Sparkling Water, a Nighttime Enemy

Folks, it’s been a while. I fell off the bandwagon and into the void. This beautiful blog sat lonely and afraid in the dark, like a little ghost after their haunted house was demolished and replaced with a new modern townhouse.

I didn’t know how to break the ice and enter the stage, the blog stage…the blage. So, I’ve decided to WING IT and share a tale of no importance whatsoever. Hold onto your ciders, quirksters.

It started one ordinary night. I had just finished slaving away on 400 dishes left in the sink. My hands were a pruny, sad sight. I don’t entirely understand why this happens, but I hate it, I thought, as I gazed down up the wrinkled blobs that were my palms and fingers. It was summertime, and I was in need of a cool drink before bed. In the fridge my eyes wandered to a small bottle of lemon flavored carbonated water.

After pouring myself a tall glass of fizzy, I trudged to my bedroom and began to get ready to call it a night. After snuggling in and reading some kind of depressing fiction, the lights went out and I prepared to enter the dreaming hours.

Except I wasn’t falling asleep.

It was getting late, and I remained awake. Awake is my least favorite kind of state. Sleep is the time for my neurodivergent mind and body to figure out all kinds of stuff, like why I can’t go up or down stairs, or why the feeling of the seams in socks make me turn into a neurotic mess, or what I’m gonna do when the planet dies and I have to pick another one to live on but they are all terrible.

During the pre-sleep time, I became increasingly agitated. I tossed. I turned. I did the electric slide under the covers. I turned on the fan. I opened the window. I took a sip of fizz. I flipped over the pillow. I recited all the presidents of the U.S. in order starting with George Washington in 1789. (Yes, I can really do this. It’s my one talent.)

Yet, I couldn’t sleep.

Enter our antagonist.

Suddenly, the gears in my brain were able to produce a lead in this investigation of why I couldn’t fall asleep.


No, it wasn’t Tinker Bell, good guess though.

It was a quiet – so quiet – gentle tinkling sound. Imagine if Tinker Bell had long nails and was gently clinking them on the side of a glass cup, like one of those ASMR YouTubers.

This is the scenario. Except my unfortunate soul, who can hear LITERALLY EVERYTHING, could not tune this out. I could not sleep until I put a stop to this madness. Cue me turning into an absolute werewolf and tearing apart my entire bedroom trying to find the source of the TINK.

I turned out my desk; crawled around on the floor like a creepy girl in a Japanese horror movie; I repeatedly smacked my electronics; I unplugged and replugged all the things.

With no success, I left my room, went downstairs and out the door (like a maniac). If I couldn’t find the source of the sound inside my house, surely, it was coming from outside. Logic?…..

I stood outside my house, in the darkness. The critters of the night were singing loudly in the dense woods.


After verbally assaulting all of nature, I retreated to my room, dejected. I could still hear the TINK CLINK TINK CLINK CLINK. I tried a new approach. One that I knew would fail, but had to go for anyway.

It was no use. Brain wasn’t grasping the concept of “just ignore the sound.” As I thought about moving to the couch for the night, I reached over to grab a sip of fizzy.


I peered maniacally over the top of the cup. Little baby bubbles were drifting slowly to the surface. When they would reach the top, they would go: tink tink clink tink tink. It was a sound so quiet that only a person with supersonic hearing and an undeniable predisposition for chronic stress could pick up on. These baby bubbles – how they mocked me.

Horrified, I downed the entire glass of sparkling water was quickly as possible.

With my room trashed, the woodland critters emotionally scarred, and my tummy full of demonic baby bubbles, I closed my eyes and collapsed into the dark silence.

As I drifted into the quiet bliss, snuggled under the cozy blankets, I could feel the Sandman coming closer. At last, sleep. Until-

xo kelly

Learned Helplessness and the Trauma Loop: Part 1

As an adult with Sensory Processing Disorder, I am often baffled and mystified by my own patterns of thinking, as if it’s not really me who’s thinking these things, but some stranger I barely know.

Sometimes, the conversation between my brain and I goes something like this:

Why don’t you leave this situation if you’re uncomfortable, Brain?

I can’t.

Yes you can. Just go.

I’m stuck here.

No you’re not. 

Yes I am. Literally glued here. Stuck forever. This is my life now.

What on earth…ok, listen Brain, just move your right foot and then your left. Head towards the exit. Slow and steady. 

I can’t feel my legs. This is the end. I don’t even think I have legs! AHHHHH-



This thought process is called learned helplessness. It happens when you feel that no matter what you do, you have no control or power to change your situation, despite having the ability to do so. It happens when you repeatedly face a negative or painful situation.

In real life, learned helplessness can be seen in many situations:

A boy may believe he is terrible at mathematics and reading because he consistently fails his exams and struggles with homework. Turns out, he has dyslexia and he needs a different approach to learning. But until that happens, he will always feel helpless when it comes to academic achievement, and school will feel like a waste of time to him. If nothing is done for him, he will grow to be apathetic towards all kinds of learning.

Another common example with learned helplessness appears in people who have chronic health conditions. Someone who is fighting leukemia may start to believe that no matter what treatment they have, the leukemia will never improve. Their negative outlook may start to blind them from seeing possible successes or additional treatment options because they feel everything is out of their control, and therefor, doesn’t matter.

For many of you dear readers, you may be thinking, “GEE-WHIZ, this sounds an awful lot like me.”




It may surprise you (although probably not, let’s be honest with ourselves) to hear that those of us with neurological conditions are probably familiar with the feelings of learned helplessness. Think about it; if you have autism and are sound sensitive, you might behave in a helpless way whenever you are in an environment that has been loud and distressing for you before because experience has taught you that it will probably be distressing again and there’s nothing you can do about that.

Imagine a loop, except the loop is made of anxiety and trauma. When you start to make laps around the loop, this is when learned helplessness is created in your neural pathways – the deep grooves in your brain that form when you repeat something over and over. Consider yourself a professional athlete, but in the worst game of all time. Move over Hunger Games, this is the Tour de Trauma.


Ok. That’s fascinating stuff, but what do you do if you are stuck running around the loop? How do you stop learned helplessness? Nobody wants to be a hamster on a wheel (except maybe hamsters?)


