Do You have Sensory Problems?

I do... have for as long as I can remember. I didn't always understand why some parts of me were different from other people nor do I always understand some of the ways I respond now. Some ways that my body may respond to a stimulus I still do not understand... but I accept it and sometimes laugh about it... and sometimes cry about it... and sometimes I just shake my head and shrug. In the end, my processing challenges are a part of me and make me the unique and wonderful individual that I am. That said, I was in my thirties before I was even heard the term sensory processing disorder / sensory integration disorder and researchers are still trying to understand how these disorders work. I thought that I would take a few minutes to talk about the basic human sensory system and leave you with a small list of questions that you can read and, if interested, can use to look at your own behavior and responses to different stimuli and determine if you too, might have some sensory processing challenges. :)

When I was growing up, I learned about the five senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell. The sense of touch as processed through our skin and taste processed inside of our mouths.... the sense of sight which is processed through our eyes and sound through our ears... and the sense of smell through our nose. And each of these organs sends the information to the brain for final processing so that we can use the information. In the processing the information is organized in the brain so that we can use it to make appropriate responses to external stimuli. For those with disorders of the sensory system, the organized information may not create the correct responses.... the child who reaches toward a snarling cat and is genuinely confused when the cat hurts it... the person in whom fear causes hyperactivity or out of control behavior, etc...

So let's start with some basic questions. Here is how the questions work. Each question should be looked at by thinking of how often you perform the behavior in question. The more often you do it, the more likely it is that your brain is having some difficulty processing the information in a 'neuro-typical way'. Is that a problem? Not necessarily... it really depends on how my your behavior in this regard affects your quality of life.

1. Do you prefer the dark, happily avoid bright light and feel happier in dim light? Do you find that you are bothered by light when others feel comfortable?

2. Is it difficult for you to accurately visualize images or objects in messy or cluttered backgrounds? Do you end up staring at objects overly long to process the information?

3. Do you find it more challenging or impossible to complete tasks with noise or music in the background? Do you find yourself easily distracted by noise or even seek out noise or make sounds simply to have noise around you?

4. Do you avoid noise or sounds? Are you slow to respond to sounds around you that are relevant and important... an inability to recognize what sounds are important and to block out sounds that are not?

5. Do you have difficulty processing really strong smells? An inability to smell odors that the people around you can?

6. Do you find yourself feeling large amounts of anxiety or anger when your expectations or your routine has to change? Do you find yourself doing tasks in inefficient ways because it feels more comfortable to you? Do you move from one activity to another not completing any of them very quickly?

7. Do you prefer to be alone? Prefer quiet activities? Quiet areas and places?

8. Do you have problems with textures in food and limit what you eat based on what the food feels like? Do you crave certain foods due to flavor or strong smells or will you only eat certain foods?

9. Do you have problems with touching or being touched? Do you react emotionally when being touched by people or things such as water, unnatural fabrics, etc.. or do you crave touch and will touch too much and too often?

10. If something touches you such as clothing, are you able to 'forget' the touch.... or do you feel the clothing and its touch all day in part of your mind? Do you go barefoot because shoes feel uncomfortable? Do you fill your hands with things so avoid people touching your hands?

11. Do you seem to have an awareness – or lack of awareness- to pain or temperature that is different from most other people? Can you injure yourself and find that the pain is not at the level that it should be for the injury? Do you feel comfortable in a snowy environment in short sleeves?

I could definitely go on and healthcare providers who try to help their patients with sensory issues will ask many more questions than this.

One challenge that comes with sensory problems is that as someone struggles with them and they find the way they respond is so different from other people, it affects the individual's emotional well being. People with sensory problems appears to be more likely to develop low self esteem and self critical behavior. They are more likely to exhibit socially inappropriate behavior as well as difficulty expressing emotions in a healthy way. The odds of having problems with anxiety are a lot higher in this population making a challenging situation sometimes worse. I will admit that I find it challenging sometimes myself.

