Monday, June 23, 2014

This is Not a Tragedy


We don't have brain space for everything, and the human memory is notoriously inaccurate, which is actually fine by me. It's more about the style of internal movie you want to create. I'm going for an "indie comedy" that is actually funny and ultimately upbeat, rather than an ultra depressing production that really should just be called a "weird drama."

My internal curator, the one who controls how I record my life in memories, has a rather dark world view. He wears a brown '70s suit and smokes a cigar in a darkened room while watching the movie reel of my life. His job is to decide which segments are important and how intensely they will be remembered. Unfortunately for me, his primary artistic themes are fear, rejection, and shame. Some particularly bright memories make the cut just for contrast, but mostly he selects material about how things went wrong.

This guy fancies himself a pragmatist, but I think he's just scared, and maybe with good reason. He is trying to protect, in the only way he knows how, those exiled parts of me that are deeply wounded from a lifetime of anxiety and hyper-sensitivity ("Sensory Processing Disorder"). So he weaves a cautionary tale via memories like:
  • The way that friendships ended.
  • My long dark days as a new mother. 
  • Rejection by high school crushes. 
  • Recoiling from my partner's touch, unsafe in my own skin. 
  • The sensory overload of the city.  
  • Getting teased on the bus. 
  • Chronic pain, both physical and emotional.
Okay so no one's life is perfect. And there is value in remembering and learning from pain. But in my case the curator has gone way overboard on this point. He has neglected the fact that my story is also, and more generally, one of good fortune and abundant love. Even light-heartedness and joy! My photo albums and memorabilia support this side of the tale. Sometimes I come across a forgotten old picture and am blown away by both the happiness of that memory AND the fact that I ever forgot it. Thank goodness for physical documentation of all my sweet and hilarious people and experiences. And thank goodness for the family and friends who have remained in my life or showed up again, even in passing, reflecting back a happier "me" than I can see from the inside.

I've just started trying to rework the memory reel to bring back more of the good stuff. I'm also trying to celebrate the best of the present as it happens, deliberately recording it in full color for posterity.

Because this--my life--is not a tragedy. This is a funny, heartwarming, and ultimately upbeat indie comedy.

Do you hear me, cigar-smoking movie guy? YOU'RE UNDER NEW DIRECTION.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I heart earplugs

Photo credit. I love this guy. What is happening with his metallic hair?

Something big has happened in my world. I haven't told you about it yet because it is still sort of tender and new.

Have you ever learned something major about yourself that was simultaneously surprising and totally obvious? And then spent two weeks re-evaluating your entire personal history in light of this new information?

Me too.

Hi, my name is Katherine. I am a successful, high-functioning adult with sensory processing disorder, clinical anxiety and a "sub-threshold" mood disorder. If we haven't met yet, start here.

I went to see a new psychiatrist two weeks ago, at the recommendation of a local therapist friend. I told her my story, presenting it in a slightly different light than in the past, partly thanks to the intervention of another good friend. This doctor listened and asked a ton of questions. And then she NAMED my problems and it made SO MUCH SENSE.

The most mind-blowing-yet-obvious piece is the sensory processing disorder. It explains so many things, from my childhood to my preferences and choices as an adult.
"Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurologically-based condition that exists when the nervous system fails to properly receive and organize messages from the senses...[causing] confusion, distress, and discomfort. It is a physicalneurological condition that can have psychological ramifications in adulthood." --Rachel Schneider
SPD is a relatively new, somewhat controversial diagnosis that is most often applied to children, though there are many adults now realizing they have gone undiagnosed their entire lives.

As neuroscientist Dr. Jean Ayres puts it: “When the flow of sensations is disorganized, life can be like a rush hour traffic jam.” Does this sound fun? Because it isn't.

SPD is a spectrum, like everything else, and the symptoms and severity range widely. In my case the most obvious symptom is hyper-sensitivity to noise. Loud noises, and sometimes even background noises, make me jumpy, irritable and anxious. My brain hears normal sounds and misinterprets them as ALARM BELLS. So my body has been in high alert for much of my life, pumping stress hormones around and generally wreaking physical havoc.

How crazy is it, then, that I left the woods of my hometown for college in New York City? Is it a surprise that I never acclimated to the noise, smells and lights of this place? As much as I loved the excitement of the city and my friends there, it was hard for me to go back, every time. On graduation day I moved to Maine and never looked back.

Without knowing it, my hypersensitivity and need for certain kinds of stimulation guided me to my favorite pastimes. My three lifelong hobbies--swimming, singing and dancing--are apparently some of the best activities for helping to integrate sensory information. Scuba diving, my very favorite, provides additional sensory benefit due to the soothing pressure of deep water.

I will never get rid of sensory processing disorder. But I can learn to dampen my reactions. On top of psychiatric treatment and ongoing talk therapy I will shortly be starting occupational therapy with a local specialist. It would have been awesome to understand this sooner, but I am very relieved to understand it now.

You may see me doing strange things like taking random "sensory breaks" or wearing sunglasses inside or earplugs in public settings. Instead of looking at me sideways, it would be awesome if you would give me a "high-five." Because this is what progress looks like for me. And I am determined to show up and enjoy my life to the absolute fullest.