We’re going to simmer on the idea of learned helplessness for a while. See you all in PART 2 for more info about learned helplessness.

stay fabulous,

xo kelly

My brain can’t tune things out: a story about habituation


It’s a super-duper important neurological process that most people take for granted. In fact, I bet you didn’t even know you did a thing called habituation.



If you google the definition of habituation, you most likely wonder who’s responsible for such a thing. Here’s google’s definition:

the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus.


Ok, ok, we aren’t that brainless. We know what the definition is saying, but, we need to know what it means and how it applies to our beautiful selves.

So, what the heck is habituation?

Picture this: you are in the kitchen preparing a delicious lunch. Outside, someone is mowing their lawn, and cars are rumbling down the street. A bird is squawking; your child is playing in the next room; the television is on. You’re wearing fuzzy slippers and there is a bright light above you. You, however, are able to concentrate on your recipe.

You probably didn’t notice, but you can no longer hear the lawn mower, or your child playing, or the cars, or the birds. You don’t feel the fuzzy slippers on your feet and you aren’t aware of the light shining on you.

Actually, you do hear, feel, and see them, but you are able to block them out and focus on the task at hand. But if you pause and tune in, all that stuff is still there. Must be magic, you think.

Alas, yer not a wizard, Harry. It’s not magic; it’s habituation.

Here’s my less fancy definition of habituation: the brain’s ability to block out stuff by becoming used to it being there.

Your brain can stop paying attention to things that aren’t important in the moment. Hearing the birds outside or the hum of passing cars is not important, so the brain filters them out of your conscious awareness. Notice the word “habit” neatly tucked into “habituate.” Your brain makes a habit of recognizing and tuning out certain stimuli.

What happens when your brain doesn’t habituate well?

Perhaps the most notable side effect is anxiety. When your brain doesn’t have the ability to adjust to a steady stream of information, it reacts by constantly sending up red flags. If it doesn’t know which information is new and which information is not new, it cannot tune out anything because *everything* is new and important and needs to be addressed NOW.

More importantly, it’s something that many people with Sensory Processing Disorder – as well as other neurologically-based conditions like Autism and Schizophrenia – struggle to do.

That’s right friends, I can’t habituate. Or at least, I really stink at it.

Why does your brain stink at habituating?

Truth is, we aren’t quite sure why people with certain neurological conditions can’t habituate. Researchers know that habituation involves the amygdala, the nervous system, the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and the vagus nerve. And we know that those systems don’t always function like they’re supposed to in individuals with neurological disorders. Studies have been done with children with autism to test their habituation abilities, and unsurprisingly, brain scans show that they are unable to “get used to” any stimuli no matter how many times they are exposed to it.

People like me (with SPD) struggle to habituate because the basic stimuli we receive every second of the day has a challenging time getting through our processing system. We end up in a state of hyper-arousal and cannot tune out stimuli.

If you have SPD, you will probably not stop noticing that tag in your shirt. You cannot ignore it. Forcing yourself to wear it and get used to it is ultimately useless. (I know this because I’ve read several studies about people with conditions that compromise the ability to habituate, and exposure therapy has little benefit.)

When I wear jewelry, I do not stop feeling it on me. When I wear a ring, it’s as if my brain is only hearing this:

When I’m around a barking dog, I will jump and respond with panic every time the dog barks. My brain will not get used to the barking. If the dog barks 32 times, I will startle and panic 32 times, over and over, until I start to cry. Yes, it is embarrassing, thank you.  No amount of me standing there forcing myself to listen to it will reduce my brain’s reaction to the sound. Yes, I have field-tested this theory only to yield the same crappy results every time. Look, I made a graph:


It’s unbearable to be aware of everything around you (or on you) all the time. This is why people with sensory issues are quickly exhausted or reduced to tears after a short time in an overwhelming environment. It’s like our brain is fried from constant processing.

How do I improve my brain’s crappy habituation skills?

Considering that exposure therapy has been shown to have little effect on treating poor habituation skills, there’s gotta be another way (cue that song “we know the way” from Moana). Up until right now writing this blog post, I had no idea what that was. I dove – well, jumped carefully, I don’t like diving – into the internet to find out how to fix this habituation situation.

(Now I’m losing it because I just realized habituation situation is so neat-o and I should’ve used it sooner.)

Some time later…

My research has concluded that there is no straight-forward way to help a brain that doesn’t habituate well. Actually, right now, the best course of action is a sort-of backdoor approach. For the sensory-stressed, the best course of action is to reduce sensory reactivity in other areas of life and practice stress reduction techniques.

Confession: I am now cringing as I type this because this was not the answer I was looking for. It’s basically saying, “MAYBE IF YOU CALM DOWN A BIT, YOUR BRAIN WILL FOLLOW ALONG, YES?? We have no idea. That’s our best guess because the brain is a big ‘ol mystery.” No! That’s not what I want to hear. I was hoping for something like, “consume more lemons” or “strengthen the muscles of the lower back.” Although I don’t know why either of those would have anything to do with treating a poor ability to habituate, but at this point, I’m sure most of us are willing to try ANY approach that doesn’t involve the words, “just relax.”

It seems to be a trend that researchers are consistently vexed by the neurodiverse, and will probably be for the rest of history (must we always be so lucky??). They tend you use “just relax” as a blanket solution to fix the problems of autism, epilepsy, PTSD, and more. I really wish they would get a new blanket.

While being terrible at habituating information isn’t going to kill us, it certainly isn’t going to do us any favors either.

And there you have it; that’s habituation the habituation situation. I have no delightful or uplifting way in which to end this. Let me briefly list some good things on my mind:

-Thanksgiving’s fast approaching

-It’s almost bedtime

-I’m going to make tea after this

Alright, that’s about it.  Depression is a wondrous thing, folks.

xo kelly

Collecting Orphans and Cheating Death at Billy Beez

Have you ever been to Billy Beez? If you haven’t, imagine the play space in a McDonald’s (giant slides, ball pit, tunnels, etc.) multiplied by 50 and set in a space the size of a typical Sears, and you’ve got Billy Beez.

billy beez

I had the pleasure of going to Billy Beez with my sister and her two toddlers recently. Arriving at a little after 11 am, we found the place uncrowded and fairly quiet. Ripping off my shoes and putting up my hair in a half-attempted bun, I joined my sister and nephews as we sprinted into the utopia of a playground in front of us.

Initially, things were going swell. I managed through tunnels and down a cool red slide. And right there is where my good fortune ended.

