One moment I was giggling, a soft rug tickling the skin of my bare feet. In my ears rang the delightful sound of my husband’s laughter as it washed over my soul. His fingers at my ribs, tickling mercilessly!
Then the AC of our apartment kicked on and the lights flickered for just a brief moment. Just one quick flicker, nothing more. This brought about a shock to my senses, and now my mind was going postal.
Suddenly I wasn’t laughing, I was hysterical. The sound of my husbands laughter no longer bringing me joy, instead it brought anguish. His playful fingers were now an invasion of my space. The texture of the once soft rug suddenly felt painfully coarse and prickly, making my feet jerk up and away. I was now in a sensory overload and it happened quicker than snapping your fingers.
Tears began streaming down my face, and the blood in my body began throbbing. My safe and loving environment had now become hostile. The already dim lighting was now too bright, the temperature (resting at 68F) was too hot. The TV too loud, the AC air flow across my skin too unbearable. All my senses were crashing in on me… I was shoved into tunnel vision and claustrophobia. I couldn’t breathe, and as much as my husband wanted to comfort me – he knew he couldn’t. He attempted to talk me down, and I hushed him sharply because as much as I love his voice it was at this moment too overwhelming to hear.
This isn’t my first sensory overload. There are usually warning signs, but none had caught my attention that evening. All I could do was ride the wave, and work myself through my process.
Rocking. Tapping. Shaking my hands loosely (not quiet flapping but it’s close to it….) I hum, hyper-focusing on the vibration in my lips. I imagine the vibration coursing through my body until I actually begin to feel it all the way down to my toes. The hum becomes my white noise that fills my being and it dampens all of my senses.
Time passes… finally the tunnel vision starts going away, and air begins filling up my lungs again. No more claustrophobia.
In an attempt to resume our playtime I stand up ready to pounce but my feet hit the rug and it’s too much. Pain shoots all the way in to my bones and a wave of shock and disgust hit me. I launch backwards off the fabric quickly enough that I can avoid another meltdown.
My senses are still heightened and sensitive. I can’t push this right now, I’m not in control enough.
My loving husband suggests we get a drink. This is a good idea. I am thirsty and I know that appeasing my thirst will help with the lingering anxiety.
I go to walk to the kitchen but notice that the cursed rug is in the way.
“I… can’t….” I say.
“Why not?” He responds.
“I can’t handle this right now.” I point to the floor.
The rug blocks me from getting to the kitchen. There’s no way around it unless I climb over all the furniture.
My husband trying to understand what is happening simply asks “So… the carpet is lava?”
The carpet doesn’t look like lava. Not even close… oh, wait. Metaphor, right?
“No. The rug just… it doesn’t feel good. Too much. The texture is all wrong.” I shrug, uncertain of how to better explain this.
He shakes his head. “You can’t walk on it, so it’s lava” he says more to himself than to me.
He makes an attempt to coax me on to the rug in an effort to help me cross it. He’s not one to let these moments get in the way of my need for independence, so he will push and assist me through them. However, in this instance it becomes very apparent that I’m just not going to do this. I put one foot on the rug and instantly I’m a sobbing anxious ball of messed up. The texture is all wrong, and it threatens my state of mental control.
Then he comes to the edge of the rug, and says “Step on my feet.”
This catches me off guard. He repeats himself. I try to refute him but he will have nothing of it so I obediently step up on his feet, wrap my arms around his waist and close my eyes to shut out the rising panic as he whisks me across the dreadful rug to the wood floor on the other side. The wood vinyl is smooth and cool against my bare feet, it’s comforting.
We make it safely across, my anxiety subsides and finally I can get a drink.
He calms me down, tells me how proud of me he is and makes a couple of jokes to ease the tension. I don’t remember what jokes they were, or if I even understood they were jokes (sometimes… scratch that… 9 times out of 10…. he has to explain the joke to me).
But after some tears, some hugs and my thirst quenched… I head back to the rug to show it who’s boss. After some struggle, I make it across and I celebrate because once again I’m in charge of my mind and my sensory challenges are no longer ruling me.
The moral of this story is simple: being neurologically challenged doesn’t have to keep me from accomplishing control or achieving growth. It would have been so easy to for us if my Husband had just gotten the drink and brought it to me but then I would have accomplished nothing.
The challenge is finding the alternative solution that is logically acceptable to the individual who is struggling. Assist, but do not cater.
Don’t make excuses for why something can’t be achieved. There isn’t anything that can’t be done once you set your mind to it. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen right away, but with enough patience, support and motivation – it can and will happen.
This is true for those of us on the Spectrum and for all neurotypicals alike.