Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Being a Sensory Mum

It was with great interest last week that I read Christine Doran’s piece about the Highly Sensitive Parent and scored 100% in the self-test devised by leading psychologist Dr Elaine Aron.

I knew I was over-sensitive – but that’s a ridiculously high score!

It’s something I’ve been researching over the last few years, spurred on by trying to comprehend the erratic behaviour of my eldest son, who explodes when he’s overwhelmed and seeks out soft, silky materials to calm himself down. I suddenly realized I do the same.

As well as explaining my highly sensitive son, I found Sensory Processing Disorder explained everything about myself, finally giving me some understanding of why I was so painfully shy and seemingly misunderstood as a child.

I used to recoil from people and situations and I buried my head in a book because the world seemed too alien to me and my feelings felt too overwhelming. By realising now that this is a condition and that I’m not alone, I feel I’m finally starting to understand myself better.

And by understanding myself, I’m able to understand my eldest, and recognise the traits he has inherited from me (and how I can help):
  • I cringe at noises, environments, and textures other people don’t even notice. I seem to implode when my kids make loads of noise, or my husband whistles, or when there is a radio on in the background. I have never been able to wear uncomfortable clothes or shoes, namely heels and dresses.
  • I’m annoyingly always aware of people’s moods – and my mood goes up and down depending on who I’m talking to and what they have to say.
  • Smells bother me. A lot. People smell, especially. There are some people I consciously avoid sitting next to because of their body smell. I’ve subtly asked others if the smell bothers them too, and they hadn’t even noticed it.
  • Sometimes I prefer to be alone, which is not easy with three small children all needing me, all screaming for attention, all causing chaos and untidiness wherever they breathe.
  • For years, I have been dismissed by loved ones for being “oversensitive”, and I flat-line instantly if I perceive someone to have bad vibes towards me.
  • I have difficulty staying still and paying attention, unless I’m twiddling something like a pen or my hair (I twiddle my hair against my upper lip all the time). For a time I thought I had Restless Legs Syndrome because my knees would shake and I found rocking very soothing. I don’t like soft touch – it has to be hard pressure or it feels like a tickle, which is tough on my husband and massage therapists.
  • I need to do a lot of forward planning – to prepare my nervous system in advance. I hate surprises. This realisation came about after I married (and had 3 kids with) someone who loves surprises – and then gets upset when I freeze.
  • Sometimes I feel like a human sponge that soaks up far too much of my environment: noise and smells, and people’s emotions around me. When bombarded with stimuli, I feel like my senses are going to explode and someone has just turned up my nerves.
  • Having known my limitations for years, I now have a label for them. Apparently, some 15-20% of people are highly sensitive people, with many not realising it, or not knowing how to help themselves, nor how to reduce their anxiety and stress.
By acknowledging this part of myself that I am still embarrassed about – because nobody wants people to think they’re highly sensitive, right? – I am finally starting to understand why I overreact to things and what I need at certain times. Maybe I can learn to stop taking things personally, find better self-soothing techniques, and communicate better to my family so they can understand me better.

Part two, Being a Sensory Mum to a Sensory Kid, is here.

For a quick overview of SPD, read this excerpt from the Making Sense of Your High Sensitivity by Cliff Harwin.

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