Part one of describing my other oddities.
The first thing I discovered, at around 22 years old while pregnant with our oldest child, was that Sensory Processing Disorder existed. I went through the checklist I’d found and it was revelatory!
All of a sudden, many things about my life made so much more sense! I had, as most people do, simply assumed that everyone’s experience of the world was at least somewhat similar to mine and this was the first time I realized how incredibly wrong that assumption could be.
For example: My husband actually enjoys the sensation of rubbing his hands against carpet and upholstery fabric, while even the thought of doing that myself sends unpleasant shivers up my spine. I can’t even be around the sound of him doing that and have to ask him to stop if he does it in my presence because the discomfort from the sound is so great for me that I can’t handle being around it. I cannot currently describe in words how horrible and overwhelming it is if I’m actually rubbing my hand against the carpet or upholstery fabric myself.
The sound of rapid tooth-brushing is another sound that sends unpleasant sensations reverberating through my body. Actually brushing my own teeth can be even worse, which is a completely different challenge that I’ve dealt with throughout my life. I could easily write an entire post on the difficulties of enduring the process of keeping my teeth clean while experiencing sensory overload.
Both of those specific sensitivities have been enormous issues for as long as I can remember. There are many more examples of overwhelming, horrible-to-me tactile, auditory, olfactory, and visual sensations, of course. Most of the things that cause my biggest issues are tactile. Here’s a small sample:
Feeling tags in clothing, sunscreen, makeup, air conditioning turned below around 80 (Fahrenheit) during the hot summer or blowing directly on me, the seams/fabric in blue jeans, wearing shoes, hearing dogs barking*, shaving and the stubbly aftermath, someone very lightly brushing up against my skin, getting shocked with static electricity, having my nose assaulted with perfume/cologne/smoke, folding laundry, looking at well-stocked grocery store shelves, being in fluorescent lighting for too long, and many others.
Some of those sensations can be unpleasant for people without sensory processing issues too, of course, but I gradually learned that most people don’t feel like they’re drowning in the sensations when they experience them, some people even enjoy some of those sensations, and still others aren’t bothered by most of them at all or can tune them out to some degree or other.
This all makes sense, of course. If everyone experienced great discomfort while wearing makeup then it wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry. Blue jeans wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they have been if the seams and rough fabric bothered the majority of people. In actuality, blue jeans are widely considered to be both comfortable and casual attire. Most people in my region, which happens to be very hot and humid during the summer, keep their air conditioning turned down to the mid-70s (F), if not lower. This is torturous for me, but other people amazingly seem to like it that way.
So, armed with this new information, I gradually found ways to deal with my discomfort that still help make the world somewhat tolerable for me. Mostly, because I’m fortunate in having a great deal of control over where I need to go on any given day, this involves avoiding situations that I know are particularly difficult/overwhelming for me. I also do simple things such as keeping a sweater in the car so that I can easily put the sweater on before going into a cold building in the summer.
Unfortunately, I have yet to find ear-plugs that don’t give me tactile issues due to the “plugging” sensation, which means that I haven’t had a great deal of success in blocking out uncomfortable noises. Earbuds do help to a degree though and at least the most uncomfortable sensations for me are tactile, not auditory.
Learning about my sensory processing issues has been an integral part of understanding myself and my, sometimes quite intense, reactions to things that other people often don’t even seem to notice.
But that was only the first oddity I discovered and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, several other oddities significantly affect my life as well.
I also didn’t realize, as I was learning about these oddities, that they are all fairly commonly seen in autistic** people.
*We have gone so far as to break rental leases and move to different neighborhoods because of neighbor dogs barking frequently and that’s one thing that, frankly, terrifies me about someday possibly buying a house instead of continuing to rent – what if the neighbors have incessantly barking dogs and we can’t just pick up and move?
**After having written and pre-scheduled this post, I discovered an excellent post that discusses how autism feels with sensory overload as well as social and auditory processing issues. It also has some videos that attempt to simulate sensory overload. Definitely worth checking out if you’d like more information about the topic!