So since writing my post about compression clothing ages ago, I’ve had lots of time to think about proprioception and how it impacts me.
Ok, first a quick refresher. Proprioception is the ability to tell where our body is in space without looking at it. You know how if you hold your arm off to the side, you can feel where your arm is? That feeling is called proprioception. If you have your arm sticking out to the side, and you decide you want to bend your elbow 90 degrees, so your hand is up in the air, proprioception is what lets you do that accurately, without necessarily needing to look at your hand to make sure it’s where you want it to be.
So first of all, when I wrote my compression clothing post, I really had no idea why compression or weight would impact proprioception. Since then I’ve learned that this feeling comes from our body’s ability to detect and interpret pressure on the various ligaments/tendons/whatnot in our joints (actually, I think it’s more complex than that, but anyway). So it makes sense that external pressure on a joint might make it easier to feel that, and thus make it easier to know where exactly our body is. So yeah, I could easily see compression or weighted clothing having an impact.
Now, as far as I can tell, I have some minor proprioceptive impairment. Mostly in terms of my hands frequently being a few inches off from where I thought they were, which I find out because I crashed them into something that I was trying to go around (if the faucet on my kitchen sink could think, it would probably believe I didn’t like it very much). I’ve more less gotten used to it, but it can still be a little odd to realize that my hands were not where I thought they were, even when it’s only by a few inches.
Story time! Once (and as far as I know, *only* once) I lost my feet in a more significant way. I was outside running in my barefeet and for some reason (I don’t know why) I lost my feet. By which I mean, they stopped being where I thought they were. I was able to keep running due to, I don’t know, muscle memory of how to run or something, but I was no longer able to have control over where my feet were landing. I mean, I have to know where my feet ARE before I can deliberately choose where they’re going to land. So I saw I was heading towards a manhole cover that had a rather nasty raised metal rim, and I tried to make it so my feet landed either in front of or behind it.
WHAM! My foot landing squarely on that metal rim, which luckily was wide enough to not break the skin, but it left a nasty, painful bruise.
All because I lost my feet. And because I was stupid enough to keep running even though I didn’t know where my feet where. Learned my lesson on that one. Don’t do that, seriously.
Anyway. I wasn’t able to find my feet again until I stopped and kicked my legs around a little.
Another story! When I was growing up, this actually happened to my arms on a regular basis. Specifically, when I woke up in the morning – every morning – I would have no idea where my arms were. None. Before I could get up, I had to find them. There was a slow way and a fast way to do that. The slow way was just twitching – twitch my fingers, my bicep, the muscles around my shoulder, that sort of thing. It took a minute or two, but it would let me locate my arms so that I could use them again. The fast way was basically really big twitching – you know, a flail. Definitely not the right choice if anyone was within arm’s length, but luckily I had a room to myself. I considered this entirely normal. It never occurred to me to question it until I read Lord of the Rings and got to the scene where one of the hobbits wakes up tied up in some bushes, and is able to figure out how he is positioned without moving. People can do that? That’s a thing? And an author would write about it as if it’s normal? REALLY? I asked my parents and learned that actually, I’m the weird one, losing my arms every morning.
I’ve been thinking about those times, how they felt, and what it took to get back “in” my body. And I’ve wondered… what would it be like if that happened to me a lot? What if instead of being off by a few inches, I regularly lost my hands by a few feet at various times during the day? What if it was really difficult for me to tell where my body was? What if twitching wasn’t good enough to find myself?
Well, I’d probably feel really disconnected from myself. Like my legs and arms were these things attached to me that I didn’t have proper control of, rather than limbs that I inhabit. And I’d probably flail my arms around a lot, just trying to find them. And in that flailing, they’d probably go off in unintended directions, maybe accidentally hitting people around me even though I really didn’t mean to, because I couldn’t tell where they were well enough to direct where they should go.
And what if I couldn’t communicate that to the people around me? What if I had so much trouble telling where my arms were, and people told me to put my arms somewhere but I couldn’t do that until I could find them. So I flail around to find my arms, but I can’t right away control quite where they’re going, so I’m a hazard to people around me. And they don’t know why I’m flailing, only that I am, and that I might hit them, and that I’m apparently refusing to put my arms somewhere safe. That would be frustrating. That would be scary.
I might feel like I had been set up to fail. If a teacher tells me to rest my arms on my desk, I might even be happy to do so, but I have to find them first. Only then I get in trouble for trying to find them. If I had no way to voice this to the people around me, I would almost certainly get so frustrated that I’d scream. If people pushed without understanding, it could easily move into a full-blown meltdown. And that would risk that people would believe that I am screaming or melting down because I don’t *want* to put my arms down, rather than because I am trying but not being given the opportunity to do so. Or trying but being punished because of what I have to do to try.
I feel lucky that I generally only lose myself by a few inches at a time. That twitching my wrists or fingers is often enough for me to keep a handle on where exactly I am in relation to myself. That the worst I have to deal with is being careful and watching my feet when I walk on uneven surfaces, and just sometimes tripping or banging my hands into things. I am able to communicate this to the people around me so that they are less likely to think I am simply being difficult when I can’t go quickly on the stairs or I keep banging into things on accident. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.