As we rose higher through the maze of equipment, I discovered certain areas were nearly impassable for someone of my particular neurological makeup.

Through one stretch of walkway, the floor was made of some kind of see-through material.  This was no good. My brain was furious with the idea of walking on a surface that allowed me to see the ground very far below. I tried to remind myself that many people don’t enjoy this either, but that didn’t change the fact that I was the only person in Billy Beez who seemed incapable of walking across this surface. Naturally, I retreated hastily and found another path.

I have made it this far in life by relying on avoidance, and I wasn’t going to quit now, dang it.

Soon enough, Billy Beez began to grow more crowded with families. My nephew – who I call Gilly – and I were about to ascend once more when I noticed we were joined by a girl of about three years old. I looked back but saw no parent or guardian in sight. It was hard enough for me at times to get through this obstacle course, let alone help along a small toddler. Now, we were a party of three, embarking on a new perilous journey for which I was wholly unprepared.

After making it through a series of tunnels and steps, I was pretty full of myself. We’re doing it, I thought, we’re gonna make it.

Elation turned to panic, when out of literally nowhere, two more toddlers decided to join our gang and now I was responsible for what could best be described as the worst fellowship of the ring. They were my Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, except they were all in diapers, and we were in a playground maze three stories high with no eagles to help us.

Did these two new toddlers have any parents with them? No, of course not.

Letting your small toddler roam through this massive arena alone is borderline neglectful, as it’s too dangerous without constant supervision. If that’s not enough of a reason, our crappy little fellowship soon discovered that 80% of the slides had big signs next to them that read, “AGES 5 AND UP ONLY.”

I had to wonder, did Billy Beez think kids under the age of five could read the sign telling them they are, in fact, too young for the slide? The list of slide warnings was never-ending and alarming:

  1. You must be age 5 and up to ride
  2. Keep your hands in at all times
  3. Lay on your back, feet first only
  4. Do not try to stop
  5. Immediately move after exiting the slide
  6. Say a prayer when you reach the halfway mark
  7. Watch your life flash before your eyes

Try leading a group of toddlers to a big fun slide, and then having to tell them that none of them could go down the slide. Nobody in the fellowship liked me at this point, but someone had to keep us alive. I went down one of these monster slides earlier, and it was extremely rough and fast. I couldn’t imagine what it would do to squishy tots, whose bodies are made of the same material as Play-Doh.


I convinced my group of Billy Beez orphans that we should try to make it to the big blue slide I appropriately named, Big Blue. Although it was a big slide, it was much safer for all of us. With their approval, we marched onward until we came to another fork in the road. Well, a fork for me.

All four of the toddlers easily went ahead of me, disappearing up some colorful steps.

“WAIT,” I shouted.

Naturally, nobody listened. It was do-or-die, now-or-never. The fellowship wouldn’t survive without me. One of them would take a wrong turn and lead the rest of them to another tube slide with a warning sign they couldn’t read, and all of them would be doomed. With great shame in my heart, I pulled my body like a freaky inchworm across the side of the floor. Other children behind me stopped and stared at my butt, probably feeling sorry for me in a way that I don’t particularly care for.

Miraculously, I survived. I caught up with the tots who were looming over the edge of Big Blue. Below is a photo of the slide, and as you can see, there’s a tiny baby child unattended. See? I’m not making this stuff up.


Despite its ominous appearance, this slide was much safer than the other tube slides, and there was no age warning. Once we all arrived to the top, a celebration speech was in order.

I joined my hands with their germy, sweaty toddler hands, and as the coolest unit ever, we tackled Big Blue.

And so ends my story. I don’t know what happened to my Billy Beez fellowship. I imagine they could still be there, roaming around on the edge of danger; failing to read warning signs; flying down hazardous slides; spreading measles; attending toddler business conferences; and all the other things toddlers do in places like this.

If you find yourself in a gigantic indoor playground, make sure you don’t have sensory issues that prevent you from properly navigating the playground before you temporarily adopt neglected children and attempt to lead them through that very same playground.


Xo Kelly

Shopping with the Elderly: Observations and Revelations

Have you ever been at the grocery store the day before a mild weather-related event (emphasis on mild)? Just recently, I went to the grocery store around 11am to pick up a few items for dinner when something startling occurred to me:


That day, the entire grocery store was filled with the elderly; and I mean the very elderly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the average age of the shoppers must have been around 120 years old (give or take a few years). I’m talking about REAL OLD, like the shriveled-up wheelchair raisin lady from Spongebob. For those who don’t know, this lady:


I was only in the store for five minutes before this realization came to me. The old folks were everywhere, and to my amazement, they all knew each other.


As I wandered from aisle to aisle, even more fascinating things emerged. The chatter among the customers remained consistent in topic, and the total number of topics covered was limited.

I’ve made a quick chart to show the topics covered by seniors in the grocery store:



During the charade of grocery shopping, many thoughts came to me:

Why is the store so crowded right now? Why is everyone here older than time? Where are all the moderately old people (like ages 65-85)? 

Also, why do so many people have no concept of/consideration for the space around them?






(Just kidding, I didn’t say any of that, but I sure wanted to.)




Then it hit me: an above-average amount of rain was predicted in the forecast for the next day. This explained why all the elders were out in droves at 11am. They needed at least 24 hours to prepare for, you know, the rain. Nesting isn’t just a thing experienced by expectant mothers, you know.

By the time I made it to the check out, I was mystified. I felt like I had traveled to a land where the oldest of the old lived, and this was their grocery store. I walked among them, like some sort of ghoul of youth.

As if the morning couldn’t have gotten any more fascinating, I noticed that all the lines were long, but nobody seemed bothered by this in the slightest. Instead, it was a social event. There was lots to talk about and lots of people to talk with. Long lines simply meant more good conversation opportunities. Whilst waiting, I was able to very rapidly summarize the types of people in front of me. I will shamelessly describe them in a stereotypical fashion for you now:

In Line #1, we have Pauline. She’s 107 years old, and in the “10 items or less” line with 83 cans of Tuna in her cart,  and one container of OxiClean. After all of her items have been scanned, she decides that she needs 3 more cans of tuna, and proceeds to “hurry” back to find the aisle where the tuna lived. She’s gone for 15 minutes because she went down the wrong aisle 3 times, and she ran into her neighbor, Santiago (age: 104), who she already spent 20 minutes speaking with earlier that morning.


