hurrah! finals are finally over! it will still be awhile before i breathe normally again, waiting for grades.
but in the meantime, i’m going back to my art. i love drawing and digital painting, yet for a long time my work suffered because of my issues with eye contact. for me, it hurts to look into people’s eyes. it’s not annoying. it’s not because i’m rude or shy. it hurts. to sum it up, it feels like everything bad that could happen is happening at that moment and you can’t do anything about it.
this pain went through pictures- i couldn’t make my own drawings maintain eye contact with the viewer because i would have such a problem with working on it.
though, it hit me. whose eyes was i drawing and sketching all the time? the quick sketches made of eyes made during class or while i was on the phone - whose eyes were those? i realized that there had been people that i didn’t have this problem with, whose eyes i could look at without hurting. i realized that i tended to be more fascinated by them but it had never occurred to me why until then.
i went through photos and photos of old friends, new friends, family, random people on the internet, models, anyone i could find. i found a number of people whose eyes did not hurt me to look at- even a small number that it was actually relaxing to look at.
i’m thrilled and excited about this, and i’m still trying to figure out what is the similarity between these people. i’ll post more about this as i investigate, but it has given me hope to be a little more normal.
finally, i have models i can actually reference. it has breathed new life into my art.
last night was rough- more rough than my usual monday nights.
mondays this semester have been hard; 6 hours of class time plus night driving. i don’t generally like driving at night, with all the lights flashing here and there, the multitude of headlights everywhere and quickly passing by house lights, business lights, and street lights it gets hard to get to my destination safely. my drive home usually takes around 20-30 minutes and i managed to find a route in which around half of that time i spend on a more secluded road. it’s tolerable, and worst case i end up pulling over and taking a minute to close my eyes and do some deep breathing. granted, i’m not the nicest person when i get home and as soon as someone starts making some noise that i can’t handle, i usually end up in my room quite quickly.
but last night i lost it. between the tv being on with no one watching, the stove fan being on, the multiple conversations going on at the same time and the sound of typing on the computer, i just lost it. i yelled at my mother and my father. i threw some things, but it wasn’t too bad- if they had been heavier it might have, albeit ironically, actually helped. it was just bad.. i tried to calm down, first going to go sit in my car and breathe. that didn’t work, and i ended up yelling some more when i got back inside. i went upstairs to try spinning in my chair but when that didn’t work i went to my eabuds, music, plus spinning and that seemed to calm me down enough to start thinking about what was different that night.
it took a while to figure it out but i’m pretty sure it was the jackets and stripes. with the cold and rain the last few days, quite a few people came to class with sweaters, jackets and the like. in particular, someone sitting in front of me was wearing a sweater with black and white stripes. i’ve found i have a very hard time with high contrast paterned clothing, and this coupled with the added sound of people moving around in noisy jackets, wools and tweeds was not good at all.
on the bright side though, at least los angeles tends to spend most of the year quite warm.
it’s getting close. the time for finals, that is. that stressful two week period in which the time going up to it feels as if its flying by way too fast, and yet afterwards seems as if time simply won’t move forward.
seemingly completely unrelated however, i finally managed to see a doctor that knew a thing or two about endocrinology. for more than half my life i have had a number of medical issues, none of which i will bore you with here. however, she, the doctor that is, is positive that i have hypercortisolism. she believes i might have a non-cancerous growth on my adrenal gland, that handy one on your kidneys, that is causing it.
hypercortisolism, also often known as cushing’s syndrome, is a condition in which the adrenal glands, through different abnormalities (be it a tumor or other condition), produce too much of the hormone cortisol. this in turn can cause weight gain (in the torso, and causing the ‘moon-shaped’ face that is commonly associated with cushings), immune issues, depression, mood swings, growth issues in children and a number of other symptoms.
now, why am i talking about this on a blog about spd? because cortisol is also the hormone which regulates the body’s stress- in particular, the fight or flight response. that same response seems to be often triggered for people with sensory processing issues, increasing their difficulties when in sensory overload.
i am currently looking for studies done on any correlation between sensory integration issues and the hormone cortisol. i have yet to come up with anything concrete, but if anyone knows of a study or article done on the matter, a link would be much appreciated.
hello again.. it’s been a while since i last posted. a long while.
after my last posting, the preparation for finals began, and a few weeks later the horror of actual finals. then of course the holidays, meaning parties and people and sound and all the things that exacerbate my issues.
between law school finals and christmas, i have to be honest- it’s hard. the stress and pain sometimes feels completely overpowering and unending, and at times it seems as if it would be impossible to ever feel even a little normal, my normal, again.
studying is not too bad itself- a good pair of noise cancelling headphones, a little mozart, a room with little or nothing in it or on the walls, and good daylight is quite heavenly actually. there is just something inherently death-defyingly stressful about finals in law school- especially those in the first year. and then of course the limbo between finals and receiving grades- that is just a whole different animal.
