Posts Tagged ‘sensitive’

From frustration to acceptance

The experience of being me is challenging sometimes.

It’s challenging after spending a weekend reeling from sensory input and having to slow way down.

It’s experiencing intense overwhelm and heaviness after trying a healing technique — one that others are praising and saying how good they feel afterwards and how much it benefits them.  I try it, and it feels like so much. Too much?

It’s my thoughts that “other people aren’t experiencing this,” and “Why is this happening again?”

And perhaps many people are not, maybe not specifically sensory processing issues or other sensitivities, but, as my Aikido/Tai Chi instructor reminded me on Tuesday night, everyone has limitations of some sort that they have to honor, and also reach their “too much” point at times. He said that being at the edge often means learning, and going over can lead to burnout or injuries.

I sometimes really want things to be easier, simpler, more relaxing for me. Not to get exhausted, even from doing things that I want to do. Not finding it challenging to be in my body at times and stay anywhere close to grounded.

And then, there’s returning to acceptance. There’s softening towards myself. There’s having a vulnerable moment after Aikido that opens up a conversation and other people sharing vulnerabilities.

 I realize that often when I feel overloaded and scattered, I often interpret it as I’ve done something “wrong.” And maybe whatever I did was too much for my system at that particular moment, but it may not need that strong of a label. My nervous system is giving me a signal that I need to slow down, back off. That requires honoring myself, pausing, and resting. It does not require a label or a value judgment. Once in a more grounded place, I can have more perspective about that experience and think about what to consider in the future regarding that activity. Experimenting and finding that that activity was too much at that moment doesn’t require chastising myself for wanting to see what it would be like. It may be an opportunity to give myself space and to learn from that experience.

I have done so much work the past few years around creating a life that more fully honors my sensitivities and limitations. I have so much more respect for myself and what I need. I still have moments where I get frustrated, where I want to do more, be more, and where I want to push through.  I also have more moments of acceptance, of giving myself space to be how, where, and who I am. I’m taking this moment to honor and acknowledge all of this.


Balancing my auditory sensitivity and love of music

Sense-wise, I would say that after touch, I am most sensitive to sound.  I startle – and sometimes jump – at loud noises,  despise firecrackers, and have a challenging time focusing in environments where there are multiple competing sounds.

I also love music, particularly live music.  My taste in music is fairly broad:  I enjoy singer-songwriters, Americana, folk, Celtic, other world music, rock, alternative, and even some heavy metal on occasion.

When I was 23-24, I regularly went to clubs and bars to hear live music.  I did some of this before smoking was banned indoors in Albuquerque, so I would often come home smelling of smoke and feeling like I’d been in proximity with too many people.  Granted, I may have ignored that feeling and made going more of a priority.  After a few months of this, the exhaustion caught up with me.

Now, I have a difficult time imagining going to those places, even if I like who’s playing.  I imagine the crowd, the sound bouncing off the walls, the volume tweaked ear-piercingly loud and the distorted sound quality, not being able to understand people when they try to speak to me.  Thinking of this is almost enough to overwhelm me as it is.  Now, I have a clearer idea of my limits, and I am much more aware of what sensory overload feels like.

Still, I go to music regularly, generally at smaller and more sensory-friendly venues. I know to plan ahead if I go to a larger event.

There have been times where the sound has seemed too loud, and for that, I now have a solution: ear plugs.  My earplugs are rated for 18 decibels and are made specifically for musicians or listening to live music.  They turn down the volume for me without muffling or distorting the sound.

ear plugs 1
I’ve had these for over a month now and I carry them with me on my keychain.  They’ve certainly helped when I’ve used them.  It’s also reassuring to know I have them with me.
Ear plugs 2

My earplug case, along with my keys and my Van Gogh’s Starry Night lanyard keychain.

I’m grateful for my sensory tools. I’m now giving myself permission to say:  “That seems too loud to me,” and taking the time to take care of myself, whether it means stepping out for a moment or putting in my ear plugs so I can enjoy the music more.


Sensitive Soul’s Manifesto

Sensitive Person's Manifesto

I made this as a reminder and encouragement for myself.  I’m thinking of making prints at some point.

When volume of the world went up.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve begun my tactile exercises and sensory diet for sensory integration, I’ve noticed that I’ve been more sensitive to sounds.  I’ve been startling evening more easily.  It was definitely noticeable, but more of a point of observation than a cause for alarm.

That was true until Tuesday evening, when I was putting away dishes after dinner.  The sound of a spoon against a mug sounded like it was amplified several dozen times, like someone had turned up the volume level to the point of hurting my ears.

I decided that the best solution would be to put in earplugs and stay as still as possible for a little while, since even the sound of my own footsteps on the wood floor set me on edge.  When I took out the earplugs before bed, I still felt sensitive, but a little less so.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling like I’d been to a loud rock concert the night before.  My ears felt sore. Sound was still amplified, but much less painful.  I told my Nia teacher what was going on (yay for self-advocacy!) and asked her if she could keep the music volume consistent during class.  She agreed, and was both understanding and supportive.  In class, I was mostly sensitive to certain tones and beats than the volume, and that remained true throughout the day.  I also discovered in DBT group that I felt fine as long as multiple people didn’t start talking at the same time or someone made a strange noise (like whistling or squeaking).  I did give the group facilitators a heads-up that I was feeling extra sensitive to sound, too.

Today, it seems like the volume of the world around me is still somewhat higher than usual, but it’s definitely more tolerable.  I talked to my occupational therapist today and she said that sometimes these kind of things happen when the sensory exercises are working and the brain is trying to find a new kind of balance.   She wanted to make sure, though, that noise levels are generally tolerable for me and not intense or extreme.   She recommended that I cut back to going on the swings to every other day, and if that didn’t help, to reduce brushing.

