Monday, August 24, 2015

Sensory Hangovers: The Struggle is Real

It's like that scene in the movie The Hangover where the guys wake up to strange clues of their drunken, chaotic evening - the inflatable pig in the jacuzzi, the tiger in the bathroom, Ed Helms' missing tooth - except it's real life. Or rather, real Sensory Life, as I should say. And sure, it's not exactly waking up face down on the marble floor as an errant chicken walks past your previously (still?) buzzed face, but it's really similar.

Bawk bawk, my lovely

Sensory Hangovers. If you have sensory issues, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's the sludge that sticks with you the day after you put on your neurotypical hat and I-Can-Handle-This shirt and throw yourself into the sensory fray, be it a party or a wedding or a birthday brunch. It's that morning just after the time that you managed to appear completely typical to the untrained eye and even let loose for a while (and by "let loose," I mean moved your body away from the wall for a minute or danced under blinking lights - my over-responsive friends and I can never really "Thelma and Louise let loose"). It's how you feel when you've taken on the sensory world with every fiber of your processing being and succeeded. It's that burn-out, that empty-battery, that frayed-wires sensation. It's like being hungover. 

It looks just like this:

Also this:

And let's not forget this guy:

(Side Note: Google "Hungover Animals" - it's amazing.)

As you may know from pretty much all of my other posts, people with sensory issues have trouble processing sensory information. This is because our brains are wired a bit differently. In the brains of people with SPD, researchers have found that tracts of white matter, the things that join different areas of the brain together for processing purposes, are less well connected than in people without SPD. This means that we simply aren't wired as well for the processing of sensory input. It's also been found that brains with SPD don't ever habituate (or get used to) sensory information. This means that every single time a faulty fluorescent light flashes or an alarm clock goes off, we see the light or hear the sound and work doubly hard to process the information with our less-well-connected brain. 

Now, take these hard working brains and place them in intense sensory situations. Maybe it's time for the office holiday party. Maybe your niece is acting in her elementary school's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Maybe your BFF and her BF are finally getting married on a party boat. Inside or outside; under the stars or under strobe lights; listening to pulsing music, a single harpist, or kiddie soloist: doesn't matter. Your job is to show up, mingle, applaud, laugh, socialize, think, feel, dance, eat, drink - all of this while your brain is working overtime to make sense of every single sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, motion, environment, and internal bodily sensation. Even with our sensory tools. Even with our therapeutic techniques. Even me. (And you know I get this enough to write a book about it.)

It's freaking exhausting.

Efjgibrgrgrburhgburbgrbgr is what this little guy is thinking right now

And so, we sensory folk wake up the next day not unlike the men in The Hangover movies:

It's when we crawl out of bed the following morning and smash right into our dresser, slip in and out of a dozen pairs of not-quite-comfy-enough-to-tolerate pants, dim the light in the bathroom, and refuse to pop our contacts back in that we most need to fill our sensory banks. We need to remember that we're not unlike the typical hungover revelers who feel achy and queasy - the ones who leap in the air at the tiniest noise and want to curl into a ball and hide in the attic under granny's old housecoats. Except for us, we have a neurological reason for wanting to Sleeping Beauty it up for a day just to get some peace and quiet. 

Wrong Disney Princess, Right Sentiment
(You can Snow White it up too, ya know)

Friends, let me tell you this: Sensory Hangovers are real. Sometimes, we need to take a vacation after coming back from a vacation, and we need to be a quiet party of one after returning from a birthday party of thirty. We need to accept these hangovers as part of the delayed-diagnosis sensory experience and share them with others so that they can be supportive of our particular neurological lives. 

And if you happen to wake up with a sensory hangover, be sure to check the closet. You know. Just in case.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The World Is Your Fidget (Well, At Least It Is For Me)

I admit it: I love to fidget. My hands are never, ever tired and my fingertips are perpetually hungry for tactile input - especially if it happens to be soft and cold.

This has always been the case.

Decades before the assemblage of S and P and D meant anything to me at all (and way before PETA taught me to avoid real fur like the plague), I ran my palms up and down my grandma's fur coats in the depth of winter. I knew each coat purely by touch - the sort-of soft one, the super-soft one, the one I hope she'd wear. When we stepped into her apartment from the crisp outdoor air, I'd peel my gloves off as quickly as I could (to this day I still can't stand the feel of gloves on my hands, but that's a whole other blog post), throw them on the floor, and run my fingertips like paintbrushes up and down her arms. Then I'd lay my cheek and lips against the chilly pelt and nod my head. My grandma, sure that I was just intent on expressing my love for her, would press my face even further into her coat, and between the safety and comfort of her embrace and the cool texture of her coat against my skin, I'd momentarily let my shoulders droop and shut my eyes. And it wasn't that I didn't adore my grandma: her fiery crop of hair, her Yiddish nicknames for me, the way she sang I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck - I did . . . but I loved her even more for her coats.