In Line #2, we have Jack (130 years old) and his wife, Virginia (124 years old). They only have 3 items, but they’ve got roughly 400 coupons in a little plastic case. After sorting through which ones were applicable, and hearing the total, they decide they are going to write a check. Keep in mind, the total is $4.32. Virginia insists that she be the one to write the check because she has better handwriting, but alas, she cannot locate her glasses. (The glasses are on her head, but Jack realizes this, finds the mystery humorous, and decides not to inform her.) Jack writes the check and Virginia scolds him for his sloppy handwriting, which gives him another chuckle. They are at the register for a total of 23 minutes.


In Line #3, we have Mary Anne. A delightfully social woman of 99 years of age, she’s been in the store for almost 4 hours because she won’t stop talking to every person she encounters. Despite being at the register, the cashier cannot finish the sale because Mary Anne is telling a long-winded story about her Grandson’s dog’s hernia. Also, the weather. Also, her own hernia. The cashier has transformed into an apathetic zombie, but Mary Anne doesn’t seem to notice or if she has noticed, she doesn’t give a hoot.


And then there was me, wondering how I had found myself in this landscape of AARP, hip replacements, and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal. A myriad of thoughts traipsed through my mind. The worst one, was this:


With devastation, it occurred to me that I must have become elderly overnight, which would explain why I found myself meandering in the seascape of seniors – I had become one of them. I was no ghoul of youth, rather, this was a reverse type of situation where an elderly spirit was trapped inside of me. It all made so much sense. I was there too, picking up some essentials because it was going to rain and I don’t like driving in the rain because driving can be overstimulating for me and rain makes it even harder. I wanted to be home when it rained – with my soup and an intense dystopian novel. Nobody noticed that I was the only person under 95 because the spirit residing inside me is roughly 110.

After accepting my new reality, and paying for my food, my only exit was blocked by a large crowd of farewell conversations; one last goodbye before they all meet again probably tomorrow at the pharmacy or the audiologist. But I was trapped. There is and was only one solution for this type of problem:


Note: never do this. Unless you’re an employee, then by all means, do this.

Shopping with people who were probably around during the time of the dinosaurs was both a thrilling and frustrating experience. I admire their dedication to shopping the sales and tenacity to staying alive. Also, their humor.




So quirksters, the next time it’s raining (or going to rain), please head on over to your local food supplier and tell me if this phenomenon is nation-wide or just an isolated event. I need to know.

Xo your old friend, kelly





Your Sensory Onion

This blog story was was written for the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder as a featured piece during their Sensory Awareness Month campaign in September. This year’s theme was “I Make Sense.” Now, I’m sharing it here for the first time. Cheers!

Here’s a moderately interesting piece of information: of all the adults I know of who’ve been diagnosed with SPD, I am the only one who was diagnosed as a child – in 1996, to be exact. In fact, it used to be called Sensory Integration Disorder. That’s right, there was no “P.”

This has left me in a unique position. I’ve had nearly 20 years to experience my life with SPD fully knowing that I had SPD. (In case you didn’t know, this is not common for adults with SPD.)

Unfortunately for lots of people, they live many – difficult – years not knowing what on Earth is going on with them. They have confusing and embarrassing issues that nobody can explain. Often, other diagnoses are used to account for the wide range of problems, but those diagnoses don’t fit right. It’s like forcing a puzzle piece into the wrong space when you’re desperate to finish the dang thing. You know that particular piece doesn’t work in that spot, but it’s the closest one, and you’re getting tired of figuring out this puzzle. You’re left with a wonky-looking puzzle, and an overwhelming sense of exasperation.

That’s what it’s like to be a sensory person without knowing that you are one.


Instructions Unclear, Please Try Again

As SPD’ers, we tend to spend an outrageous amount of time attempting to make sense of ourselves and our place in a world that doesn’t seem too perceptive regarding our comfort or functionality. We make charts. We make lists. We experiment. We talk and cry and share until we find some solution – any solution – on how to manage living with an atypical neurological makeup.


If only it was that easy! Unfortunately, we aren’t gifted with a set of instructions for how to manage our sensory brains. We are left with the often daunting task of making sense of all that ourselves.

The ease of this task seems akin to climbing Mr. Everest on a cow.



The Sensory Onion

Understanding your sensory self comes in layers (yes, as Shrek said, like an onion). Once you discover one layer of yourself, it leads to things hidden underneath that you wouldn’t have discovered if you hadn’t peeled back that first layer initially.


For instance, you’ve always assumed that you despised getting your hair cut because you don’t do well with small talk, but as it turns out, you’re tactile defensive, and having your hair touched in any manner is distressing to you.

There’s the first layer of the sensory onion. It makes sense that you can do well with small talk in other places, but at the salon or barber, your hair is being touched during conversation. The hair touching is the real problem, not the small talk. Yet, the small talk becomes more difficult because of the hair-touching distress, hence the confusion.

As it usually happens when dealing with onions, there will probably be a lot of tears when you start to peel back the layers.

The realization that your life-long struggles can be traced back to a singular disorder and it has a name and it’s REAL – that’s quite a moment. That’s the kind of moment where Oprah pops out and starts dishing out Volkswagens like some kind of freaky Santa. It’s also a moment where you want to fall to the floor hysterically crying. You are mourning the struggle you or your child has faced. It was long – too long – and you’ve probably developed additional health problems trying to figure out that you had sensory issues all along.

There were most likely too many times to count where thoughts in your head looked like this:


After realizing that your seemingly random issues can all be attributed to one source, it’s liberating. Your perspective of yourself and your life is altered drastically, and when a situation arises, you know it’s probably your SPD at the root of the problem. And once you know that, you can get access to the tools and techniques to solve the problem.

But, it’s not all sunshine and caramel fudge brownies. Some days, you still won’t make sense. But that’s part of the sensory journey. Your sensory onion is gigantic, and you’re still peeling away those layers.  There will be sensory problems that you will continuously have to overcome, and there will be no easy solution. There will be days where nothing makes sense and then, days where everything makes sense, and you’ll feel like you and Moo-lan really did make it to the top of Everest.



If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that despite my early diagnosis, I’ve still got a long way to go with peeling away the layers of my sensory onion. But with every layer I get through, the more I realize that all this sensory nonsense can and will make a whole lot of sense.

