's just superseded by physical symptoms that hit basic self-preservation instincts like appetite and sleep, which make the sherlocky bits irrelevant until I get that back under control.

This is a bitch and a half when dealing with the psych people, because they want to correct everything back to 'normal', and if you corrected me back to 'normal' you'd utterly destroy my ability to function in everyday life. I lived on allergy medication for a while this spring when the snow stopped abruptly and all the cherry trees exploded in flowers at the same time. My life was a fucking wreck for a month or so, because as it turns out, I'm so accustomed to being extraordinary that I have no game plan whatsoever for being a regular person without things like an eidetic memory or the preternatural ability to notice and connect details. I hated it with a passion. I can go on listing incidents that make me prefer being sherlocky over not-sherlocky, but the argument really just devolves into 'sod off, no means no' and pointing out that I've spent over thirty years refining the art of being frighteningly smart and I am not prepared to give it up.

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