Five years ago, I wedged myself into a town car with two fistfuls of luggage and settled into my seat next to my parents. My palms were drenched with sweat, I was unusually clad in comfortable velveteen sleep pants, and I was headed into the middle of New York City rush hour traffic to get to the airport. To take a flight. At night. Overnight.
It is very scary for people with SPD to go off on holiday vacations.Why? Because whether or not we want to admit it, our lives often look like this, day-in and day-out:
T.S. Eliot once wrote “[I] have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons. I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” I always liked to think that as a person with SPD, especially one with sensory avoiding behaviors, I am perpetually measuring out my life with coffee spoons. I know exactly how much time each activity in my day should take. I anticipate my schedule – which, I should mention, is often repetitive and familiar – so that I can better envision and plan for the sensory experiences to come. Just over an hour in a cafeteria? (Thanks for the idea, floating hand above.) No problem! That only means 75 minutes to contend with the barrage of sensory information – the crack and squeak of footwear across the waxed floor, the fluorescent lights bouncing off of the bleach-white surfaces, the murmurs and shouts of nearby diners, the crash of metal fork against knife – as well as make a valiant attempt at focusing in on what my lunchtime companions are saying to me.
Difficult, draining, but there is an end-point, a time on the clock when I can say – hey guys, I’ve got to run and get the hell out of Dodge.
Neurotypicals might call this rigidity.
For the record, this is what I call rigidity:
Sure, yes. I am ultimately less Matthew McConaughey on sedatives in a hammock in Aruba on vacation and more mid-1800s woman in a corset clutching her child and sternly glaring at the new-fangled camera. But really, I am Rachel on the edge of sanity with the light of a thousand fluorescent suns in my eyes and the echoes of a thousand speakers in my ears.
I don’t usually know where my body ends and the world begins. Can you blame me for wanting something grounding, something to act as scaffolding when the unpredictable world can fall down in chunks at any moment?
Let’s recap, shall we?
SPDers, especially those who avoid sensory stimuli, often keep tight schedules. We plan ahead so that we can better anticipate the ways in which we may need to deal with sensory input. We also plan so that we can figure out when we can take a breather. Because in case it hasn’t become clear just yet, having SPD is exhausting. We’re not just dealing with the events of our life, we’re dealing with a somewhat busted processing system that is perpetually demanding our attention. A schedule gives us permission to take a pause. Look how much I’ve been able to do! I’ll often think to myself. I need to lay down now or I fear that my face may actually melt off! Damn everyone and everything in my way!
Which brings me back to holiday vacations.
Suddenly, our familiar, somewhat-stable sensory world is turned upside-down. We’re encountering new places, new people, new sensory input. Some of it is amazing (halva, the sugary ground sesame confection found throughout the Middle East, tastes the best when bought from a street vendor in the thick of Jerusalem’s Old City) – and some of it is terrifying (never get accosted by a French Canadian marionette in a souvenir shop when your senses are going haywire, mon ami, trust me on this one). And not only are we elsewhere, frantically working to rebuild some semblance of a familiar schedule, we’re most likely faced with people who don’t know about our SPD, minimally understand our SPD, and/or have never seen us use our quirky, Seussian looking tools.
Our self-esteem once again goes into a tailspin – what if Aunt Joan asks me about my fidget?! What if cousin Danny makes fun of my Wilbarger brush? What if Grandma Maris won’t let me leave the table for some quiet space?
At least most SPD tools look less creepy than this guy –
Although maybe he’s onto something here
More Radical Reads: Holiday Stress: Five Ways to Manage the Chaos that Comes with the Holidays
[Headline image: Fair skin person with medium grey hair wears a red skull cap while standing outside looking toward the sky and buildings as they drink from a Starbucks holiday cup. Pexels.com ]
Rachel S. Schneider, M.A, MHC is the author of Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues, slated for publication by Sensory World in February 2016, and now available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A trained Mental Health Counselor and proud Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) adult, Rachel was diagnosed with SPD in 2010 at age 27 and since then has advocated for adults with her neurological condition through her writing and related outreach projects. Rachel authors the blog Coming to My Senses and maintains a website on adulthood SPD. She frequently blogs for the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation and writes for Sensory Focus Magazine, and has most recently been featured on The Body is Not An Apology, Mind Body Green, and the third episode of the SPD Parent Zone Podcast. She tweets about SPD at @coming2mysenses and posts about SPD on Facebook. Rachel lives in New York City with her husband, and she firmly believes that her body is not an apology. It is a triumphant shout.