An Interoception Observation

I had an unusual moment recently that reminded me of a sensory feeling from my childhood that I’d completely forgotten about. For me, it was a good illustration of the way that interoception — or inner body senses — work.

Your inner body sense sort of describes 2 types of internal feelings (at least the way we talk about them in English). I could say “My hands are feeling hot,” “My scalp is feeling tingly,” and that would be one type of internal sensation. I could also say “I’m feeling anxious,” “I’m feeling excited” and that would be another.

Often, the two are actually connected, and to give a statement of internal emotional state is actually to be interpreting physical sensations. These are generalities, of course, not for 100% of people in 100% of circumstances, but I’m just explaining the background to what my story is.

So anyway — I was driving in my car and listening to music on Spotify, and it skipped for a split second, which is unusual. The music paused of its own accord for less than one second and then started again.

When this happened, my logical brain of course knew an explanation for what was happening: “The music skipped.” But how I experienced it in my body was as an actual tangible pain, just below my collarbone. Like a very sharp poking sensation, coupled with the emotional label, “Dread.”

So, to sum up: I was driving, all was normal, music skipped for a sec, suddenly I’m awash in physical, embodied dread. I had nothing to dread and I knew I was safe, so I was able to observe it more like a scientist watching my own self — “Huh, how strange. They’re feeling sharp dread from a song skipping.”

It brought back to mind a very specific sense memory. As a kid, I owned a CD player in my room. Sometimes the CD would skip while I was on the verge of sleep, startling me awake from a half-dozey-dreamy place. I still get a creeped out feeling from special effects in movies or games that involve a computer glitching and repeating the same sound over and over. It causes this same dready fear in me, that for me gets experienced right under my collarbone.

Which is the cause and which is the effect? Do I feel dread as an adult hearing a song skip because of how I used to feel afraid in a dark room getting out of bed to tiptoe over and fix a skipping CD? Or did skipping CDs make me feel fear because of an inherent sensory processing quirk where my body dislikes a repeated, unexpected sound? Did the two feed each other? There’s no way for me to know exactly. I can’t time travel back to observe my younger self. We can’t always parse the things in our bodies down into strict logical causes and effects. Sometimes they just do things.

But being able to put language to all of it still helps. In this situation it was an obvious experienced precursor, but what if I had been in a crowded place and heard a song skip, maybe not even consciously? Just suddenly felt this intense feeling in a mall or a store? I wouldn’t know what to make of it or how to assure myself I was safe. At least not until I’ve observed a pattern in myself and put it to words. Then I have the words to draw form later when I need to make sense of things again.