Xo Kelly






The Line We Toe with Neurodiversity

Lately, I’ve been seeing so much stuff online normalizing people with neurological conditions, but in a way that I feel is doing a great deal of damage. It’s been hard to find the words to describe what exactly is wrong with the “neurodiversity movement” because I fear I will be torn to shreds by all the special needs parents, purely because I’m not repeating the same mantra as everyone else. (Like, is the term special needs considered demeaning? I don’t know anymore.)

So if this post leads to my internet death, so be it. (Although I’ve always wanted to die through a crazy encounter with a giant bird of prey, but let’s get back to the blog here…)

In our mysterious politically correct world, we want everything and everyone to be so special and wonderful and great. We don’t want to offend anyone, or make anyone uncomfortable, or deal with trauma and pain.

It’s all good, all the time. And if it’s not good, it will be good again very quickly I swear DON’T PANIC EVERYTHING’S FINE STOP PANICKING.

It all begs the question: are we learning to look on the bright side, or are we learning to only look on the bright side because the other side is not ok? I repeat, It’s not OK. Don’t look over there. Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, etc.


Where Things Get Icky

We spend so much time reading about how people with neurological conditions are “beating the odds” and “finding their passion” and “bringing uniqueness to the world.” The flawless-looking Instagram mom posts a photo of her 5 year-old son, he has autism and epilepsy. In the photo he’s smiling peacefully, using an organic pencil to create a piece of abstract artwork (which honestly looks amazing, holy crap) while the sun shines gently on the scene. Her husband is so handsome it’s shocking, and they all live in a jaw-dropping home straight out of Disgustingly Rich Southern Living Magazine, where they were a featured family in Issue 23.

There will, however, be no Instagram photo of that morning, when that same boy had a massive meltdown because he had to get his hair brushed. She won’t be posting a selfie of her tired face, as she was up all night with him dealing with side effects from his new medication. His younger sibling won’t sleep through the night, and she misses quality time with husband, and her eldest child is being bullied at school. (AND, her husband is also secretly one of those robot husbands fabricated in Japan, and a few friends are suspicious but none will ever say, “hey gurl, I’m pretty sure your husband is a robot.”)

You’ll see photos of her special, unique family, with all their blessings.

Her son with various special needs (there I go again with that term…am I to be executed now?) is unique, he is amazing, he is beautiful – he is a blessing. But the reality they face everyday raising a child with circumstances unthinkable to many is significantly less beautiful, and significantly less of a blessing. When you’re up to 3am because you’re having a panic attack for 7 hours about him, it’s not beautiful, and blessed is the opposite word to describe you feel.

Neurodiversity on the Street

The neurodiversity movement has exploded, thanks in part to the internet. (Thanks Internet, even though you can be annoying, you are still pretty cool.)

This means that people with atypical brains are being recognized and supported in more ways than ever. You can go up to any old person on the street and ask them, “What is autism?” and chances are, they will actually know something about autism. They may even know someone with autism and have an understanding of how this condition manifests itself in various people.


If everything sounds so hunky-dory, than why on this great Earth am I making a blog post about it?


The main source of neurodiversity influence for neurotypical people is the media. I’m looking at you, Facebook and Netflix. While it’s wonderful that millions of people are exposed to the realities of living with a different kind of brain, that reality is often skewed to fit an idea of what neurodiversity should be.

It’s almost like one of those Pinterest projects. You try to make those gorgeous red velvet cupcakes for your upcoming Christmas party. The photo you saw on Pinterest looked delicious and cute, but when you made them, your cupcakes looked like victims of a murder, and the taste was bland and filled with disappointment.


The conversation being had about neurodiversity looks wonderful, but the reality is not so wonderful for the people directly impacted by neurodiversity. I’m not saying neurodiverse people are ugly cupcakes, but if I could create a visual of my life when things are really shitty, that visual would be of an ugly cupcake.

The Crux of the Matter

There is something lurking below the surface of this neurodiversity movement. It’s something that’s already been brewing for a while, but has the potential to overflow and make a big mess if it’s not addressed. It’s part of the not-always-so-glamorous-reality that we face as people with unique mindscapes. (Yes, mindscape, like landscape but of the mind. Think Bob Ross, but with less happy trees and more hippocampus.)

When we push people to accept neurodiverse individuals as “normal, but different” we create the belief that these people do not need any help. We put them on a pedestal of “YOU ARE PERFECT THE WAY YOU ARE, NEVER CHANGE.” Like something we write in our best friend’s yearbook at the end of middle school, we mean well.


Ok, I’m not on fire, but you get my point?

It’s easy to reassure someone that they should be celebrated because of their unique neurological makeup when you aren’t the person with the unique neurological makeup.


Maybe we don’t want ND people to change. We appreciate and love them just the way they are. But what if they could be themselves without all of the struggles? Our love for them wouldn’t change, and their lives would be easier.


I often hear, “But my/my child’s/my partner’s life journey with this condition is part of who I am/they are. We should learn to love ourselves and others as they are. If you take that away, it wouldn’t be me/them anymore.”

As a person with an atypical brain (god bless you, you dysfunctional piece of meat), I can tell you, I am more than just a little different. I am not able to do many normal things. Sometimes I can do normal things, but then I pay for it later. (Sensory people you know what I’m talking about here.) I have gotten very skilled at pretending to be normal in many situations.

The thing is, I want to change. The way I am – the way my brain is – is freaking annoying. Basic activities can be hard and frustrating. It’s often stressful for my family. I’m exhausted from my life, and I’m only 27. I don’t have any spectacular mental gifts; I have spectacularly bad vestibular regulation.

Would I still have turned into the person I am today without having to manage a confusing and craptastic life of SPD? Yes, probably. And maybe I could have avoided dealing with the crippling depression and anxiety that comes with it. My SPD has made me who I am, but I would much rather it didn’t.

I’m still me with or without my neurological problem. It has shaped the person I am today, but it has added so much negativity that the few positives barely register as valuable to me.


Many advocates for neurodiversity are campaigning for ND people to have long-lasting careers, date, socialize, participate in society in every way that NT people do. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Again, like the Pinterest cupcakes, it sounds like a good idea, but reality has a different plan.

These people mean well, but unless they have lived it, it can be hard to understand the complexities of why “normalcy” may never be achieved.