This post is so basic that I beg of you to not make any diagnosis or take to much out of it. I just wanted to take a little time to introduce the topic to start a little basic awareness. If you want more information, please feel free to leave any questions you want answered in the comments or speak to a medical professional about your thoughts. Both of these diagnoses are still debated by healthcare professionals so if you would like more information, be sure to find a provider who has studied and has knowledge of both sensory processing disorder and sensory integration disorder and the nuances between them. Thanks for sharing. :)


A Visit to Birds Acre.... :)

I took the time the a few Sunday's ago to do something really fun. I agreed to babysit that day and so I knew that the day would be crazy busy. I knew I had church which would include two hours of a full and active nursery and then some cooking and babysitting at a missionary farewell. So after my service at the farewell was done- it was a wonderful party I must say- I took my cute Tessa by the hand and we got in the car to go meet her mother... who also had probably had a very busy day. As we reached Ellsworth, I realized that we were a bit early and I didn't want to sit and sit in the car waiting and I just didn't feel like that would be good for Tessa either, but as it was Sunday I wasn't sure what we could do that would still appropriate for the day. Then I had a brilliant idea and ... Tessa and I spent the next forty five minutes at Bird's Acre in Ellsworth.

For those of you who do not know, Birdsacre is a pretty neat place. It is a wildlife refuge that helps to save hurt animals, has some awesome nature walks and in small ways tries to teach conservation and educate people about birds and other wildlife. I used to go with Brock a bit and I have had pretty good experiences there- see this post for my latest interaction a few weeks ago. So Tessa and I found the slightly hidden driveway and headed in. And it was a load of fun! I love looking at birds and I also enjoy watching the joy and wonder in a child's eyes as they are able to get pretty close to some large birds that they might not see in any other place. Hurt or disabled owls are their specialty and so we got to see a few fun animals. Here is a small picture summary of our visit:

The first birds that we saw was a red tailed hawk:

Then a weeny saw whet owl....

Then a barred owl...

I'm not sure what this one is.... but he's cute!

Our next handsome one was a broad winged hawk

and last in the large cages was a great horned owl...

or two!

We spent the rest of the time looking at the waterfowl hanging out around a pond next to one of the nature walks. We saw a ….

Chinese Goose!

And a Toulouse hanging out with his Canadian buddy :)

I think that hanging out with Tessa and looking at birds may have been the highlight of my week! It was just a wonderful, peaceful time and I have been finding myself hoping to go back soon. For any local readers, you should take the opportunity to check it out! You won't regret it and maybe you might see me there... I have to go back soon. :)


The Day of the Bird... and the Cheating of Crows

Is it just me or am I suddenly running into all the hurt and still living creatures I can lately? Before anyone thinks that statement is a complaint, I want to stress that it's not... just an observation that disturbs me a little. Mostly because if one person is finding so many injured animals, how many are out there right now? It's like for a brief moment in time a window has opened up in my mind to a different way of seeing and like the boy Cole in “The Sixth Sense” who finds his vision and what he sees is different from the people around him... “I see hurt animals.”

So the first Sunday in July started out like a fairly normal fast Sunday. I had prepared and packed the car the day before for an easy morning. I gauged whether I could fast without throwing up or if I needed to eat to even make getting to church possible. I had even set out my clothing the night before. And so pretty early and quickly I was driving down the road towards the church listening to some inspirational music – well, inspirational to me anyway. ;) I had managed to almost get to church when I saw an obstacle in the road and as I slowed the car down I realized the obstacle in the road was a dog. Shoulders bowed and just sitting in the very middle of the road, he didn't even look up or flinch as I came to a stop. I pulled over for a good look, and the dog let me get pretty close. I gave it some of the dried shrimp in my car and called the police and I slowly doled out the food until a nice officer showed up and I completed my journey to church. I came with quite a few things to take into church and so I started unloading and making my several trips in and out of the building. It was during one of those trips to the car that I was distracted again.

