Monday, March 3, 2014

SPD & Community

"Will you just come sit with me?" I asked Liz, my roommate at L'Abri.

She graciously followed me back to our bedroom where I curled up on the bed.

"I thought I'd worked through all this, I thought this was over," I said.
"L'Abri tends to bring out the things we thought we were over with," was her sympathetic reply.

You know how a couple of weeks ago I did a write-up on how I wasn't really being bothered by my Sensory Processing Disorder any more. I think that's what I wrote. I wrote that, while it was still present in my life, it wasn't on my mind or affecting my life much.

Well, it's certainly present in my life now. That prickly feeling in the front of my brain that I thought was, for the most part, done prickling has been prickling a few times a week. It's at the beginning of what can become a sensory meltdown, a miserable experience that almost anyone with SPD can attest to. That's what turns SPD, I think, into an actual disorder - at some point, everything becomes too much and we stop being able to function how we want to.

It's what pushes me to where I am now, hiding in my bedroom afraid to go out even to use the restroom. I'm really blessed at L'Abri to be in a setting where the "folks in charge" are really understanding and supportive. When I mentioned to Julia that my "brain was buzzing," instead of just offering a sympathetic word or brushing it off, she made sure I knew that I could go straight to my room to decompress as soon the meal was ready (I was in the final stages of putting lunch out for the community - I just had to serve up my own food), not even waiting to give instructions to the students on how silent lunch works (we have silent lunches every Monday as opposed to our 1.5 hour long discussions).

Living in community, like this, is a huge blessing and I love it - but there's also a lot to work through. I'm currently at L'Abri as a "helper." This means I've been here before, know the ropes, and am capable of doing a lot more of the work. This means I study less and cook and do laundry more. It also means that when students have questions they come to me or one of the other helpers - there are four helpers total this term. Regardless of being a helper or a student here, being in community requires a constant awareness of the emotional state and needs of others. It doesn't mean I'm responsible for everything, but I do need to be alert to where people are at.

Our day starts at 8 AM and it isn't until around 7:30 PM that the daily schedule ends. Then, after that, there's usually some sort of evening activity going on - games, story reading, going down to the pub, or watching a movie. There are little snippets of breaks here and there, little half hours, but unless you really intentionally go off on your own, they tend to get spent with other people instead of recharging.

The first week, I was going at full speed. I was hyper and impulsive and not too cautious of my energy levels. At the middle of the second week, I realized what was happening and knew I needed to start changing things up.

Today I didn't have a sensory meltdown, but I did have the start of what could have easily become one if you had added in some flickering fluorescent lights, a beeping timer, or wet socks. After I get to the point where I was right when I started writing, I like to retrace my sensory steps to figure out what might have caused the upset.

I was not cooking in a normal cooking setting. During this two hour time period, I was trying to make a meal for eleven folks which entailed making a mung bean dahl, preparing a salad and making up some salad dressing, defrosting and toasting zucchini chocolate bread, washing and chopping up pears, setting out small bowls of Greek yoghurt and mango chutney, setting out bowls, plates, cups, and utensils for everyone, making rice, reheating up three different leftovers, tossing out other leftovers that were no longer fit for consumption, and then setting it out to look nice and ready for people to serve up themselves to eat.

This might not seem like a lot, but it's something that, for me, can only best be done when I'm hyper-focused. Hyperfocusing is the blessing and curse of many folks with ADHD. We might have a hard time concentrating but, when we do, we're totally in the zone.

For me, breaking out of the zone takes emotional and psychological effort and energy. Going back and forth and back and forth sends me into a loop. Going back and forth between conquering my to-do list and engaging with others is possible, but not without cost.

Before I wrote further, just in case any of the folks I'm living with are reading this, I am not at all frustrated at the folks asking me questions, as I'm about to describe. Nor do I think that they shouldn't ask me. I am a very logical person to ask questions to and in this circumstance, I was stationed in a central location. They are supposed to ask me and, generally, I have an answer to give them. I know this house pretty well and know where things go and how the gist of things flows (for the most part).

While I was trying to get the meal ready, folks kept engaging with me - asking questions or making comments or conversations. I could do this minimally, but it was pretty constant, every few minutes. This sort of what got me into the place where I was getting worked up. It was also a bit emotionally taxing because I had to maintain a pleasant demeanor, best I could, in each interaction. I couldn't let on how I was feeling because they might think it was because of them - which it was not. There wasn't much point in explaining to them, "Hey! I'm on the brink of having a sensory meltdown!" when they were simply asking me where something went. I could do a side comment of, "My brain is prickly," but to them that means nothing. I hope that, eventually, they'll all sort of understand what I'm going through. In this way, I could tell them something like, "My brain is frying" and they'll know that my abrupt interactions have nothing to do with them. I could let them know and they'll know that, if possible, they could go to someone else with their question or not engage in conversation with me.

I think I was doing fine, I hope I was, but by the end, it was bottling up. Luckily I got help in the very final stretch. Sofia was helping dry dishes and Emily dumped the contents of the cutting-board into the compost. At the height of my frustration, Sofia was super sweet and calm and gentle. I really appreciated that.

I guess this might not fully explain where SPD fits into things. As I was getting more and more wound up, I started to feel less tolerant of certain sensory experiences. The vacuum felt too loud, the human was too close to my body, the water was too wet, the visual stimuli across the counter was too much, etc.

I'm grateful that I can be at a place like L'Abri. I'm grateful that the folks in charge didn't write me off for my "disorder" (they knew what they were getting when I arrived and were aware that I experience this) and instead, are encouraging and give me the space I need.

I'm realizing that I do need make a point of making more space for myself - even more than as a student. When you're a student, in addition to the two days we all get off, you get three hours a day to yourself to go off and study by yourself. I also think it would be to the benefit of my relationship of those in the community, and my well being, to try and let folks know where I'm at and try and give them an idea of what I'm experiencing.


  1. Thanks for sharing these fragments of your life with us : )

  2. Even as someone without SPD, making Monday lunch was always one of the hardest parts of the week. So much to do in a very short time span (with a recipe that demands constant action), with tons of activity going on around you and people asking questions. I was so thankful my last term that another helper was in charge of actually "hosting" the meal while I went to go "babysit" the Adamses' kids during staff meeting (i.e., sit in the house while they slept). Maybe they can get someone else to host the meal (tell students about silent lunch) after you cook it?


Your words make me grin.

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