Sometimes, this all seems like a great experiment.  I don’t know where I’ll land, or if I’ll feel landed when I get there.  In the meantime, hopefully there are parts of this extra-sensitive hearing experience that I can enjoy, such as soft whispers, the sound of the wind on the trees, or the laughter of a child across the street.


Sensory integration and honoring my sensitivity

Sensory integration and sensory processing issues are at the top of my mind right now.  While I recognize that I don’t have one specific focus for my blog, I know that I will be sharing more about my experiences on this topic more often. 

A few years ago, my dad asked me if I would be interested in working on sensory integration issues.

I don’t fully remember this.  When he mentioned it yesterday, I could get an impression of my reaction:  his gentle suggestion was not welcome at the time.  He says that I told him that I was working on accepting my sensitivity as a gift, and not as a problem.

I know where I was coming from:  I wanted to recognize my sensitivity as part of me, not something to be treated, suppressed, or dismissed.  I was strengthening my abilities to sense into the energy around me and discovering how powerful that could be.

I realize that I can still honor that perspective, even if my outlook on sensory integration has changed.  Now, for me, doing sensory integration work is not about trying to fix my sensitivity or come into some range of “normal.”  I believe that I will always be sensitive, feeling intensely and sensing deeply.  In some ways my strong sensory awareness helps me experience life more deeply; for example, when touch feels appropriate and safe (like with my partner), I savor and bask in it.  Ideally, I’d like to hold onto that.

However, I would be grateful if I could soften the intensity of some of my reactions.  I would like to spend more than 15-20 minutes in Michael’s (the arts and crafts store) without feeling rushed, because it often feels like the lights are too bright and bearing down one me.  I would like not to jump or yelp as often when someone startles me.  I am hoping for small changes, things that make life a little easier.

I am still searching for what works for me.  I want to be done with using so much effort and energy to make it look like I’m functioning “normally.”  I want to find a way to support myself financially that makes sense and suits me.  I’ve tried to the whole “fake it ’til you make it” approach, and that isn’t effective for me in the long run.  Short term success does not justify longer-term burnout, exhaustion, and depression.  I am tired of pretending I am not stressed out or overwhelmed when I am.  I am a decent actress, but I am tired of pretending in my real life.

In the end, I want to honor my sensitivity and the way I process stimuli.  I believe that the sensory exercises are slowly bringing me to be more present and less on guard.  I am not seeking to fix a problem.  I am searching for more ways to thrive.

Settling into sensory integration work

An internet definition of sensory integration:  “Sensory integration is the ability of the brain to take in, combine, and organize sensory information so that it can be interpreted and acted upon.”
My mom tells me that she took me to a baby massage session when I was six weeks old.  While other babies relaxed, I hated it.

I have shied away from touch for as long as I can remember.  At times, I have had to reassure myself that certain kinds of touch (like hugs, for example) were safe.  “It’s okay,” I would tell myself.

I startle easily at loud noises.

Crowds make me nervous – it’s challenging me to filter the sights and sounds, as well as the proximity to so many other people.

Sometimes I describe things to myself as “feeling loud” even if it isn’t directly about noise.
I get overstimulated easily – too much external and/or internal noise can lead to me feeling overloaded and wanting to shut everything out.

When I was 9 or 10, my dad tried to take me to an Occupational Therapist to get me evaluated for sensory processing issues.  I had the initial evaluation, and then was supposed to go for a full assessment.  The OT cancelled – twice, after a waiting period both times, claiming she was overwhelmed.  We didn’t reschedule.

Fast forward to recently, over 20 years later:  my DBT therapist looked startled when I described how strongly I react to certain stimuli:  sounds, touch, other experiences.  She told me that I might benefit from seeing an Occupational Therapist for sensory integration work, and that doing so may help me regulate my emotions more easily.  I was reluctant at first, and put off making an appointment.   and then I agreed to at least get an evaluation.

And…after talking to the OT, and talking about tactile defensiveness and other sensory issues, it does resonate with me, the interpreting certain kinds of sensory stimulation as acutely intense and overwhelming, or even painful.  I still identify as being a highly sensitive person with empathic and energetic abilities.  AND…I believe there’s to the picture than that.  I have realized that I have been trying to make things work that may not – or did not – work for me for years.  This means that I have been expending a lot of energy and effort.  I have overcompensated and exhausted myself trying to act as if I didn’t find certain aspects of life, people, the world, so overstimulating.

I have been through a holistic therapeutic program where “healthy touch” (appropriate touch, intended to nurture and connect:  back rubs, hugs, intentional gentle touch, etc.  It’s meant to help those who have had negative or inappropriate touch in the past) was encouraged.  Where I was told that “overwhelmed” was not an emotion (well, it’s certainly an experience that includes multiple emotions).  Where others told me that “it’s too much for me” was a belief and needed to be addressed as such. But this approach and modality neglected to ask the question:  what if “too much” actually feels like too much, and that’s how my nervous system is interpreting it?  What if adapting to healthy touch still feels uncomfortable at times, and less than healthy?

So, back to the present:  For the past two weeks, I have been doing the exercises my Occupational Therapist recommended:  therapeutic brushing and creating a sensory diet (different physical exercises:  I’ve even tried going on swings again!).  It’s been fascinating to see how I react and respond to new purposeful kinds of stimulation.  So far, I’ve felt more calm at moments and more alert or anxious at others.  I realize that while doing sensory integration work may help, it is by no means a cure or a total solution.  But if it has the potential to make life less intense and easier to manage?  That would be nice.