I walked out of the building at one point and the noise from overhead was pretty loud. I could hear the distinct cawing of the crows- loud and raucous and the anxious twittering of a smaller bird. So my footsteps walked past my car to the side of the building and I found myself standing under the canopy of the trees watching the drama above. Three crows were actively irritating a pair of robins who were desperately trying to protect their nest and their young. I watched as one or two of the crows would lure both of the parents away from the nest and then the last crow would nip in and steal one of the robin fledglings and fly away as quickly as possible. The parents would return desperate and full of anxiety and then the crows would begin when another would show up. Slowly but surely, they were emptying the nest. I stood there, wishing I could change something and knowing that I could do nothing, when the last fledgling was captured and the crow turned in midair and flew in my direction. I must have been so quiet that the crow hadn't even noticed my presence because when it caught sight of me, the crow tried to change direction too abruptly and dropped its hard won package at my feet. I didn't even hesitate and leaned down, scooped it up in my hands and looking up at the crow, I quickly walked away. Back into the church with my hands carefully closed and cupped, my mind racing trying to determine a path forward. I remembered some boxes that were waiting to be thrown away in the library and headed there and within a few minutes the bird was sitting in a box in the dark, quiet nursery to calm down and rest.

I had hopes that I could return it to the nest but during the hour before Sacrament meeting started, I realized that was no longer an option. After several trips outside I realized the robins in their sorrow and loss had totally abandoned the nest, but two crows were waiting right next too it. For people who think birds have no brains, they are certainly at least incorrect when thinking of crows and ravens. They can plan and work together quite well (as can be seen by their brilliant and successful attack on the nest.) When I would walk over and look up into the trees, they simply watched me and waited. When Sacrament meeting started, it found the bird still resting quietly in the nursery and my bum settled into a pew. A quick glance outside during the meeting confirmed that the crows were planning on continuing to wait- whether they knew I wanted to return the bird or they just knew the fledgling was still around I do not know. It was clear however that I now had a bird. A very needy, hungry bird.

So nursery began and I introduced my youngsters to the bird and several times we carefully broke off tiny slivers of our grapes and dropped it into its open and begging mouth. The fledgling would cry and we would feed it. The kids were pleased, the fledgling didn't seem too worried and our lesson on appreciating God's creatures seemed to be more easily cemented into the young one's heads. And with the help of my helper, I made a quick call to Birds Acre and found an opening for the wee robin. This is the second time that I have used this resource over my life to help a bird and I am so grateful for its existence. After church, all the youth came and took a quick look and then my good friend Michael hopped into the car to lovingly cradle the box in his lap. We drove to Bird Acre and I was able to stand back while Michael talked with the volunteer and they both wandered towards a cage with some robins and fledglings. When they returned, Michael and the volunteer were all smiles and said that their disabled mother had happily started almost immediately to feed the little fledgling with the other foster birds. So with some handshakes and smiles, we departed and left the unintentional orphan to its new fate.

What an unusual day. I feel so much distress an anxiety over the hurt but I left feeling a bit of peace. I dd the best that I could do and I am aware that many people would have heard the loud caws and cries and not known what they meant- there was a blissful time in my life that I wouldn't have known either and would have just found the sounds annoying and would have moved in the opposite direction. As with the poem of the starfish, I couldn't help them all and at least four fledglings were taken and happily eaten by the crows... but my actions and my service mattered to this one... and that has made all the difference. I hope he makes it! :)


Crazy Dreams....

Boy, have I been having them lately. The good thing about not having a full time job right now is that I am actually getting sleep and therefore I am able to dream again. The good news is that most of them are not the bad, shaking, panic builders that I have been more likely to have over the last few years. If dreams are windows into what someone is thinking... well, Father help me! So if you can stand it, here's a taste...

