Monday, September 27, 2021

The Year of Absent Blog Posts

You know it's been a long, long time between posts when your followers start reaching out to you with some concern. That started happening last week, and it caught me by surprise. Surely, I thought, it hasn't been that long since I've posted to this blog and to social. But yes it has. My last blog post was in January and we're just a few days away from October. So what happened? Why have I spent so many years voraciously posting here to take an unplanned, extended absence from my life of advocacy?

I don't know. I mean, I can take a guess. Single/divorced mom working full-time with sporadic external support and endless demands during a long pandemic seems to capture the essence of it. There's just less time to connect - with myself, my world, and you - and the time I do have has been dedicated to the care of my delicious daughter, my challenging work, and my wonderful (and new to you) boyfriend (!), who you'll be glad to know is one of the most solid, smart, well-educated, and loving humans on the planet. (At least I've learned valuable lessons from the things I've been through.)

This sounds weird, but there's less time for SPD in my own life. I still have the same sensitivities and challenges I had the last time we "spoke," but I've had to put my own needs on the shelf over the last few years to survive. As many of you remember, I was living through truly horrific and unprecedented times before we all started living through globally unprecedented times. I haven't stopped to survey my sensory life because much of the time, I just don't have a minute to stop.

Seeing as I'm giving myself a few moments now for sensory-related reflection, here are a few noteworthy things I've learned or encountered (or created!) since last we spoke:

1. The Teen Guide to Sensory Issues

I wrote a third book!

WOOHOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Meet my third book baby. 

At a conference in the spring of 2019, someone asked if I had written a book for teens with SPD. It's something I'd always had planned in the back of my mind, especially since I lived as a teen with undiagnosed SPD and the wrong anxiety disorder diagnosis. I started writing the book in my old life, and I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to pick it back up once I woke up a single mom in a brand new life. Lucky for me, my editor and publisher were supremely supportive of me, the losses I'd experienced, and the life transition I was making, and they gave me lots of time to work on the manuscript. Like . . . two years' worth of time. The book launched in late June. 

Some days, I thought I'd never finish it. While it's healing and satisfying to have written about a difficult time in life, it's challenging in the moment to face those difficulties, make sense of them, process them, capture them, and then put them neatly away.

It was in my early teen years that my undiagnosed sensory symptoms really surged. It was when I had my first memorable shutdowns and meltdowns - it was when my anxiety really bloomed and I felt like I was doing daily battle with some unnamed thing. Writing about all of that - my first love and my first job and my first best friend - all in the context of the unnamed thing left me having big feelings. And with my life just beginning again right before the pandemic, I was already Queen of the Big Feelings. 

I'm not sure who to credit with pushing me through the writing process, but I know my mom played a big part in keeping me calm and focused (not a far stretch given her existing role in my life). Writing this from the other side, I'm so glad I stuck with the book and finished it. It tells the stories of my undiagnosed SPD teenagehood memoir-style before diving into advice across a range of topics. I hope you check it out for you or your teen on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

2. The Sensory Perks of a Covid Mask . . .

A gentle heads-up, I love you and care about you/your child/your partner/your loved one's SPD, but I'm truly not here to debate or discuss your personal feelings on wearing a mask during a pandemic. I'm a woman of science and I'm doing what I believe to be the safest things for vaccinated me and my someday-vaccinated kiddo. BUT I've learned something interesting from a sensory perspective about wearing a mask. I used to wear blue tinted glasses in my daily outdoor journeys. When Covid hit and I was wearing a mask during every trip outdoors, I realized that I felt too claustrophobic wearing my blue tinted glasses too. And so I took the glasses off. Weirdly enough, I found my visual processing to be about the same - that is, I didn't feel especially challenged or overloaded by my visual field like I used to pre-mask and pre-pandemic (and the reason why I was wearing blue tinted glasses in the first place). I took this puzzling little nugget to my optometrist over the winter, and she said the most obvious and brilliant thing: when you wear a mask, about half of your visual field disappears

So of course I didn't feel like I needed my tool to process vision - the tool to keep me safer from Covid was also helping my eyes to feel less overwhelmed and inundated with information because it blocked some of what I used to be required to see. I'm wearing my glasses less, even when I don't need a mask, and most of the time feel better able to process the visual world. I call that a tiny pandemic win.

3. Working My Way Back to You (Babe)

So yes. I've been absent, but I really haven't been completely gone. I think I'm learning that in advocating for anything, a person has to make room for the way life ebbs, flows, and changes. I suspect there'll be times in my life where I can't blog enough about what I'm experiencing in my sensory world, and there'll be moments, like right now, where a bunch of other things necessarily have to come first. Either way, I hope you forgive me. I hope you know I'm still right here. I hope you know I'll write you back in time. I hope you know I'm collecting memes like nobody's business so I can share them again with you. 

