what sensory processing disorder feels like

Preface - this is less how I currently feel and more how I have felt in the past. That said...


getting into a car with heat running...


Sometimes even just when there is no air conditioning on, it feels like instantly having your face covered by many people's hands. Not just your face, though. Your neck and throat and scalp and ears, too. Even the insides of your ears and nose. Would you like it very much if as soon as you sat in a car, some dozen people covered most of your exposed body with the soft but unyielding and enveloping pressure their hands? Probably not..

But then, the anxiety gets compounded by the accompanying confusion. No is there actually touching you. You know that. The assault is only in your mind, right? It's really hard to know. The senses say that poor unsuspecting you is being pressured by warmth. Those same senses tell you that you are quite unable to banish this imposing force by the power of your will. Anxiety and adrenaline begin to rise. Fear begins to build. Fight or flight response is building. Something must be done. Surely no one could be expected to calmly and indefinitely continue to live calmly and peacefully when such an unseen nemesis is pressing on their face, eyes, and breath.  But what could possibly be done?

By this point a couple of seconds have ticked by. The car has probably started to move and others are beginning 'normal' behavior. Your ability to choose "flight" is gone. New, almost debilitating, panics arise. Am I the only one feeling like this? How long will I be stuck like this? What if the cause of the attack cannot be found? Think! Think! Ok! You already established that there aren't a dozen people touching you. What is warm and touching you? Nothing! You should be able to see something that feels like this. Ok. It is going to have to be something you can't see. What can't you see that is warm?
Another second. More pressure on yourself to figure it out. Other people may be wondering what's wrong with you at this point. The answer may be rising to the surface of your mind. You now know what to fight. But a new dilemma arises. The answer is "the heat that is on in the car". You can't just punch something like that in the face or scream at it to stop. Social norms and politeness do not allow for it. You are going to have to do better than that. So you muster up all of your courage, still feeling the attack in every nanosecond, wishing that you could catch your breath. Knowing that you would be able to think so much better, so much clearer, if only you could.

"Could you please turn that off?" you say. What a relief. You finally managed it. A question even. with a "please". Yes, perhaps there was an edge in your voice. But you refrained from violence. Perhaps you should be given a medal. Or at least a cookie.

"Turn what off?" comes the reply.

Oh dear. They don't understand. You were so close.

"The heat. I can't breathe and it's in my face," you plea.

"It's freezing."

"Will you just turn it off?" Your tone of voice will now betray you. The battle against the heater may be won, but a new one has formed in its place. Now you are seen as a bit "odd" or "picky" or "crabby". Your car ride is definitely thrown off. You may have hurt the feelings of a friend and your own may be hurt as well. You don't feel like you have been taken care of. Not only that, but the problem isn't fixed. People will still want the heat on in the car. You might as well. But the assault will be waiting.

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