… dressed in black climbing through by bedroom window. I'm clearly in a big city again, maybe even Vegas, and I am walking down the street desperate not to be seen. I enter a store and buy some croissants and quickly leave slipping into the shadows. I seem to immediately find a park with large hedges and I sit in the dark, stuffing myself with the croissants. I feel the lightness and softness melt on my tongue and I wake up... happy it was a dream so I didn't 'really' do it and so I am not sick, but also feeling a bit bereft. It feels so real and I miss that sensation a lot....

… sitting in the dirt, a small brush in my hand. My hands are digging, softly pulling up the dirt. Carefully sifting through it and slowing down when a flash of dirty yellow-white is seen. Carefully removing the bits of bone from the ground, I brush them off and then set them aside. My interest and horror wanes after the bone is clean and so I continue to dig... continue to sift through the soft lomb..... and repeat the process.

… sitting Indian style upon the ground, back to the wall in the corner.... A bread bowl in my hand, warm and fragrant, full of a thick onion soup, brown and and full. I sit silently and watch the man leaning against the table starting at his food and after a long time of both of us sitting in silence, he pushes his bread bowl away, uneaten. While I know he is there, he seems to not know of my presence... almost like I entered his memories in a pensieve so I could view, but not be known. While there is silence inside this room, outside the door the noise of horses and men preparing for battle is filling the air. And so King Richard stands, looks around the room and exits.... and I sit thinking, knowing that he will lose the Battle of Bosworth and the thought comes into my head “Richard III had to die so the world could move forward”... and the world does move forward in the early 1500's with the Renaissance and the Tudors and the Enlightenment. So I watch images flow through my mind.... the sneaky Henry and his beautiful ancestress Catherine of Valois, the Regal Elizabeth I.... and the redrawing of maps and steam engines and horses running across the plans and child labor and trees falling and border fences and anger and groups protesting and the middle east on fire.....

...sitting at a table with a plate of shrimp alfredo in front of me in a quiet restaurant. The walls had dark word panels on them and the table had a lacy tablecloth with a small candle and a few flowers sprinkled around the table. And there I sit, chatting and smiling with Nick Frost. I can't hear what either of us is saying but it just seems nice and calm and fun....

Those are the ones that I remember... how funny are they?!? I am not someone who knows how to analyze dreams very well- I need to have dreams that are very specific for me to do that with any kind of accuracy. :) The only things that I do get from these dreams is that I am being silly enough to wish for food I can not have, I might be ready to casually date and that I might be finally getting to the bottom of the last of my feelings about the divorce and finding ways to deal with it. Who knows...? Maybe I just want a croissant... Anyone have an extra? ; )


Dangerous Rhetoric

Yesterday, I found myself in an unusual situation in more ways than one. As I couldn't sleep, I went to the gym before work... way too early in the morning and found myself running on a treadmill in front of four television screens. The irony is of course that I haven't owned a television in over a decade and so experiences with one are few and far between... but four! It's a bit like being offered piles of riches that you don't think you need and are confused as to why others think they are valuable. This opportunity gave me an interesting opportunity for reflection and experimentation.

As most everyone in the first world probably knows by now, an airplane manned by pilots employed by Malaysian Air was shot down and crashed near Grabovo, Ukraine. With 298 people on board flight MH370 - all who perished- the only thing that seemed known immediately was that everyone on the plane died and that the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine along the border to Russia. So as I jogged on the treadmill, I looked up at the screens and over the next few minutes I realized my opportunity- all four televisions were showing news from four different stations; ABC, FOX, CBS, and NBC. So for a girl who doesn't watch news, I was able over the course of over a hour to watch all of them at once and really compare their coverage of the situation. And even from a lack of experience as a news hound, what I found wasn't really surprising.

On three of the stations, the story seemed to be covered pretty thoroughly, but also with some caveats. As the news was raw, the situation just unfolding and with very little confirmed information. Only the confirmed facts were given definition and were described in definitive terms – all passengers were dead, the flight, where it went down, etc... After that, the language was was more vague... “Investigations are underway, the black box might be, etc... There were pictures... frankly, terrible and devastating photos and descriptions from eyewitnesses that felt so painful and hard to hear. But not a lot of speculation or opinion. And there would be breaks from this tragedy- each station took time to talk about other events such as wildfires, the situation in Israel and Gaza (just as horrible a problem I might say), the indictment of FedEx over shipping medications illegally and gold found in a shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina. And more such as a court overturning another gay marriage ban, the typhoon headed toward China... The world is a big place with much going on in it.

