Imagine going out to a cool brew pub in Harvard Square with your best friends. It is crowded and noisy and you are sitting on the inside of the booth which makes you want to flee. Imagine trying to make rice balls for dinner and jumping up and down every time you touched the mixture because it felt sticky and wet. What about getting stuck in a crowd during the Montreal Jazz Festival and grabbing your friends belt buckle, begging him to lead you to safety.
How about having your honey gently and affectionately rub your wrist and yanking your hand away because the feeling was too intense. Or holding your hands over your ears to block out the noise of the toy train that runs overhead in your local grocery store. Yes, the same train that small children gleefully wait to hear.
Yes my friends, I have issues! All of the above scenarios are from my life. Several of them led directly to me climbing into bed afterward, curling up in a tight ball trying to quiet my breathing to calm myself down.
I have a lot of sensory issues and this affects how I process things. For instance…
- I don’t like to sit with my back facing the exit or on the inside of a booth as I get panicky
- I hate the feeling of certain textures and if I touch something I don’t like, I have to wash my hands immediately.
- I don’t “do” crowds and if I find myself in the middle of one I might have a meltdown
- A gentle touch that some would find soothing might send me into orbit
- Certain smells that you might not even register send me fleeing out of the room
- I often hold my hands over my ears to block out noise that others find only slightly annoying.
Going into sensory overdrive is intense and can leave me feeling exhausted, drained and irritable. Experiencing any of the above events can lead me to experience a pounding heart, difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling faint, and sweating. If I can’t immediately resolve the situation, these feeling escalate and full-blown panic can follow. The longer it takes to extricate myself from a situation, the worse the symptoms become and the longer it takes to recuperate.
For most of my life I simply tried to hide my issues from the world. I think the night at the brew pub in Harvard Square was the first time I spoke up and requested the outside of the booth. I really wanted to be there with my friends but I was about to make a bad excuse and run to the safety of my car to get away from the ensuing panic. Instead I summoned up some inner strength and asked for what I needed.
Yes my AHA moment was that my friends can’t read my mind and I have to ask for what I need.
That was 25 years ago and I continue to struggle to manage these situations by asking for what I need. As hard as it is for me to speak up for myself, it is way easier than trying to manage my symptoms once they get out of hand. It is hard to maintain my upbeat, fun, calm persona when I am dripping with sweat, my heart is pounding, and I feel like I am about to pass out because the walls are closing in on me. I have also gotten pretty good at simply saying NO to invitations that I suspect will not be healthy for me.
Sometimes just surviving the experience without screaming my head off, bursting into tears, running away or curling up into a tight ball with my hands over my ears is a victory.
So don’t judge me.
I am not sharing my issue so you better understand me, I am sharing them to remind you not to judge others.
People are quick to judge others even when they don’t know them. We make a quick assumption based on a raised eyebrow or a funny look and think we know what they are thinking. We get offended by a comment without asking what the person meant by it. We get the wrong idea in our head and it gets stuck in there reverberating for days and negativity begins to ooze from our very pores. This is really bad for our health.
We may both be shopping at the grocery store at the exact same time but trust me, we are having completely different experiences. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to have a train running overhead and making its “choo choo” noise while people are shopping for groceries? As if grocery stores weren’t already chaotic enough places. Maybe you hear “choo choo” but I hear the real train rumbling down the track like a tornado coming straight at me.
The woman behind me on-line trying to juggle a screaming toddler and a crying infant didn’t flash me an angry look because of anything I said or did – she is dealing with her own issues.
The next time you get offended by someone who looks at you funny or doesn’t respond to your warm greeting or says something that sounds sarcastic or odd; take a DEEP BREATH. Chances are that person is simply experiencing the world through their own filter and it isn’t about YOU at all. I choose health and happiness by accepting my issues and by remembering to honor “The 4 Agreements”.
As an aside… People with sensory issues often have the ability to be incredibly empathetic because they recognize when others are in distress and attempt to assist by meeting their needs. We know what it is like to feel overwhelmed, out-of-place and a bit weird. People with sensory issues are often managing a situation not only to better meet their own needs but the needs of others as well.