Sending love and I know we'll connect again soon. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Bearaby's Napper: The Weighted Blanket That Holds Your Hand

 Sensory Friends, I'm in love!*

*with a weighted blanket. 

Yes, you heard me. I'm in love with a weighted blanket. 

A few months ago, the good people over at Bearaby asked if they could send me one of their weighted Napper blankets to review. I should first mention that I'm a decade-long connoisseur of weighed blankets and other weighted things. I own two weighted lap pads, two weighted blankets, a weighted scarf, a weighted stuffed animal, and two weighted sleep masks. Basically, if it's weighted, I'm game. 

Like a good little student of life, I googled "Bearaby" and up popped these beautiful, colorful woven blankets. There they were in shades that sounded delicious: Butternut Bliss, Evening Rose, and Moonstone Grey - casually sprawled across modern couches and cozy armchairs that I'd give my right arm to own. West Elm features them in their store. HGTV and Insider reviewed them. 

I skeptically looked up from my laptop and scanned the room, as if clearly they intended this email to go to someone else, someone cooler and luckier than me. Realizing I was alone (and it was, after all, my inbox and my laptop), it hit me that they were actually talking to me. They wanted to send me something beautiful and useful to try. My opinion in the social sphere mattered. 

And then it hit me:

I've somehow become a sensory influencer! (Listen closely, and you might still be able to hear my squeals of delight all the way from NYC). Only took a decade of hard work. 

But back to Bearaby. They wanted me to weigh in on their Napper (weighted blanket pun not intended, but digging it anyhow) as an adult with SPD and write an honest review. And if you know me, you know I'm always up to the task of checking out something that could enhance my sensory life and yours. I think I emailed them right back saying YES, HOW QUICKLY CAN YOU SEND IT?! I was told to choose a shade (Evening Eggplant - a rich, fall shade of purple) and sit tight. 

A few days later, my daughter's nanny dragged in a massive box behind her. It's HERE! she exclaimed, as excited as I was. I ran to the box and immediately sliced it open. I was expecting to see my new blanket peeking out at me, but instead there was a cream-colored cotton (muslin?) bag with self care tips. I took a million pictures because I always take a million pictures. It was so enticing. And then I unlaced the bag and out peered my new blanket.  

Peek-a-Boo, I Love You

My daughter's Elmo was an immediate fan too.

Peek-a-Boo, Elmo Loves You Too

Finally, I pulled the blanket out of the bag. From the photos, I expected something that felt knit, like the sort of thing someone called Aunt Maude would make you during a long, sickly winter - except weighing as much as a one-year-old. But instead, it felt like thick, cool cottony ropes. I pushed my fingers through the weave and stared at my hand, fascinated by the whole thing. I'd never encountered a weighted . . . well, anything . . . quite like this. I squeezed the strands. They felt like pressing my fingers against a stack of t-shirt fabric. There wasn't a bead in earshot. 

I was totally baffled and had to ask what made it so heavy, and it turns out they hand-knit each blanket, adding layer on top of layer of organic cotton, so it's naturally weighted. I took a nap on the couch later that day, and I dragged my new 20lb friend over me. Instead of hovering at the curve of my hip, like a tent, the blanket eased over every curve and line of my body. I felt the fan's breeze blow gently through the open weave - I even had to put on a sweatshirt! (No sweating - a weighted blanket first.) And yes, I felt a little like a fish caught in a net at the beginning, but then I laced my fingers through the weave and realized the blanket's best feature might, indeed, be this:

It holds my hand.

Anyone who's ever read my blog or my books knows my obsession with hand-holding. Nothing makes me feel safer or more connected to the world around me than holding a trusted person's hand. The weave - weighted magically as it is - somehow squeezed my fingers back. Not only was my whole body receiving proprioceptive input, every single finger was as well. I felt peaceful - and then I fell asleep. 

This continued over the next few weeks. Given any opportunity to nap, I grabbed my Napper. Yes, I could've easily used this blanket for nighttime sleep too. But I'm a weird creature of habit and wanted the soft, fluffy texture of my current weighted blanket to stroke as I slept at night. And so, my Napper has become my go-to naptime blanket. It's also seen me through one particularly ugly meltdown and one meltdown that I circumvented entirely, thanks to this blanket. (Sprawled out on the ground in my famed "Hit the Deck" style under my Napper, I was able to recover quicker than ever before.) 

It's also my favorite weighted blanket to share with the ones I love. Instead of melting under the weight of a blanket plus the furnace of shared body heat, we're never uncomfortable together under the Napper. It makes the perfect snuggle-up-together-and-watch-TV-from-under-it companion. 

So, thanks Bearaby. Thanks for creating what has to be the most visually-beautiful and uniquely-designed weighted blanket on the market. Thanks for naming your creation The Napper, because we all deserve a break to rest sometimes - especially under the delicious weight of this blanket. Mostly, thanks for finally developing a tool that holds my hand.