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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jonas' Sensory Aftermath

Unless you're a bear deep in the throes of your wintry hibernation (in which case, how kind of you to wake up for this post . . . and how human of you to own a computer), you undoubtedly know that much of the East Coast of the U.S. was hit by a major blizzard named Jonas last week:
My Name is Jonas
(Having a Weezer moment)




















See the hot pink around the bottom tip of New York State and the island protrusion just beyond? Somewhere between those two masses of land is where I live with my husband, smack-dab in the middle of 18-24" territory, and 24" is being stingy, IMHO. Somewhere I heard that we got upwards of 30". To say it's "snowy" here is like saying the Arctic is cold. It's not incorrect. The Arctic is cold, just as New York City is snowy, but it loses the intensity of meaning somewhere along the way.

This is snowy:
Aww, how adorable you are, you lil sprinkling, you




And this is what our street looked like only 24 hours after the storm started:

Yes, those undefinable lumps are cars
In the cartoony words of one of my favorite artists, Natalie Dee:


And well, normally I do. Like I've said here before, I feel my best in the cold. Between my proprioception and tactile needs, chilly weather helps my body feel connected to the ground. In the cold, I feel the full parameters of my skin, and so I know where I end and where the rest of the world begins. A rarity in my life with SPD.

Snow is a beautiful add-on to my particular set of sensory needs. Aside from the crisp air and sudden quiet, a heavy snowfall typically means a few comfy, warm, safe, tucked-away days with loved ones sipping cups of hot cocoa. It means snow angels and snowy eyelashes and super-soft fleece. But when the snow stops falling, the sky turns blue, and the city I live in resumes its normal buzz, I am left with the sensory aftermath of a snowstorm.

Sure, it's challenging enough for a neurotypical out there right now. The snow is everywhere. For a city that prides itself on walking, New York City, post Jonas, is pretty incredible. Through the feet of snow, brave explorers have begun to make their own snail's path down the frosted city streets. The rest of the pedestrians follow these paths to the footprint, melting the once tiny strides into walkways between snowy caverns. Mounds of snow stand between you and everywhere you need to be. Walking a block turns into a game of chicken - who gets to walk on the established paths and who needs to trek into otherwise untouched heaps of white.

Crossing the street becomes like scaling a frozen fortress . . . or even the Frozen fortress:
If only I could just let it go





Yes, let's talk about ice and slush. It's everywhere. New York City, post-Jonas, is essentially one large skating rink without skates; a solid pond of slippery. It's every 90s kid's wintry Slip-n-Slide dream.

And then there's me and my SPD.

Let me say this. Most days, it's challenging for me to engage with the outside world. It's loud, it's bright, it's in undulating motion. It's an unpredictable cacophony of sensory demands and unwelcome surprises. There are certain things I can rely on. I know that while I am over-responsive to sight and sound and completely under-responsive to proprioception, I can rely on touch and even balance to keep me going. (Fine, I'm no balance-beam-striding gymnast, but let's just say that I have bigger sensory fish to fry than fret over my less-pressing vestibular issues.) Add a pair of thick gloves and heavy boots to the mix and Disney on Ice to the sensory world outside, and I've become even more of an (albeit, temporary) sensory disaster. On this morning's walk alone, I almost fell a total of seven times. Each time I put my gloves on, the lack of cold air on my skin made my vision, hearing, and proprioception even more complex. I couldn't reasonably predict where I could stand, where I could walk, where I could fall, and where I could cross, and so, frustrated and ready to stand firmly on solid ground, I returned home, never happier to be back inside.

I know I've said nothing unusual in this post. Once upon a time, during a very strangely warm winter, there was a storm named Jonas, and many are working to cope with the aftermath of this blizzard. I'm a lucky one - we never lost power, we stayed safe. But I suppose the aftermath of this storm can serve as a reminder to all of us.

Someone in your midst, perhaps even you, lives a life with challenges, be they neurological, psychological, physical, or medical in some way. For this person, a blizzard is not just simply a blizzard. It's not just a beautiful, natural event followed by the inconvenience of dirty snow and overzealous sidewalk salting. It's a temporary shift in ability and a momentary lapse of stability.

It's a sensory aftermath that no doppler radar or even weatherperson can predict.

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Shameless Self Promotion: Want to learn about SPD from a delayed-diagnosis sensory adult's perspective and hear more from yours truly? Pre-order Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues today!

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