christmas and new years. it’s a love/hate thing. i love the lights, the colours, and the goodness of that time of year. but, i absolutely hate the pain i end up feeling. between the talking, screaming of children, whispering, christmas music playing over this talking, hugging, eating, perfumes, clothing and et cetera, et cetera, it becomes never ending episode of sensory overload causing pain and making me look like the grinch of the party.
all i have to say about parties, not just christmas ones, is look at the whole picture. make arrangements so that anyone who has spd or other related disorders can have an opportunity to regather themselves and relax. even if it’s a few minutes in a quiet and clean space, or just helping out lifting heavy boxes or trays. anything that can help, anything at all, do it. it can make a huge difference and maybe even let them actually enjoy the holidays.
meanwhile. today is valentine’s day. happy valentine’s day!
for a lonesome soon to be hermit like myself, valentine’s is an odd holiday. it’s nice seeing the love people can have and show for one another, especially in a world full of violence and hate, yet it’s honestly disheartening being reminded on a yearly basis of something pretty much unattainable for me. i cannot handle being touched. i cannot handle eye contact. even breathing- as i’m sitting here typing, i am struggling to refrain from running out of the room with my ears in my hands because of the breathing of the student seated next to me. it’s not his fault, rather that of his sinuses and windpipe. the list goes on, but to put it shortly, the chance of finding someone i can handle is beyond improbable.
it’s not impossible, i’ll admit that. in my life, i’ve known three people whose touch i could handle. one is dead, one is suffering from parkinson’s disease, and the other was a stranger i met at a concert who disappeared within the crowd. as for eye contact… i’m now looking in to this actually as i have found some people that i can actually hold eye contact with, without any pain or gut wrenching fear. i will post something about this later. only two people i’ve met that i can completely handle their eating, breathing, and other general sounds. i have yet to garner the courage to even talk comfortably with those two, one of which i have no means to contact anymore.
regardless though, this is a wonderful film to watch - lars and the real girl. within all this disheartening truths, this film still gives me a little hope. lars reminds me so much of myself- no information is given to what his condition is, however there is no doubt that he has some form of sensory difficulties, resulting in his extreme avoidance of most things. it is a sweet film, and a shining star in the otherwise dark romantic future for people like myself.
‘til next time… :)
first i’d like to say thank you for the kind words of support thus far; it means a lot to me, hearing what you have to say ♥
restaurants- a chance to get to spend time with family and friends, eat some good food, and partake in a long social tradition. but, for someone with sensory integration dysfunction (also known as sensory processing disorder more recently), it can be a long night of sensory overload, chaos and pain. between the loud conversations at each table, the cutlery hitting the plates, cups being put down and maybe even dropped, the assorted sounds coming from the kitchen, the waiters and bus boys striding between the tables, picking up and putting down of plates, the sound of the utensils and plates hitting the container before heading to the kitchen to be cleaned, the door opening and closing as new patrons enter, and each time that door opens sounds from outside also entering, as well as the usually hanging lights (depending on the restaurant of course), it can easily get to a point of sensory overload, leaving you with little ability to enjoy your meal, let alone pay much attention to the conversation at your own table.
there are a few things that can be done though, to help those with sid through the event, and let them leaving happier and having enjoyed the experience rather than consistently trying to avoid places and invitations like this.
- go during off hours. those times between lunch and dinner, or after the dinner rush are much less crowded and much quieter in general. less people means less conversations, which means a higher ability to try and focus on the important one at your own table. plus, with less of a crowd, you are more likely to be able to request a different table.
- get a table that is more secluded, such as a corner, and try to face a window. with only one or two sides facing your table with people and waiters, it’ll give a chance to keep your eyes away from the moving people and all of their clothing, body movements, hair, accessories, and anything else that might grab your thoughts. windows, i’ve found, are very useful in the same manner. most of the things that you can see through the window are a lot more predictable than the people inside the restaurant- whether it be trees blowing in the wind, ocean waves, or even cars.
- this one may seem silly for those of us who are older than 10, but it works really well. bring a soft pencil, grab a paper napkin, and start sketching or doodling. or, if you are somewhere they have kid’s menus and crayons- get some! yes, silly, but when i do this i can not only keep up with the conversation but join in as well. drawing something repeatedly is quite calming, and it definitely demands your attention.
- repetitive sounds. i had never thought about this until seeing the film ‘sherlock holmes’, as imagined and directed by guy ritchie. there is a wonderful scene where sherlock is sitting in a restaurant awaiting mr. watson and his fiancé, and he is hearing that cacophony of voices in conversation. he seems to hear it ever so much clearer while holding and listening to a watch, clicking away. i thought it was magic, and while i didn’t have a watch like that, i downloaded the sound of a metronome and listened to it from one ear (via headphones) the next time i was invited by my family to a restaurant. all i can say is- wow. i don’t know how it worked, but it did. that repetitive noise was so predictable, so comforting in that sphere of unpredictable behavior and noise.