The same could not be said of FOX news. While they seemed to have the same details, it was pretty astonishing to me with how they used them. Small lettering on the bottom of the screen would say the 'facts', but the people talking didn't give any facts without a lot of supposition and even things that were only opinion.... Most of he time they didn't bother to mention any facts that I was learning from the other stations. I felt the anger of the commentators but I was also impressed by how neatly they could draw me in and if I hadn't been able to see the facts from other sources at the same time, I may never had gotten them. The wording that was used was also extreme and violent in its own right. It is no exaggeration to say that every sentence spoken, every word that was said seemed conveyed to expressed three points and only those three points.

1. That this tragedy was caused by the Russians and ordered by Vladimir Putin himself.

2. That President Obama must 'break' Russia and Putin to show the Russians and the rest of the world that we are the mightiest and must be feared and obeyed. That war, violence, 'blood', all have been caused by the evil that is Russia and we the good must vanquish it.

3. If we as America do not do this, we will all die and only terror will win.... with Russia and Putin as its leaders.

All the rhetoric made me think... and with was terrible. Some of the words still burn in my head over twenty four hours later. “Russia has their fingers printed all over this all ways”.... Really? How do we know? (Don't get me wrong, I suspect that in many ways this comment is true about this situation, but...) And then pictures of John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan would show up on the screen with some of their words in quotes about bringing down Russia, tearing down communism and its evils... and then “The President must, he must... Eye to eye, toe to toe, he must stop them... whatever means are necessary.” “President Obama must show them what happens when Putin sheds the blood of innocents... and perhaps the most ironic quote that sticks in my
mind came from Geraldo Rivera- “I told you yesterday Putin has blood on his hands.” Yup, the same guy that my friends and I used to laugh at in high school who five days a week make the term 'talk show' synonymous with interviewed strippers, skinheads, white supremacists, families who hated each other, etc.... He's now reinvented himself as a political commentator. So I was able to listen to him wax poetic on the evils and wrongs by Putin- many of which must have been exaggerated...something he used to do on his talk show... he was well known for it.

I am no friend of Vladimir Putin. I do not know him and am aware that living in this country I will not have many opportunities. It has been obvious to me for years that as America and Russia are enemies, the media in this country can never really see anything that has to do with Russia unbiasedly. We as a people are still trying to understand their history and their culture without coloring it through the lenses of our biases and prejudice. And we are doing it poorly. This experiment cemented two things into my head. First of all, I have heard to the polls and studies that show that those who get the majority of their information from Fox news are more ignorant of the reality of the world than people who get their news from anywhere else. But it also explained the constant fear and anger I sense in so many of the people I know who are 'die hard' FOX news fans. How can you not be when you sit and listen to so much anger... and so much falsehood or at least unproven accusations that when they are proved false ... will never be redacted. That language is dangerous for all of us- even those of us who do not hear it. We have to live with the pain and anger it causes in others, many of whom we care about. After over an hour yesterday of interaction and attention, I will avoid giving any of my time to that station again. I only wish that so many others could see it for what it is. There is enough hate and anger in the world as it is without manufacturing more.

Yesterday so many died in a plane crash.... in the conflicts in Gaza, in Africa from malaria, in Syria... everywhere. So many people are frightened and sad and unsure what to do in their lives. In fact, some numbers suggest that 1 in five of the dead in Gaza are children- children may sometimes be called little terrors but very few people would call them terrorists worthy of death. Instead of creating anger, fear and division, couldn't we work together to grieve and to fight it, fight the terror and the pain with an equal amount of love and good will as well as the basic law enforcement stuff? I can only hope.....