College and SPD: 3 Things I Wish I Knew

I’ve known that I’m sensitive my entire life. I don’t like crowds, loud noises, getting splashed in the pool, or rollercoasters, and although I technically knew that I had Sensory Processing Disorder, that fact clung to the periphery of my awareness until I was nearing my college graduation. For the majority of my time at university, I questioned my worth, my intelligence, and my capabilities. Had I gone into college prepared with knowledge about my disorder and the intention to remember my sensory differences, I think my experience would have been much more positive.

But, here we are, and shoulda, coulda, wouldas won’t change the past. But they might change your future, so I thought I’d expand upon what I wish I knew about college and SPD.

1. I Got In For a Reason

I can’t tell you how much time I wasted worrying about my perceived inadequacy and comparing myself to my peers. So. Much. Time. And where did it get me? Countless sleepless nights and a heck of a lot of cortisol. When the other freshmen complained about the workload and said that they “breezed through high school”, what I thought was geez, I had to work really hard in high school. That must mean I’m not smart enough to be here. What I should have thought was: I worked really hard in high school and developed valuable time-management skills and study techniques. 

In hindsight, I probably felt I needed to put a lot of effort into my high school classes because planning and abstract thought are not my strong suits (read: math is hard for me). I often felt behind my peers because I learn best when I have quiet time to digest new information on my own; doing homework was usually when concepts started to make sense, but I was often utterly lost in class.

So, the bottom line is: I wish I knew that my learning style has more to do with sensory processing and less to do with my intelligence.

2. Everyone’s College Experience is Different

I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type. This doesn’t tend to mesh well with the party lifestyle many people associate with college. I also really like oatmeal raisin cookies and think they’re vastly underappreciated. (Read: I’m actually an old person in a young person’s body.) My point is, I spent a lot of time feeling like I was missing out on all the things I knew I wouldn’t like, just because it seemed like I should.

A sub-category of this section is that finding a space that fits your needs in terms of community, interests, and activities is definitely possible and makes a huge difference in creating a sense of belonging. I went to an enormous university, and I was worried that it would be hard to make friends. So, I lived in a small, all-female dorm for three of my four years there. That turned out to be the best part of my college experience. I made life-long friendships and I immediately felt welcomed and accepted.

3. Focus on Yourself

In some ways, I did do this; I went to office hours, I prioritized classwork, I took the maximum number of credits a few times in order to fit in two majors. In other words, I focused on my academic goals, pretty much to the exclusion of all else. I didn’t start seeing a therapist until my senior year, and I failed to advocate for myself when it came to things like roommate disagreements and class accommodations.

When you’re in college, it’s important to remember that it’s your education. It’s a privilege many people don’t have, so get the most out of it while you can. That being said, your education won’t be much good to you or anyone else if you’re unable to use it after graduating. Taking care of yourself should be your first priority.

deer
Gotta love Nichol’s Arboretum and its weirdly habituated deer.

There are some aspects of college life that are unavoidable. For example- I don’t like crowds, and going to a big school meant that I was bound to encounter crowded walkways several times a day. When I had roommates, I realized that there weren’t many places on campus where I could be truly alone. Being surrounded by people at all times was exhausting, so I went on long walks to the arboretum near campus. I even started timing it so that I wouldn’t be leaving or returning when classes let out and the sidewalks were jammed with students.

 

There are a ton of other things related to Sensory Processing Disorder that I wish I knew or that I discovered a little late in my college career. Before I’m out of college for too long and forget them, I figured I’d share a few of them here. If coursework and time management, navigating campus, creating your ideal dorm room, or anything else SPD and college life-related is something you’d like to read more about, let me know.

 

6 thoughts on “College and SPD: 3 Things I Wish I Knew

  1. This post is something I really needed. I struggled a lot at school for different reasons. BP definitely made things difficult. I started my undergraduate studies, but quit for the same reason I quit school more than once, and although my brothers are in university and my sister has already graduated, I can’t even think of a way to study for an exam and not feel dizzy, lost, with difficulty processing what I see, hear or think.

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    • While I’m not glad that you could relate to my university struggles, I am glad that this post helped! I can understand the pressure of comparing yourself to siblings and peers. I try to remind myself that everyone’s path through life is different. Thanks for commenting, Deb- I appreciate it.

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  2. Your story could be my story…except I’m 50 years old and not formally diagnosed. When I was a child, I was “sensitive”, “high strung”, “squirrely”, “nervous”, “introverted”, “shy”. I have SPD and anxiety and have managed my symptoms or quirks on my own my whole life. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes not so much. I recognize when I’m about to start panicking and I recognize when I’m irritable because my sock is slightly wet and I deal with it. I’m divorced and my new boyfriend is not like me but I’m getting better at telling him how I’m feeling instead of either closing myself off or lashing out. It’s so freeing to read about people who are like me. What works for them or things that I realize definitely won’t work for me. And although I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, I understand where that comes from. I’ll never have an easy time with things other people take for granted or enjoy things that other people enjoy. And that is sad. But my own self also sees and appreciated things that other people don’t. Pretty sunsets. The details in leaves. The feel of my cats fur. Smells. Tastes. Colors. Weight. Texture. God made us all different. We just have to love those differences even when they aren’t so fun.

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    • Hi Jen,
      Thank you so much for your comment. It makes me so happy to know that someone can relate to what I’m writing and feels less alone in it. I completely agree- SPD makes me perceptive and so appreciative of all the wonderful parts of my life.

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