In casual conversation, I once said to my mother, “You know how sometimes you just have to look down and make sure you’re fully clothed before you leave the house?” She responded with a blank expression, and that’s when I realized that most people can tell without looking whether or not they’re wearing pants. Yet another way in which Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) affects strange parts of my life.
Several Small Mysteries, Solved
There are SO MANY things that make sense in the context of Sensory Processing Disorder that I had never considered before my recent re-education on SPD. Like how I cease to function when someone asks me more than one question at a time, or how I actually find elevators a little bit exhilarating. Once, a friend scared me when I had the hiccups, and I was totally overloaded and burst into tears. (I then promptly hiccuped again, so it was all for naught.) When yoga instructors suggest the class close their eyes in a pose, I scoff internally because I know that if I did that, I’d end up falling spectacularly and taking half the class down with me. I’m seriously incapacitated in the dark.
Not to mention the wide variety of school-related struggles that I had never connected to SPD before. It doesn’t help me in any practical way now to know that Socratic seminars were so torturous because I’m not great at praxis, but it does reassure me that the anxiety I felt had a definable cause. Give me a few hours to think and I’ll give you a detailed response, but put me a circle with my peers and expect me to formulate an opinion on something and share it immediately, otherwise, I lose points?! C’mon. That’s a recipe for a non-answer.
You’re an Adult: Now What?
I had the benefit of being diagnosed at a young age, so I had some inkling of the broad aspects of SPD. It is, however, very different to manage your disorder as an adult; you have a more complete understanding of societal expectations and your growing independence means that you must deal with a lot more on your own. I can imagine that for people receiving a diagnosis for the first time as an adult, it would be even more overwhelming to put all of their behaviors, quirks, and challenges into context. You can suddenly tie seemingly unrelated things together into a single explanation, and that can be extremely validating. But, it can also be a little bit intimidating. Armed with all this knowledge, you now have the power to make life 1,000 times easier for yourself, but that often requires an element of assertiveness. If you’ve been pushing yourself to endure things that drive you bananas and drain you of all life force because “everyone else can do it,” it’s really hard to change that habit. (And no, not everyone else can comfortably do it. Just for the record.)
Change can be tricky for everyone, but particularly if, like for me, dyspraxia makes dealing with uncertainty extra hard for you, it’s ok to take it slowly. It may be somewhat counterintuitive that advocating for yourself would be harder than continuing to do things that don’t work for your nervous system. Even though those things are uncomfortable or distressing, they’re likely also familiar. If you don’t know exactly what will happen if you change your routine or how other people will react, it might seem safer to just stick with what you do know.
If you’re in that boat, try to be patient with yourself. Ever so slowly, I’m getting better at saying “no” to things (and not feeling guilty about it). I’ve also learned that it’s totally worth it to speak up on car trips and explain that everyone will be much happier if I sit in the front seat so that I don’t get carsick and hyperventilate/blow chunks in the backseat. I rely a lot on what I see to help me discriminate sensory information, so yeah, sometimes I double-check that I’m wearing pants before I step outside. And that’s ok. With practice, it gets easier to advocate for yourself, and I think you’ll find that it’s worth it.