We’re more and more aware that our sensory sensitivities are intricately interwoven with our mental, emotional, physical, and neurological proclivities. This holds equally true – in very different ways – for my son and me.
Just as I often suspect I feel “too much” as compared to others, I think too much as well. Here’s an example: I was in a local coffee shop, reading a sign on a muffin: “Uni Corn Muffin,” it read, with the “Corn Muffin” part all typed and official and the “Uni” handwritten.
I began to consider this puzzling marker...Did it herald some sort of prestigious, single-source, locally-farmed corn? Just one particular type of corn, a Silver Queen or Butter n Sugar perhaps? Or were they referring, trendily, to “uni” as in sea urchin?
I definitely didn’t want that!
“Um...what does that mean?” I asked the incredulous cashier, pointing to the sign.
“Unicorn?” she said, with pity.
Pardner asked me not long ago, “When do you decide to put on lipgloss?”
I think he expected an answer along the lines of, “When I don’t have any on.”
I, however, gave him a very long, involved answer, touching upon the vicissitudes of being a ghostly-looking white person, what sorts of textures there are in lip things, the many, many sensory and chemical qualities that can be wrong with various lip-related products, what makes for a good lip gloss, and, most importantly, how incredibly painful it feels for me when my lipgloss wears off in even a tiny part of my lip...
Figure I – Amount of Dry Lip That May Lead to Crisis
There’s a potential world of pain in a dry lip, and I say this as someone who bears the chronic pain of rheumatoid arthritis with nary a whimper (rheumatoid also brings me raynaud’s syndrome, which adds to dry lip – help!). I say this as someone who has lived quite a life and is amply endowed with “perspective.” I am pretty butch...but don’t leave me stranded without my chapstick. Burt’s Bees original, to be precise, with the Lip Shimmer on top.
Some of you will be reading this aghast. Indeed, I might be called an over-thinker, and/or an over-feeler by many, be it regarding muffins, lipgloss, or just about anything else. Others will be nodding along, having experienced life with sensory processing differences.
I am not saying people with high physical sensitivities necessarily have high emotional ones, just that our physical, emotional, neurological, intellectual, and all other “parts” are so intricately related. Sometimes our “parts” complement each other – and sometimes they exacerbate each other. We notice and feel and think and so on, more or less, more and less, more and more, less and less....It’s part of who we are.
Take my G, he’s a smart, caring, and thoughtful giant little dude, but, as I have mentioned before, he wouldn’t notice if there was a pound of schmutz on his mouth. In sensory processing lingo, he’s an “under-responder.”
Figure II – Putative G Mouth: Yes to Schmutz, No to Crisis/Cleanup
Perhaps partly because of this less-sensitive-to-irritants way of being, G is so relaxed and natural about life. He’d read “unicorn,” no problem. He has a carefree heart. He feels a lot, but his feelings, so far, are remarkably positive. In contrast, I have to work pretty hard to stay upbeat, because of all that’s literally weighing on me. Being more sensitive overall – an “over-responder” - has a lot to do with this need to make quite an effort just to function at times.
G’s executive functioning is almost non-existent, and I know this, along with some social differences typical of neurodiverse persons, as well as non-noticing of schmutz (and other hygiene issues), will bring him many, many challenges in the years to come. But how about his EQ (emotional intelligence)? Off the charts. What balance and wholeness this seems to bring him!
Just yesterday, G pulled his socks on over soaking wet feet without screaming. In fact he was smiling and chattering while he did so. How liberating would that be? I wouldn’t change either of us – and I am not crazy about the judgy aspect of terms like “over-“ and under-responsive” – but I do find our differences fascinating. I watched him doing this little thing I could never do, and I marveled at the range of ways of being whole, at how our mores and lesses -- RATHER THAN MAKING US MORE OR LESS -- make us, us.
Full Spectrum Mama