Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Law and Order, SPD Style

Much to my dismay, I received a crisp white and yellow envelope in the mail a few weeks back. "Jury Summons" it read on the front. I cringed. I know I'm not alone in my cringing, and I'd be hard-pressed to find someone leaping up and down in glee for a day or three in jury duty. Don't get me wrong, there's something to be said about doing your civic duty and possibly taking part in a jury of your peers. Oh, but we SPDers don't like change and we do like structure.

Jury duty is the antithesis of structure.

You are asked to report to a previously unfamiliar place at a possibly unfamiliar time to sit amongst strangers and wait to be called, escorted to another unfamiliar place, and asked questions for which you cannot plan. There are bright, institutional lights; foreign scents; unpredictable sound changes; and lines. There is lots of sitting and waiting. In short, jury duty is scary for SPDers.

Yes, and it gets better. These days, at least in New York City, we have a waiting system wherein prospective jurors must call in or go online daily to see if they've been summoned for the following day. I scrambled to find an SPD-friendly solution. Surely, my snazzy blue-tinted glasses and Wilbarger brush indicate that I might not be the best candidate for a jury. I'm smart as a whip, but I'm a sensory dope. I combed the Internet, looking for any extensive proof that an SPD adult has ever had to cope with jury duty before, to no avail. I get that I'm a trailblazer, and typically that thought motivates me and excites me to be my best sensory-self. Last week, though, I felt like the first SPD adult ever to have to cope with jury duty. Okay, second. An SPD pal of mine let me know that he had survived jury duty by discussing his SPD while being interviewed for a jury. It was nice to know that a frank discussion would help the situation. However, it surprised me that there was no wiggle room with the courts themselves. I guess if SPD doesn't appear in the current DSM or the DSM-V, then how and why would the legal system care about excusing me. My therapist rightfully preached coping instead of avoiding, and so I followed suit.

Ever the good little citizen, I diligently - if not hesitatingly - checked in with the courts the Friday before last. The courts had called numbers 1,000 through 5,999 to be on standby. I was relieved to see that my number was over 2,000 jurors away from Monday's jury pool. I wrung my hands, doing the math. There was no way I would be spared the entire week. Every day at 4 pm, I waited with baited breath for the court website to load. I was cleared on Monday for Tuesday and Tuesday for Wednesday, but Wednesday afternoon, the notice appeared. I would be part of Thursday's jury pool in an unfamiliar part of town (another town, I guess). I cried. I packed my bag as if it was a sensory toolbox - putty, Wilbarger brush, blue glasses, gum, pens and pencils, magazines, a crossword book, water, snacks.

Thursday morning, I decided to take cabs to the courthouse instead of adding navigation of unfamiliar subway stops to my list of difficulties for the day. When I arrived, I found myself in the middle of a very long line outdoors, waiting to pass though a metal detector. I made calls and distracted myself from the seemingly-endless wait. Once inside, I followed a herd into a room that could only be described as airport-meets-hospital. Chairs flanked the walls of the room and sat in rows throughout the middle. I grabbed a seat near the door and against a wall (my favorite place to sit always), and tried taking deep breaths. About an hour of announcements and paperwork followed, lead by a uniformed officer with a sharp sense of humor and soft touch. I watched as he gently spoke to those with "legitimate" excuses and sent them back off into the world away from our jury room. I decided not to even try getting out of serving with my sadly flimsy SPD excuse, and just sat and watched the parade of the pardoned shuffle off.

By the time they called the first panel around 11 am, I was a mess. We had just oriented to the day and the room, and I used my Wilbarger brush way too frequently in the event I'd hear my name called, and be away from a place to brush and calm down. Much to my surprise, the first group was lead not upstairs, but outside, down the block, and across the street to another courthouse. I froze. This was not part of the deal. No one had said this jury pool served multiple buildings. It was scary enough to be in a new space with numerous new spaces upstairs where I might be questioned and selected. I hadn't prepared for a field trip.

Mr. Gentle Uniformed Officer took a break after calling this first panel. He stood just outside the juror waiting room, texting and looking out the window. I considered my options: possible sensory nightmare outdoors with strangers (and on court property . . . contempt of court much?) or have a frank chat with the man whose job it was to call jurors. I got up and pulled him aside. I explained my SPD, expressed how frightening it would be for me to be questioned in another building - let alone this one, and asked if I could participate in panels only in this building. I told him I was happy to be there, as long as I could stay within a more familiar place. His face softened as my eyes watered. I am not used to advocating for myself and my disorder. In the three years since my diagnosis, I hadn't had to face jury duty.