For a person with high-functioning autism, for example, normalcy is possible in many ways. For a non-verbal person with autism who needs constant care and therapy left and right, this is significantly less possible. To suggest otherwise is undermining the reality many people and their families face everyday.

If we push neurodiversty as a normal thing, then we forget that having a dysfunctional brain condition is not normal at all.

Pushing neurodiversity as “normal” is ok when it’s referring to being diverse in ways that aren’t related to disorders or diseases. Like, I am really, really good with colors. I mean, I can organize, coordinate, identify, manipulate, and create colors in ways that I’ve found many people are impressed by. I believe my brain is really good at this for no reason. It is diverse but in a good way.


Having autism is not good. Having severe anxiety is not good. Having OCD is not good. I’m almost certain most people would choose to not have any neurological condition, if given the chance. Parents would wish their child to be rid of all their struggles. Regular neuro-typical life is dang hard already – if we are given these extra problems to live with, let’s make sure we go about advocating for ourselves in the right direction.

Neurodiverse individuals can’t do everything. Even with accommodations, sometimes they will never be able to have total independence or success as defined by a group of people known as “the rest of the world.”

What to Take-Away from this freaking long blog post:

With all that said, the neurodiversity movement needs to propel itself forward with these three ideas in mind: Education, Acceptance, and Support.

  1. People need to be educated about neurological differences in a way that is not demeaning or false. The media has tremendous power in their hands to educate people in a way that will challenge old and outdated perspectives without being the same story of a white, teenage, man with exceptional brain abilities but terrible social status.
  2. The current neurodiversity movement is focused on acceptance, and it should continue to do so. However….
  3. The movement is not focused on support, and without support for ND individuals, the first two points are basically worthless. We can educate the population, and accept people for the way they were born, but without support (financial, medical, therapeutic, emotional, etc.) there is little chance of success or normalcy for individuals who are deeply impacted by various disorders.

Being neurodiverse is ok; celebrating it as normal and insisting that life of neurodiverse individuals can be exactly like those neurotypical individuals is not ok. It’s so easy to ride the politically correct wave. It’s less easy to stand up and say, “Hey ya goons, this is not all sunshine and roses! Stop glamorizing and normalizing neurological disorders and start funding programs that will help people like me do basic life stuff.”

Peace xo


Empathy on the Spectrum

Here’s a crappy story to set the stage: During my seemingly endless school years, I would become unusually distressed if any sort of intensely emotional situation occurred. If there was a lot of happiness, I would cry (but not in a good way). If a teacher was harshly scolding a student in class, I would become extremely upset (and probably cry). It felt as if I was being yelled at, even if I had nothing to do with the situation.  Nobody else seemed bothered by these events, but I couldn’t shake it all day. This was because I was mostly unable to separate myself from emotionally heightened experiences.  To this day I struggle with this problem, and it’s fiercely annoying and embarrassing.

I can walk into a room and absorb all the emotions and energies in that room, to the point of making me sick. Momsy used to jokingly call me “Spongebob” for my unfortunate emotional absorbency problem. “Snapping out of it” or growing thick skin seemed to work little for me. I resented myself deeply for it then, and sometimes I still do.

Loud, sudden noises made me cry, but why did silent, angry people make me cry too? Strangely, I could also appear stoic and distant during these situations. My intense meltdown-like reaction would eventually show up at a later, unfortunate time.

I only recently discovered that I was not alone in this empathy problem. Also, this special feature of mine was not something that could be attributed to Sensory Processing Disorder, rather, to my surprise, was a problem for many people with Asperger’s.

All this led me to the belief that people with autism actually feel the world too much. The outward behaviors are a reflection of the inability to process the emotional world. I came up with this theory back in 2010, then later I read about something similar in Temple Grandin’s book at the time, The Autistic Brain. Basically, Temple Grandin is a mind-reader because she literally stole the theory out of my head. I forgive you Temple, it’s ok. Mostly…

The question we face now is, what’s going on in our awesome but slightly wonky brains that so many people with autism seem to have both no empathy and too much empathy?

There is this consistent, and supremely annoying stereotype of people on the autistm spectrum in regards to their ability to feel empathy. The thing is, most people believe one of the defining traits of people on the spectrum is that they are not capable of experiencing empathy at all.

In a way, this is understandable when you think about the behaviors some autistic people show.

(Yes, I said “autistic people” as well as “people with autism” because we are all mature audiences and we can comprehend that a person who has autism is not defined by their autism, and they are, in fact, a separate person. If you are still bothered by this, then you may want to go to a different blog. Here on Eating Off Plastic, I know people with autism/autistic people don’t really care what language is used, they just want to be treated like a person. Rant over, let’s continue with the important stuff.)

If you were to google symptoms of autism right now, here is what google will show you:

autism empathy snip

This is a screenshot I took just now. Just underneath this text is a link to WebMD, which is “the most popular source of health information in the US.”

Yes, there are four – count ’em – FOUR bullets on this list. If you click the link, you get a much better, more expansive list of symptoms, but I’d say overall the short list is not only pitiful, but grossly inaccurate.


For any person who is mostly clueless about autism, this list would be a terrible thing for them to come across. If you discovered a manual for a DVD player made in 2002, but you owned a DVD player made in 2015, the manual would be terribly unhelpful. It’s the same sort of premise here.

Let’s review those bullet points:

The first and second ones I don’t have a problem with because those are genuine issues for many autistic people.


It’s with the third one where things starts to get iffy. Yes, it is true that people on the spectrum may struggle with “sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people” but what that whole thing is kinda saying is, “autistic people don’t give a foof about anyone else.” This third point makes it feel like they are pushing the “weird loners” stereotype, and that bothers me, even if it is sort of true or some.

Moving on to the fourth one, “lack of empathy,” is again pretty much saying, “autistic people don’t give a foof about anyone else.


So, the question becomes: do people with autism experience empathy? The internet sure doesn’t think so. But I think the internet is wrong. Gasp! It’s time to be hit with a crap-load of facts.

The definition of empathy is: the ability to understand, share, and respond to the feelings of another. 

VERY IMPORTANT POINT #1: Autistic people struggle to understand the feelings of other people; AKA take their perspective.

Right away you can see the problem here. The definition of empathy and point #1 contradict each other.

