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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

La Vie en Bleu

Life should be seen through blue-colored glasses. 

I know that's not the way the song goes, or even the saying. It's not what Edith Piaf was warbling about in her native tongue when the camera faded to black a generation ago. But for an adult with SPD, someone perhaps like me - hypersensitive to unnatural lights, perpetually contending with the barrage of traceless sounds, disjointed movement, and visual fluctuations - la vie en bleu - life in blue - is a saying more akin to happiness.

As a little girl, I found myself especially preoccupied with a found object: a simple, clear, plastic cerulean cup. It had been left behind by the tenants of our previous New York City apartment, tucked away in the kitchen cabinet. We found it there, along with two red cups of ultimately equally unexciting caliber. I remember holding the blue cup aloft, like a broken kaleidoscope, shutting my left eye tight as I twirled the cup in front of my right. My parents' massive kitchen fixture, a beast composed solely of fluorescent light, looked friendlier dressed in blue; almost as if it consisted of cool air instead of searing, palpable brightness.

It wouldn't be my last inexplicable draw towards this color. As a teenager, I swore by a popular body store's peppermint shampoo, purely because of it's shade. The same tone as my beloved cup (which had acquired near-religious status to me at that point: used only at night and only by me - a status it maintains to this day, much to my husband's amusement), I would stand tall in the shower spray, holding the bottle upward against my eye, tracing the viscous fingers of transparent blue. As the fluid coated the bottle, I found that the world became quieter, more tolerable. 

At the age of 21, I fell for a blue-shaded table lamp that cast a cornflower haze in a gentle circumference. For a decade, I paged through books in the dim lamplight moments before sleep, unfazed in the presence of light, my lifelong nemesis. 

This isn't just a tale of a woman and color preference; a wacky SPDer and her quirky preferences: this is also about science.

After a visit to an optometrist specializing in individuals with brain injuries and neurological disorders a few months ago, I learned that my penchant for blue was actually sensical. Blue light is theorized to lessen the hyper-excitability of SPD brains and brains with injury. There are two visual pathways in the brain: the Parvo pathway (the "what," responsible for seeing detail) and the Magno pathway (the "where," responsible for seeing peripherally, as well as the "whole picture" of vision - complete objects and scenes). For those of us with neurological differences, it's believed that the Parvo pathway is overstimulated while the Magno is understimulated: there is way more detail being seen than complete scenes. Perhaps this is why vision can feel overwhelming, dissociative, and broken-down: it's more detailed-centric for us SPDers in a world that is overwrought with visual nuances, and we often can't process the entirety, the full breadth, of visual situations. Looking through blue helps restore balance between these visual pathways, which in turn brings about calm and focus. Think about it: when your brain is not not strenuously working to see the full picture, and the pathways are working in tandem, there is a natural quietude. We'll call it reaching equilibrium.

At the appointment, I was prescribed two tints of blue glasses - 15% and 30% - and they have completely modified my SPD experience of sight. Looking like a cross between Johnny Depp's specs and a desperate hipster's favorite accessory, my blue-tinted glasses have become one of my most important sensory tools to date - and this is saying a lot coming from a woman with two weighted blankets, a dedicated brigade of furry fidgets, fistfuls of deep pressure brushes, and a husband whose dedication to my sensory needs earned him a tribute in Sensory Focus Magazine!

La vie en bleu - at 30% tint

Last Friday, I nervously sat awaiting a CT scan, sipping five required cups of neon yellow trace liquid, shivering. It had been seven hours since I had eaten anything substantial, and a month since I'd had the worst case of food poisoning ever and contracted some undefined, painful, problematic illness. Only hours before, I sat in a different doctor's office with my mother, having blood drawn from my weakened, thinning body and my unnaturally-distended belly poked and prodded. The CT scan would be preventative, sure, but it would also be new and potentially uncomfortable: two no-goes for us sensory folk. My dad, ever ready to distract me from my fear of the unknown, showed me construction plans on his phone as I drank.

Somewhere between the waiting room and the procedure room, it occurred to me how well I was handling the day - in spite of my stomach malady, yes, but especially in spite of my SPD. I was bravely walking into strange medial offices, offering my body up for examination: I was going with the flow. Changing into a hospital gown, and looking into the mirror at my newly-slender face, I remembered that I was wearing my blue glasses.

Ah, my blue glasses. I managed a tiny smile.

I hadn't noticed the glaring, industrial fluorescent lighting in either waiting room. When I entered the crisp, sterile procedure room, I logically registered the way it appeared to be a blinding shade of white, but I did not feel the light march like picnic ants underneath my skin. Instead, I eased myself onto the moving tray and was quickly scooted into the CT scanner with my arms up high. I cried when told it was time for an iodine IV, especially when the nurse warned me that my skin would suddenly feel warm (because us SPDers don't have enough trouble gauging temperature normally or anything), but then I slid back into the CT's donut hole, with relative ease. Movement, newness, fluorescent lighting, illness. Blue glasses FTW.

As I am able to feel calmer in more complex situations, I have been handling them with a degree of poise that had previously escaped my realm of ability. I am starting to learn when the 30%, bluer-looking glasses are non-negotiable (doctor's offices, office buildings, conferences, movies) and when 15% will do (street, restaurant, social visits). Lights and movement no longer limit my ability to be warm and engaging in chaotic social situations - true cornerstones of my personality.

This all bodes well for my future. I am starting to hear the whispers of the children I've yet to conceive, feel the energy of them in the air. I see ripples of my work advocating for adults with SPD like a pulse in time - writing about my own experiences and conveying information on a grander, and yet interpersonal, scale. You can bet that I will be acting brave as I step out into the spotlight - however dim. I will be boldly bedecked in spectacles, the lightest shade of sapphire. Rose-colored glasses need not apply. I am living my life, quite happily and completely, in blue.

***
To learn more about my life with SPD, visit my website and blog at www.rachel-schneider.com





2 comments:

  1. I never associated blue with SPD before. I'm not particularly sensitive to light (a good thing, since I'm an amateur stage actor), but it might be something to check out. I am hypersensitive to crowds and settings where there is a lot of background noise, so it might be worth checking out.

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