A few weeks ago, my entire family was slated to attend a wedding for a childhood friend. An evening wedding, I should say, with the guest list exceeding 250 people. And a live band. Not exactly my favorite set of circumstances. Also, not traditionally my most comfortable and successful type of situation. Three years earlier, I was at the wedding of this bride's sister, and yes, I experienced rolling sensory shutdowns throughout the course of the night until, mid-dessert, I exclaimed enough torture, and I left. At the time, I had no SPD diagnosis. There were no tools to rely on, no sense of understanding - of the self or by others. Brushing was what I did with toothpaste to my teeth twice a day. Gum was for bubble-blowing. My diet involved eating less cookies. You get the picture.
Based on my previous experience, I wasn't sure how this event would go. I planned as if I was confident in my abilities. I picked a 1950s Mad-Men-esque dress (Joan would have been proud), and painted on my prettiest I'm totally normal face. My heart may have been thrumming in my chest but I looked mahhvelous. Thankfully, my date to this soiree was my loving husband, who has made it his mission to be my handler. Not unlike a Big Apple Circus tiger or a stumbling celeb, we SPDers need handlers too, sometimes. (We can be as pissed and as klutzy as our counterparts.) My goal was to last as long as I could, and as comfortably as I could, without a meltdown. Or, if I didn't have a choice, to stay until meltdown and then be whisked out the exit with my hand deep in my husband's palm.
The ceremony was in the sanctuary of a large, Long Island temple. Rows upon rows of wooden benches perched pew-like before a bright stage. The main aisle was bedecked with twinkling trees and pillars with vases. Everyone who entered before us rushed, in tandem, to sit by the aisle. After all, it is the bride's path. Ever the SPDer, I veered us to the right, and grabbed a quiet bench on a brideless aisle. No one sat behind us, and no one sat in front of us. It was perfect. All sounds came from one obvious location - the ceremony.
My husband and I were two of the first people into the cocktail hour, where we snagged a private table in the back corner of the room. My family filled the table, and I stayed seated, marveling at my ability to keep my cool, even in a jam-packed room of hungry Jews. Instead of going to visit the food stations, my family and husband lovingly brought the food to me. Very Mountain and Mohammed.
My greatest success, however, was at the actual party. Wait, I hear you saying. What? Yes. You read that correctly. I took a few breaths as I attempted to adjust to the massive ballroom. The band was already in full swing as we found our seats. I was alert and coherent - a big plus, and not always typical for 9:30PM. Once the hora - the whirling, twisting, messy Jewish celebratory dance - began, I ducked out of the room and took the opportunity to brush. A regulated SPDer is a happy SPDer, and nothing makes me feel more jittery than the dizzying hora. By the time I returned, the regular dancing had begun. I sat back down at the table. The music was already starting to bother me. I felt the trumpets somewhere between my ears and the top of my head. A gentle ache. I reported this to my husband-handler, and he said - earplugs? Or, rather, he shouted this, as our table was right next to the speakers.
Earplugs. The only reason I sleep at night. They had come in handy in August, when after a birthday dinner for my grandpa-in-law ended sometime after 11PM, and the transition from restaurant to humid outdoors made my skin crawl and my eyes tear. Putting them in instantly calmed me down.
I put in the earplugs, and the press of wedding band blended into a mild, background haze. I marveled. This is what normal people (Normies, of course) must experience on a daily basis. The ache in my head quickly dissipated. I felt uniquely more attached to the ballroom, more grounded - even in my unsteady heels. I blinked and waited, assuming the shutdown was still not far from reach. But instead, something crazy happened.
I had the urge to dance.
Dance. Me. Wedding. Night. Not to get all Tarzan on you, this was a VERY big deal. So my loving handler and I stood up and approached the corner of the dance floor. Dancing felt amazing. I spotted my parents in the crowd. Wide-eyed and grinning, they pushed their way through the moving bodies to dance with us. The look of joy in my mother's eyes was about how awesome it felt for me to be dancing at a wedding. For 45 minutes, we jumped and shook and wiggled our hands in the air. (We're not the best dancers.) My sister and her boyfriend joined us, in complete shock and awe. For nearly an hour, I felt like every other person at that wedding. I felt like a Normie.
So when my husband and I left, just before dessert, sometime between 11:30 and midnight, I was Cinderella sans pumpkin. Energy pulsed through my body. We waited for our car and chatted with other guests. Not one person in that room would have ever guessed the things I deal with on a daily basis. I wore no scarlet letters. It is something I have already placed tenderly in my arsenal of tools - the time I went to a big evening wedding, put in earplugs, and felt like everyone else. The night I was just another face in the crowd.