This ability to understand the perspective of another person is known as Theory of Mind. You may be familiar with the autism experiment of having children watch puppets playing with marbles. One puppet hides the marble then leaves. Another puppet comes on stage and moves the marble to a box. The children are then asked where they think the first puppet will look for the marble.

Children on the spectrum will often assume that even though the first puppet did not see the second puppet move the marble to the box, she will look in the box. These children don’t understand that people around them don’t share their knowledge of the situation.

Children off the spectrum will understand that the first puppet will not know that the marble was moved to the box, even though they know it was moved.

This ability to understand another person’s knowledge and perspective of the world is also known as Cognitive Empathy.

Cognitive Empathy often involves deliberate thinking and processing. When you try to see the world from someone else’s shoes, you have to make a conscious effort to do so.

People on the autism spectrum find Cognitive Empathy difficult, but not impossible. However, there is another kind of empathy….

VERY IMPORTANT POINT #2: Autistic people have too much Emotional Empathy.

The second kind of empathy is known as Emotional Empathy, which involves the ability to feel, sense, and respond to the emotions of others.

When you see someone who is upset, you might feel upset too. This is called having Emotional Empathy. Surprisingly, you may know of some neurotypical people who have more Cognitive Empathy than Emotional Empathy. The opposite seems to be true for people on the spectrum.

Emotional Empathy is primal, unconscious, and automatic. You don’t have much control over this type of empathy. Like how you can’t stop yourself from crying when you see Sarah Mclachlan on the dang tv with the orphaned animals? Yea. That’s normal, and happens because of E.E.

sarah mclachlan

A person with autism may be overwhelmed with emotion upon seeing a loved one get married, but they may struggle to understand why exactly that happiness is occurring around them, or why they should be happy at all. But they feel happiness intensely.

Let’s stop associating the word “autism” with the word “apathy” and start understanding that people on the spectrum are diverse, complex, funny, thoughtful, affectionate, and a million more things.

When you interact with a person on the spectrum, do not doubt for a second that they care deeply about the world around them. The care so much that they are overstimulated, overwhelmed, and do not know how to respond appropriately. (This is especially true for my Aspie friends.) Because of this, they react with anxiety. Anxiety on the spectrum manifests itself through fidgeting, repetitive behavior, and no eye contact. It appears like the person is unfeeling, but in reality, their brain is doing whatever it can to withdraw from the situation because it is too intense.


But wait, what about those fancy Mirror Neurons?

Ah yes, mirror neurons are these cool things in your brain that react when you witness someone performing the same action as yourself; aka mimicking behavior. It was believed that people on the spectrum had “broken mirror neurons” which would explain why they seem so incapable of sharing or mimicking emotion and expressions.

Thankfully, recent research has shown that this is not true. In fact, while autistic people are very much capable of mirroring expressions, the social hardships they face can probably be attributed to feeling overwhelmed by – you guessed it – emotions, so much so that they shutdown or that they  – you guessed it again – do not understand why someone would feel the way they do, and are not motivated to share the social bond of facial expression mimicry. This backs the theory that the autistic brain is challenged by cognitive empathy but not emotional empathy.

Whew, that was a mouthful! I look like a chipmunk right now… (A cute one, though, for the record. Not that I’ve ever seen a non-cute chipmunk. I digress…)


Us highly sophisticated individuals with the advanced prefrontal cortices (that’s the plural form of cortex, just found that out tonight) need to make a brand spankin’ new concept of empathy on the spectrum. We can do so much better than that google search yielding four crappy bullet points. Autism does not and should not correlate with the image of an unfeeling robot who gives no foofs.



To start this movement, I’ve created this nifty graphic for us to spread around like jam on toast.




And that’s where I leave you, quirksters. Some stuff to think about on this fine day.

Please leave a comment below, or share the whole post or one of the graphics above.

xo kelly


Here are some of the references for the research I’ve mentioned in this blog post, for the curious:

No, autistic people do not have a "broken" mirror neuron system – new evidence










Sensory Anxiety: Not your ordinary anxiety

Before you dive in, a quick note. This article was written for the STAR Institute for SPD for Sensory Awareness Month 2017. Sensory anxiety is a topic near and dear to my heart. After it was published, I heard from so many people around the world about how this particular article had really moved them. I was so grateful. I am finally publishing it here on my blog, where it will live forever and evah. 


Let’s talk about something that nearly every single person with sensory issues has to deal with: ANXIETY.  Gosh! Even the word itself sets me on edge.

For people with Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety comes as part of the package. It’s the bonus prize that nobody wants.


SPD and Anxiety work together to cause mayhem. They play off each other, and create a spiral effect of symptoms.

Strangely, when we talk about sensory problems, anxiety is rarely part of that conversation. The focus is always on the sensory part of SPD. But I would like to shed some light on the chaos that anxiety can cause when it’s teamed up with SPD, and why it’s different than non-sensory anxiety.

But first, it’s time for a little story. A short tale of my own experience with sensory anxiety to set the stage. The following is the true and slightly uncomfortable reality of my life:

I’ve always been told that the best –  and perhaps only – way to conquer anxiety is to put myself into situations that make me anxious, and to push through it.

(Whatever that means.)

I’ve done this for years.

I’ve done this most recently through college, where every morning before my commute to school, I had to give myself extra time because of anxiety-induced diarrhea and nausea. My agonizing stomach cramps and bathroom visit occurred daily, without fail. (I told you this was going to be an uncomfortable story.) I couldn’t stomach food for hours. But, only on the days when I had school. There are no such things as coincidences in this sensory life.

Once I made it to school, I often had to give myself even more time to find a bathroom and change my shirt, which would’ve been soaked in sweat before my first class even began. I spent the large part of my day feeling enormously dizzy. My face hurt from a clenched jaw and the muscles in my back were sore from tension.

Often, I bought myself a warm drink in an attempt to soothe my trembling body, which was trembling on account of being both anxious and also cold. (Fact: when the body is anxious, blood rushes to the main organs, leaving the extremities feeling cold and/or numb.)

I’d come home at the end of the day and nap for an unreasonable amount of time, like 6 hours. My body was depleted, from what I assumed was sensory overload. One day it occurred to me that I was not only physically and emotionally exhausted from SPD, but also from my anxiety that was caused by my SPD. Then the anxiety and SPD and feeling helpless and feeling hopeless made me seriously depressed.  Would the fun ever end? I wondered.