Fur not, no animals were harmed in the making of this faux fur coat

And even before I was old enough to stand, sick and dehydrated and hospitalized, she and my grandpa placed the much lionized Leo in my arms. This blog is too short and this life is to brief to explain, in proper depth, why the stuffed lion has secured such a prized place in my collection of things, creatures, and people but ultimately, the oval of his dark black velveteen nose served as my first fidget.

Fidgets, I should explain, are toys, tools, or tidbits of anything that help a person with SPD stay calm and focused, or, as we'd call it in sensory circles, regulated. They have a few common qualities.

1. They have a special tactile composition (if they're not soft, they're bumpy, squishy, sticky)
2. They're sometimes weighted
3. They're sometimes movable
4. They're sometimes pliable

This is a fidget:

So is this:

And this:

And technically this:

I'm in this last camp of fidgets - the random-soft-furry-palm-sized-creature camp. This is clearly not a traditional fidget - perhaps not even a traditional category of fidgets - but as you may already know, I'm not your traditional gal. I didn't learn about fidgets from occupational therapy or because my parents  read some guide to sensory tools when I was growing up. I didn't know that my urge to stroke things and the way that my hands craved touch even had a name. My condition, after all - my differences, really - didn't even have a name until I was 27. And so I quickly learned that running soft and cool things between my fingertips and across my lips helped me calm down. When I was especially sluggish and unable to connect with the world around me, running these same things through my fingers also revved me up. 

I would say that my dedicated fidgeting didn't begin in earnest until I came across a folding table lined with little animal statuettes on a childhood family trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Strolling down the boardwalk (or rather, in my case, flinching down the boardwalk while making a valiant attempt to stay proprioceptively connected to my loud, bright, and chaotic surroundings), I was excited to find someone who could help me add to my extensive collection of turtle figurines. After all, I wasn't in possession of a fur-trimmed turtle, and I figured that no collection was complete without one. When I reached out to the pile of turtles to find my newest friend and dug my hands deep into the heap, I was surprised to find that my fingertips were tingling. The urge to flee and hide underneath the hotel box spring melted away. I picked a turtle and we continued ambling along the pulsing, reeling boardwalk - except this time, I had a strange, magical nugget in my palm that kept me feeling calmer and less detached from the fray; better able to face the world.

Meet Birdle, my first real fidget
And the true epitome of "No Hair, Don't Care"

These days, I still shirk traditional fidgets for ones of my own design. My husband in all of his Handler glory is one of my favorite fidgets. Whether I need to stroke his furry arm, play with his auburn beard, or just run my fingers along his back in a fingertip-numbing massage (we both win with this one), he is patient with me. I can easily keep my tactile craving tendencies under control, especially when we're out in the sensory world and toting around a tiny animal friend just isn't socially acceptable. (No one ever notices the subtle stroking of fingertips while holding hands, trust me.) I've been known to fidget with my purse, our couch, and even the plastic velcro strips meant to connect our car's E-ZPass to the windshield. I pet dogs and pat babies. I run my fingers along walls as I stride down office corridors. 

That's the thing with fidgets. Once you've made peace with your sensory body's need to engage in such a tactile way, the world is your fidget. Every subway pole and sundae spoon and bendy straw has the potential to become your favorite tool. No bubble wrap is left un-popped. Even the little turtle statuette, the velveteen lining of a teddy bear's nose, the treasured memory of your grandma in her best mink can take their place in your life's sensory pantheon. 

Want to read more about my love of fidgets? Pre-order my guide to sensory issues today! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Win a FREE, SIGNED Copy of My Sensory Guidebook!

Friends, I'm excited to tell you that this humble little sensory blog - as well as my journey with diagnosed SPD - turns five this Sunday.

To celebrate, I am giving away ONE FREE, SIGNED COPY of my sensory guidebook, Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues, which will be published this spring.

Want to win? Visit my Coming to My Senses Facebook fan page by midnight on Sunday, August 16 and follow the directions to enter the contest. I'll choose a winner at random.

Good luck and thanks for five years of love and support!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Pre-Order My Guide to Sensory Issues Today!


I am thrilled to announce that my sensory guidebook, Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues, featuring a foreword by Dr. Sharon Heller, author of Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight and artwork by Kelly Dillon of Eating Off Plastic, is officially available for pre-order at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. It's being published by Sensory World in late winter/early spring 2016, and it was inspired by my hit article, The Neurotypicals' Guide to Adults with Sensory Processing Disorder.

WANT A COPY? I know you do!


Making Sense at Barnes and Noble

Making Sense at

And follow me on Facebook at Coming to My Senses Facebook Page for updates.