It was only while I was in seminary that I discovered that most human beings are well aware of when their bowels are building up gas, and can exert considerable control about when to hold it in as well as when to let it out. I, unfortunately, only become aware of the presence of gas a couple of seconds before it breaks out. At this stage I have only one choice to make – to clench or not to clench. Clenching is just as likely to force the gas out with impressive sound effects as it is to push it in deeper. Not clenching has a good chance of allowing a ‘silent but deadly’ escape. When I sense gas coming, I have only moments to try to judge whether to clench or relax for minimum embarrassment!
I’ve often wondered if there’s any connection between poor flatus control and being autistic. I couldn’t see any obvious link until I discovered recent articles on the distinction between autism and alexithymia, notably this scientific paper which proposes that alexithymia is a general lack of awareness of one’s own body – not just the signs which indicate emotions.
Why do people speak of emotions as ‘feelings’ and associate them with our heart and our guts? There’s a growing body of evidence that for a neurotypical person, awareness of one’s own emotional state is strongly linked to interoception – the human body’s ability to be aware of its own internal states. The speed of one’s heartbeat, the filling or draining of blood from one’s cheeks, the tension in one’s chest or bowels – all of these are associated with particular emotional states, and knowing what one’s body is doing is part and parcel of knowing how one is feeling. So could the inability to know one’s own emotions be due to a particular person having a body only weakly wired for the brain to know its physical state? This would provide a clear link between a lack of awareness of gas in my bowel, and a lack of awareness of other cues which should make me aware of my own emotions.
I also consider myself to be a clumsy person. Nor can I ride a bike – my sense of balance isn’t good enough. Could these be consequences of a weakness in proprioception – the body’s knowledge of exactly how its limbs are placed?
There are other ways, too, in which I seem to have non-standard body reactions. Apparently people ‘feel good’ after strenuous exercise. But they don’t eat food just before going to bed because of the way it makes them feel. But I’ve never derived pleasure from exercise, and never noticed ill effects if I should need to eat late and then go to bed… except in recent months when eating a certain brand of chocolate digestive cookies at bedtime caused me to wake up with trapped wind in the middle of the night. Since that brand of biscuit never caused trouble before I put it down to some change in gut flora.
I simply place these thoughts on the record for future researchers.