- and lastly, before leaving to the restaurant- relax as much as possible. reset. whether you are helped through deep pressure, heavy lifting, spinning, using a rocking chair, or however else- do it. leave home feeling as free as you can to begin with, and the whole experience will be a better one.
— Temple Grandin
i have sensory integration dysfunction. i’m 20 now, and in law school. i am not autistic, nor do i have adhd… even though those diagnoses would have been more conclusive, more helpful in the long run. the problem is, sid isn’t officially a diagnosis in the dsm, the bible of psychiatric disorders. sure, as a symptom of autism spectrum they understand, but by itself? supposedly a “dubious diagnosis”; apparently people cannot be ‘impaired’ by this.
but i know better. i cannot do many things others can. i know my life is significantly impaired by this sid, and i am writing this blog to show that this disorder isn’t just a fad, nor simply a symptom of another disorder. i am also writing this for those of you out there with sid, spectrum or otherwise. you aren’t alone. and i certainly hope that we can find ways to overcome some of these barriers this dysfunction places before us.
what is sid? essentially those with sid have problems integrating and processing different sensory input, and this can create problems. people have 7 ‘major’ senses: sound, sight, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (that’s your balance), and proprioception (that’s the sense of your own body, where your arms and legs are for example). now, sid can go two ways- hyper, greek for excess or exaggeration, or hypo, greek for under or less. so, lets take a hyper auditory sid person. and now lets put that person in a room. this room is a cafeteria, and it’s lunchtime. our person might hear things louder than most people, and will most likely hear many things people normally “tune out”. that tuning out is actually that lil part of your brain that organizes what you are hearing, or otherwise sensing, and letting the rest of your brain know, this is background noise- ignore, but this is your friend talking to you- pay attention. someone with sid has trouble doing that, and often instead takes some things that might normally be taken as background noise and their brain interprets it as a life threatening danger. now, back to our person. sitting in that cafeteria, she’s hearing not only her friend talking to her about the wonderful morning she has had today, but every other conversation in ear shot, as well as the clamoring of plates, the chewing of food, trash hitting the side of the garbage can, chairs being dragged out, chairs being pushed back in, and the air conditioning that is making the room ever so slightly cooler. and all of this, is sounding just as loud as her friends words, her brain can’t tell her to ignore those other things because they seem just as important. now, in some cases this can cause something called sensory overload- it’s simply too much. causing confusion, pain, and her body to go into what’s called the ‘flight or fight’ response. that’s her nervous system telling her she has to do something, she’s going to get hurt. while this response is helpful in times of actual peril, in the long term it is damaging to your body and extremely hard to deal to get out of.
some input, all by their lonesome, can cause a fight or flight response. let’s say she has an extremely adverse sensitivity to the sound of chewing. when simply in a room, a very quiet room now, with just her friend eating a sandwich- this can cause pain and response from her nervous system as well, sensory overload here we come. and there didn’t even seem to be much too it.
degrees of sensitivity and dysfunction vary of course, but sometimes it can get so bad that it severely hampers your ability to just sit in a room with others, or even just yourself.
personally, i have a nice little variety of hyper sensitivities. sound, sight, touch, smell, and a tad bit of vestibular and taste. a nice little potpourri of dysfunction.
just to explain a little more from a first person perspective… being in class. oh i love what i’m studying, it’s fascinating. but paying attention can be a challenge at times.
florescent lights- they flicker. seriously, look at them. it makes the room flash… kind of like a strobe light.
people’s clothing- sometimes that itself is distracting, patterns and colours that are harsh. just the other day, i was behind someone with a thin striped jacket; i spent most of the class staring down at my keyboard just to avoid the pain in my eyes.
chewing- in class. how fun. i have only met one person i can handle the sound of chewing. yes, one person. in my life. that’s it. and unfortunately that person is not the persons who like to chew gum during lecture. gum is horrible.
scratching, especially hair or clothing- this sounds odd, but one of my most painful reactions is to this sound. you know how you feel when someone scratches their nails upon a chalkboard? that’s what i feel like when someone scratches their arm.
whispering- i don’t really know how to explain this one but… it doesn’t sound like you are whispering, rather, you are practically yelling. accompanied by this horrid scratchy, hissing noise people making when they whisper.
i had thought typing might be a horrible issue in law school, what with everyone on their laptops taking notes at lighting speed. but it only bothers me when i hear typing that is … off rhythm. i don’t know how to explain that one… each key sounds different but each keyboard sounds awfully similar at a key by key comparison. when everyone is typing the same good ol’ black letter law, it’s nice and uniform, nearly identical words being typed into all of these keyboards…
i think that’s nearly enough for now. just to start. all i can say is- thank goodness for that nice little microphone in my laptop, recording lectures.