He motioned that I follow him, and together we approached his boss in a Mr. Rogers sweater who lingered behind a desk in the juror waiting room. Mr. Gentle explained my request softly as my eyes continued to tear. His boss repeated my name, and promised he'd help me. I sat back down, relieved but still anticipating a day of questioning and newness. The movie Armageddon blared from two TVs set into the walls. I tried a crossword, failed, tried another. A woman next to me tried to sell me on ordering coffees and teas from her company. Panels were called. Each time, I waited to hear my name, and each time, my name was passed over. I was spared.

At the end of the day, Mr. Gentle announced that we'd all served jury duty and we were all free to leave, covered for another four years.  A cheer rang out across the echoey room. I was last to get my parting papers. Mr. Gentle said he couldn't find my juror ID stub. He said "it's the piece the lawyers return to you when you're done being questioned," and I admitted that I hadn't been questioned all day. His boss stood nearby, and peered at me kindly through thick glasses. He said he knew where my stub was, and handed over my papers.

I can't be sure quite what happened on my day of jury duty. Did I somehow manage to avoid being called for at least a dozen panels? Did the honest explanation of my situation sway two unusually caring court employees? I will never know. I stand by what my SPD friend advised from the start: go to jury duty, but find your champion. Someone somewhere is always bound to understand. A good lesson on living with SPD, indeed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Patience, Progress, and the Past

Hi Blogosphere,

Three Ps for you today.

The first two are part of the same story. I am beyond pleased to report that for the first time in my life, I bowed out of a potential evening engagement and pointed to my SPD (patience AND progress!) For years, I've been weirdly elusive when it comes to making plans. This was especially true before I learned about SPD and was unsure what was going on within me. My husband and I were invited to a childhood friend's rehearsal dinner the night before his wedding. I want to go - I always want to go, the event is never the issue. The issue is my response to the event once I'm there, the jumble and tangle of sounds and sights that leave me worn out and numb. Instead of sighting a conflict, I spoke honestly. I said that it was too difficult for me to be at two evening events in a row (it's true, one night after the other proves a continual degrading of my senses), and I'd rather be fresher for the main event, the wedding. The response was filled with patience and caring. The author said she was so glad I knew how to take care of my needs - something that has taken me since my diagnosis in late August of 2010 to learn. No harm, no foul, but especially no lingering feelings of shame and guilt. Rachel - 1, SPD - 0!

As for that last P, I have a very interesting tidbit of SPD history to share (the Past). I am currently working with a Jewish organization as a grant writer, and I am constantly exposed to new views and ideas thanks to the dozens of Rabbis (Jewish clergy) on staff. On day 1 of my new job, I was called into the CEO's office for a meet-and-greet. He presented as a wise, patient man with a kind sense of humor, and so somewhere in our discussion, I thought it might be nice to mention my SPD. (Namely because without my blue tinted aviator glasses, I feel under constant attack from office fixture fluorescent lighting, but they look out of place in a corporate office.) The CEO, also a Rabbi, nodded as I spoke, and then swiftly turned towards his back and reached for a sheet of paper. In Hebrew (which I don't speak), he began reading text written by Maimonides, a 12th century medieval Jewish philosopher on a text called the Mishnah, a study book of Jewish law.

Are you still with me? Good. It's worth it, I promise.

So the CEO told me that within this supremely old document, as well as within the commentary of this beloved scholar, there is mention of SPD.


Maimonides wrote:

"Evil spirits, we call all types of melancholy. There are those among them in which the inflicted senses flees from him when he sees light or when he is among people, but he finds ease in darkness and solitude and in empty places."

If this doesn't describe SPD, I don't know what does. Of course, back in ye olden days of yore, trouble with the senses was attributed to evil spirits (and I'm sure attempted to be cured with salt), but the point is SOMEONE noticed people had trouble with their senses and WROTE IT DOWN. Even the bit about melancholy - imagine being misunderstood and differently-needed in ancient times - reminds me of the comorbid depression often found with untreated SPD. (Too bad no one picked up on the comorbid anxiety!)

I left the CEO's office with a strange sense of renewal and hope. I am just one SPDer in a line of many, many previous generations of sensory challenged folk. Perhaps it is this that gave me the courage to speak up and permit myself to miss my friend's rehearsal dinner. How could a condition that reaches its thin fingers far back into the past be anything but real?