Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Let's begin with an analogy. 

Having SPD is like having a sensory bank account. When you're respectful of your quirky neuro-needs and dedicated to your sensory-occupational-physical-psychotherapeutic diet of Wilbarger, exercise, breathing, cognitive reframing, rest, and endless omega-3s, your bank account is full. These are the banner, blue-sky days when you forget you even have a sensory bank account. You are perhaps calmer than usual in the face of sirens/screaming babies/undulating crowds/packed subway cars. You may surprise yourself by seeking out challenges. You may sit an extra half hour with friends at a popular new restaurant with pulsing lights and an unnecessarily-hopping bar scene. You may open a bottle of ketchup without banging it on the counter and breaking it in a fit of exhausted rage. You may not even walk directly into your armchair. Bruise free, baby!

When your sensory bank account is full, it's easier to make these withdrawals. You are personnel on pay day. You are the sultan of salary. You can make it rain. And this makes sense. When you keep your sensory bank account balanced, you're able to spend like you're neurotypical and ready to roll - as long as you make periodical deposits. 

There are times, though, when life makes it difficult to strike this balance - when work needs you for a few extra hours, when your friend is in crisis, when there are occasions to plan for and celebrate; when your weekends become checklists. Suddenly, you are withdrawing all of your savings at once. You are watching your nest egg deplete. You are thumbing through the stats and frowning at the final tally. Account overdrawn. 

This is where I am today, in the red. 

How I got here is no mystery, and I admit that I actively witnessed the depletion of my sensory bank account for the umpteenth time in my life. This isn't a society where SPDers can say "hey (insert name of company/friend/family member/situation), my sensory bank account is incredibly low, and I need to fill it before I become incapacitated. I need some unimpeded rest and a bear hug! Cancel my plans, I'm feeding my sensory needs today, yessir." To a neurotypical person, this makes little sense. "Get some sleep," they might say, the way most humans deal with exhaustion, unaware that when a sensory bank account is empty, stranger things happen. The body feels extra disconnected from the ground and walls. Sounds become piercing and unbearable. Movement is unthinkable. The brain becomes an ancient Victrola; a single, scratched record spins round and round. It cannot be toggled off. 

Nonetheless, once overdrawn, the mind and body get what they need regardless of what's proper or truthful or acceptable to the general public. For hours last night, I twisted between blue modal sheets and my 17-pound weighted blanket. My skin was on fire, and my horizontal body felt as if it was being pitched backward. Every breath my husband took was loud and immediate - and this through the 33 db earplugs I typically covet. My brain screamed songs and thoughts and images at me, a zoetrope of piecey, circular movement. 

I barely slept, and I awoke with a sharp startle.

When I saw my husband this morning, he looked at my drooping eyelids and curled form, and said, simply, kindly, "looks like you need to replenish your bank account."

Guess what I'm doing today. 

I am so thankful to have my own personal sensory banker. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Love the 80s

Success for me this weekend was hot pink and chartreuse and small piles of accidentally-spilled pixy dust. It was Michael Jackson's Thriller and a platter of bagel bites. It was leopard print and puff paint. It was sending my bride-to-be sister off into the night smiling.

Let me explain.

When I was three-and-a-half, my parents produced an extra tiny, screaming person. I remember thinking she was my new toy, a ragdoll plaything that followed me around like a diminutive shadow. As we grew, as things in my life became more complex and I unknowingly began attributing meaning to sensory sensation, I always had my sister to divert my attention. She's probably still unaware of the crucial role she played when our unit of four maneuvered its way around New York City: me, feeling the inexplicable crush of something undefined, charging ahead of the pack, wide-strided, seeking input and quiet and the eventual close of an event. Her: keeping up with me, talking to me, distracting me from my weighty fear and troubled thoughts.

In December 2012, she got engaged to an adorably charming man, and this weekend, it was my job as Matron of Honor to throw her a bachelorette party. Unable to be blithe and boozy, I proposed a pre-party at a neutral location. I promised mixed drinks, appetizers, and games. And I swore it would be on theme. She agreed, and off I went into planning mode. I selected an 80s baby bachelorette, and I delivered just that. The bar was stocked with candy-inspired drinks and matching sugary garnishes. The food evoked the early childhood our party-goers had to strive to remember: hot dogs in jackets, pizza bagels, spinach dip, mini quiche, pasta salad. For dessert, a traditional bachelorette cake, but slathered with hot pink frosting and featuring a Barbie, thrilled mid-split, on top. My husband, the talented graphic artist, even photoshopped the faces of the bridal party into 80s movies and TV posters. There was a drunken hot chocolate bar. I wore leggings.

My sister was elated.

I spent the first half hour of the evening monitoring myself and greeting guests. I took them on tours of their drink options, slipping Dum Dums into their drinks and Ring Pops onto their fingers. Only once, as I twirled a girl bedecked in tulle and jean, did I feel that good-old detachment sensation of proprioception. Hello, I said to it, calmly. We're fine, I'm fine, feel free to join me. And this all while the music blasted Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. In response, I kicked off my heels and hopped around in theorized excitement, feeling my feet and subsequent joints press against the floor.

At 9:45, I wrapped the girls in their coats and spun them out into the night as they giggled from the drinks and the hot chocolate and the glow bracelets. I couldn't join them at the 80s themed club that served as their second stop. But that was okay. In the past, a party like this would've been followed by a brutal, emotional berating session. I would've asked myself "What's WRONG with you?!" as the last guest crossed the threshold and I locked the door behind her. My chest would've been heavy. I probably would have cried.

There was none of that this time.

I am learning to respect my own boundaries, to push my limits as far as they'll go but stop before I dissolve into a sensory-sensitive heap. I'm no good to anyone there, in that defeated place where sounds and sights hurt somewhere deep within my brain and my body feels as if it's floating above the ground. Instead, I am celebrating the distances I can go, the paths I can traverse. I am working actively to explain this to my family and friends. I am showing them a Rachel - truncated, sure, participating in select activities; different than an average woman with no concerns - but one who is whole, one who is self-respecting. Quality over quantity.

On days like this, with my neon success tucked into my back pocket - a reminder of my dedication and love and strength of character, I am especially proud to be an adult with SPD.