I've noticed a trend in the adult SPD community during this long, stormy, and seemingly-endless week leading up to Valentines Day - a myriad of questions about love and self-worth:
How can I love myself if my needs are so unique, complex and misunderstood?
And how will anyone else ever love me with all my unique, complex, and misunderstood needs?
I have felt powerless watching some of my closest SPD kin grappling with these questions, clearly in turmoil. Their pain is my pain, and yours too. It's a familiar refrain on our most insecure days. Who among us, neurotypical or otherwise, hasn't unhooded their eyes in the morning to see a taught, empty pillow sitting next to them, staring back in disdain? Who hasn't questioned their own self-worth after the umpteenth breakup? After neglecting to secure a promised, and seemingly-imminent promotion?
And then add on the quirks of SPD - the fleeing a room with unforgivable acoustics, the clamping of the hands over the eyes when stable lights begin to flicker, the recoiling of the foot from the ill-fitting sock, the lunging into the arms for a bone-crushing hug, the spitting out of the food with the wrong texture . . .
It's hard enough to be unsure of oneself - it's a true challenge to be unsure of oneself when one also has - and has always had - some kooky reactions to otherwise harmless stimuli. Some SPD adults have endured years of ill-conceived (and incorrect) diagnoses and treatments, teasing and self-loathing, craving what society deems as "normalcy" and perpetually falling short of the norm.
It's no surprise, then, that at the foot of this holiday brimming with hearts and flowers and romance is the ultimate question for adults with SPD:
How can I love myself?
As a psychotherapist and SPD adult, I know intimately that there are no roadmaps to self love, and that the road is harrowing and the terrain, unforgiving. When I received my SPD diagnosis in 2010, I unknowingly set myself on a path to self-acceptance (yes, I'm aware how crunchy-hippie-dippie-granola I sound right now, but hear me out). I've been in psychotherapy since I was a teenager, and I found that I went through an extreme battery of emotions in therapy after my SPD diagnosis, namely: excitement (yay it has a name!), hope (I can get better!), anger (why didn't I know about this sooner?), and frustration (nothing's going to change). I loathed myself and loved myself in constant vacillation. I cried about the not-knowing-back-then, and laughed about the knowing-right-now. I worked in piecemeal, unsure whether I was the anxious and misunderstood sensitive of my youth or the bolder but still delicate form of my adulthood. There was a clear disconnect.
But somewhere, as I bumped along the road, I realized I'd begun to make some peace with myself and my quirks. I can't quite pinpoint what it was - something my therapist said, or something I concluded - perhaps it was even the people I began to meet in the community, or even this blog - I began carving out a new niche for myself: Rachel, the beautiful weirdo who needs to sleep under a 17lb. blanket in an ice-cold room. Rachel, the silly wit who can't stand flashing lights and high-pitched singing. Rachel, the wise and kind-hearted klutz who will walk smack-dab into sharp corners of end tables every single time. Rachel, the pragmatic therapist who lives and breathes by her husband's deep, strong hugs.
Sure, some days I'm still angry and frustrated - I can't hold a knife without getting cut, I can't slow down my racing brain, I can't tolerate a tickle, I need to cry from overstimulation. I still have SPD. It's not going away. It's my companion and sherpa; it's my backseat driver, my silent twin. What has changed are my thoughts about myself.
Because really: why would squinting at fluorescent lights make me evil? Why would refusing unpleasantly-textured foods make me lesser-than? Why would being bothered by the sound of a whirring fire engine make me undeserving? Why would my fidgets and my earplugs and blue tinted glasses make me unlovable? A man devoid of sight is still precious, as is a woman who needs to take insulin. A wheelchair doesn't detract from someone's ultimate value.
So here's my message for you all on this day of love - particularly to my fellow SPD adults: find a way to love yourself as you are, challenges and all. When you love yourself, others will sense that you're worth loving too.
You are quite powerful, you know. You have the capacity to choose the thoughts you think. What about your SPD makes you unique and special? What about your SPD helps you contribute to society and be a better person? Having SPD has allowed me to be sensitive to the emotional needs of others, to read people beyond what their posture and facial expression might lead others to think. I wouldn't be me without my SPD - and that, I think, is the best love letter of all.