Yesterday was my first session with the OT, and I have an official diagnosis. According to her, I do indeed have Sensory Processing Disorder - this is the overarching condition. More specifically, I have Sensory Modulation - Over-Responsivity, affecting vision, auditory, tactile, and vestibular functions. To put it simply, my wiring is such that I over-react to sights, sounds, touch, and the movement of my body in space. She also said it seemed my vision and my auditory system were in competition, and that I had trouble compensating for both, leading to an overload, and often, anxiety attacks.
I spent an illuminating hour in her office, which is reminiscent of a rowdy two-year-old's dream-home. There is an entire room dedicated to tire-swings, bungee cords, and an assortment of play tools I couldn't even begin to comprehend. In fact, I was startled upon walking in - remember, I'm sensorily over-responsive - and between the clash and boil of bright colors and tangle of play-things, I did what I've learned to do over the years, and just look the other way. While I'm over-responsive, many children diagnosed with SPD are under-responsive sensory-seekers (oftentimes, these children spend a good deal of their time crashing into items, throwing objects on the floor, hitting other children), and the office seemed geared towards them.
We sat in kiddy chairs at a tiny table. A machine with rainbow balls of bubble gum stood to my left, a nickel already in the slot. She told me that I was a textbook case, and that many adults currently live frustrating lives with this neurological disorder, misdiagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, or even depression.
I was put on a two week "sensory diet," called the Wilbarger Deep Touch Protocol. Patricia Wilbarger, a Clinical Psychologist and Occupational Therapist, is a leading expert in the area of SPD/Sensory Defensiveness/Sensory Integration (SPD is the newest term), and she developed deep-pressure sensory modulation techniques to counteract SPD symptoms. The theory goes that this technique (referred to as DPPT - Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique) uses stimulation to help the mind-brain-body organize and begin a rewiring process. In other words, it helps inhibit the sensitivity of the nerve receptors, allowing the person with SPD to transition from one activity to the next without issue, and instills enhanced movement coordination and sensory modulation. To put it simply, it reduces the things that lead to discomfort and anxiety.
Not surprisingly, this sounded ridiculous to me at first. She took out a white brush, which reminded me of a softer shoe-shining brush, and told me that this little tool was an integral part of this process. She instructed me to take a break every 90-120 minutes in the next two weeks to "brush" myself - my arms, legs, hands, and back if I was able to recruit a helper (thankfully, my boyfriend is open-minded and caring, and he's been a huge help in the past 24 hours). Along with this, I was prescribed to do 10 wall-presses (like push-ups against the wall), and 10 jumps - these activities would train my brain to realize the location of my joints in my body, and the location of my body in space (one of my biggest issues dating back as far as I have memory). I was also asked to start taking Omega-3 pills, which enhance the fluidity of nerve cell membranes.
She reminded me that the most important part of this entire process was my own understanding of my body, mind, and correctable malfunctions. After 27 years of unexplainable "quirks" and less than desirable behavior, I have quite a bundle to carry - the guilt of ruined family gatherings, missed parties, and frustrating dates. She urged me to let it all go - to remember that my signals have been crossed for nearly three decades, and that I can improve. She encouraged me to reach out to my family and friends, and begin educating them all. She ensured me that this diet was just the very first tool in her arsenal.
I left the OTs office feeling hopeful and curious about the weeks to come. Once I got home, I began following my sensory diet, brushing and jumping. By the time Josh showed up at my doorstep, two cycles into the DPPT, I felt light and giddy (a free feeling I don't ever remember encountering before), and I had to assure him, while giggling ridiculously, that I wasn't drinking. During the evening, he pointed out that while brushing, I got visually progressively calmer, to the point where I actually had to lean my head on the back of the couch.
I am over 24 hours into my diet, and I am startled to already see results. Last night, for the first time in months, I fell asleep unprompted while feeling quiet, not agitated like usual. The heavy jet-pack of anxiety that has been strapped to my chest since I was a kid is nearly completely gone; I feel like I'm breathing. I feel light-headed, as if I just got off a dizzying ride, but I'm not concerned at all, and I'm enjoying noting the lack of anxiety where it once stood so firm. I walked many avenues crosstown to the bus this morning, never once checking my watch fearing I was running late. I met with two of my fellowship clients today, and I spent no time agitating in advance about preparation of materials - in fact, the time I normally spent silently stewing and second-guessing my lesson plans was spent emailing dear friends and catching up with colleagues (both of whom asked me why I was so calm today). I noticed an improved connection with my clients, and my new-found flexibility put one of them, who is normally closed and anxious, at incredible ease.
It's time for my second to last DPPT work of the day. Funny, as I am still feeling that calm wooze rushing over me from an hour and a half ago. The TV is on in the background - the lights aren't bothering me as much tonight. Neither is the rattle of the air conditioner. Seems like we're onto something.