I went to college for four and a half years. I pushed through my debilitating anxiety every day, and wouldn’t you know it, the last day of college rolled along, and that morning I had diarrhea and a sweat-soaked shirt. Just like the first day.


The End!

I know, I know. It was a truly riveting tale. One that will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest stories known to man. But let’s get back to what matters here. Physical symptoms of anxiety are only one part of the equation.

At the end of the day, I learned that pushing through my anxiety did nothing to help alleviate it. All it did was make me miserable and feel like I was weak for not being able to get rid of my symptoms.

Since that time, I’ve come to realize that the reason traditional methods of alleviating anxiety were not working for me was because I had a very good reason to be anxious. 

Now it’s time to introduce the second part of this equation: Sensory Processing Disorder.

In my case, my SPD has gifted me with overwhelming sensory sensitivity and the inability to function when having to process multiple sensory stimuli. In most environments, like a classroom for example, my body picks up on the sounds, smells, textures, and even the vibe in the air to an outrageous extent. My sensory brain is turned up to the highest setting and it isn’t very good at turning off.



As one can imagine, having SPD is not fun. Anybody who says it is, well, they are a goober. It’s called a disorder for a reason. It’s not called Sensory Processing Fun Times All Around (SPFTAA). Although, I admit that would be a cool thing.

Dear reader who I love so very much even though I’ve never met you,

If you can relate to my gastrointestinal distress in sensory-ugly environments, please take comfort in the fact that what you are feeling both physically and emotionally is very normal. For instance, when the sound of most people’s voices are loud to the point of severe discomfort, being in a place with lots of people talking is going to give you anxiety. It makes sense.

Let’s briefly recap and take a look at the complete equation. Keep in mind, I spent a lot of time making this:



Consider this:

You wouldn’t say to someone, “hey, I know there’s a hungry shark in this swimming pool, and every time you’ve gone in he’s bitten you, BUT you don’t need to be anxious about swimming because if you keep going in, he won’t bite you anymore!”

Yet, we’ve been telling ourselves, “hey self, I know you have SPD, and every time you go into a sensory unfriendly environment it’s super distressing, but you don’t need to be anxious this time because if you keep pushing through it, you won’t have anxiety anymore!”


This concept of pushing through anxiety often works for regular, non-sensory anxiety. Allow me to demonstrate:

When you were five you went to a birthday party. A person waved a bunch of balloons around your face and you FREAKED OUT. Fast forward ten years later, and you have anxiety whenever you see balloons.

To alleviate this kind of anxiety, you start to spend time around balloons. Maybe you go into a room where someone has placed a balloon. Maybe next time, you move a bit closer to it. After that, you touch one. Your balloon-related anxiety slowly improves over time. You are able to push through the anxiety by addressing the irrational thoughts and fears you experience, and replacing them with rational ones. “Balloons aren’t scary. I do not need to feel anxious around them. I am ok.”

**I’d like to note that when I say regular anxiety I do not mean less anxiety. Anxiety from having a neurological condition like SPD is a different kind of anxiety, not more or less severe than anxiety from other things.**

Now let me demonstrate how this concept does not work for sensory anxiety:

When you were six you went to a birthday party. You are sound sensitive, and during the party, kids were popping balloons. It upset you deeply. Fast forward ten years later, and you have anxiety whenever you see balloons.

To alleviate this kind of anxiety, being around balloons will not reduce your anxious feelings because you are still sound sensitive, and balloons could potentially pop at any time. If they pop, it will scare you the same every time.


The reason people with sensory problems have recurring, stubborn anxiety is because many SPD’ers lack the ability to habituate (become accustomed to) new information. Our unique sensory systems do not do well with what I refer to as POTENTIAL stimuli. We like routine and predictability. But a lot of sensory stimuli is neither of those things. The world is full of random, unusual and unpredictable things. When you have a brain that struggles to make sense of the predictable – let alone the unpredictable – it’s easy to understand why anxiety is the result.


When you have anxiety from sensory issues, it presents itself the same way non-sensory anxiety does; the symptoms are virtually the same. It can be hard to distinguish between sensory overload and anxiety. Most commonly, SPD anxiety can look like this:


However, if you notice, the symptoms of sensory anxiety are similar to symptoms of a freeze response. Unless the sensory stimulation or the anxiety reaches a breaking point, people with SPD tend to literally freeze during an anxiety crisis. The meltdown and shutdown occurs after, when they are in a safer space to let it all out. Of course, this doesn’t always happen so nicely, and sometimes you find yourself completely dissociated and about to vomit from a fire drill in the middle of the hallway at school. It’s equal parts inconvenient and embarrassing.


Consider the source! To fix or improve sensory anxiety, you have to learn what sensory-related problems give you anxiety in the first place. You don’t want to keeping jumping into the swimming pool with the shark. Remove that shark before you go swimming!

Here are some of my favorite, tried-and-true methods for relieving anxiety when it’s tied to sensory issues:

  1. Make it known: Tell people around you that you have sensory issues. Explain specifically what you struggle with (noise, physical contact, need for fidgeting). When more people are aware of it, the more likely your surroundings will be a sensory-safe space, which will reduce your anxiety. People can’t help you remove the shark from the swimming pool if they don’t know it’s there.
  2. Alternatives and Avoidance: I tell people this all the time, and I’m saying it again. It’s very much ok to avoid the anxiety-producing event all together. Perhaps there is another swimming pool without any sharks. Or perhaps you do not have to swim today. It’s very much acceptable to turn down an offer to swim if you know you’ll be bitten by sharks.
  3. Gear up: Sometimes, you have to swim with sharks. The best thing to do is to prepare your physical and emotional state for this encounter. Some sensory anxiety can’t be avoided, and when that happens, gear up your sensory self in the ways that work for you. Maybe you need to jump on a trampoline, or use a Wilbarger brush, or use a fidget. Allow yourself time to do what you need to ahead of time.
  4. Make time to bounce back: In the event that you did have to swim with a shark, and there was no time to prepare beforehand, it’s necessary to dedicate time and energy to letting your sensory anxiety calm down afterward. Just like preparing beforehand, it’s crucial to give yourself time to bounce back after.

With all that in mind, I must conclude with this: experiencing anxiety from having sensory issues is normal, common, and expected. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Your brain is reacting as any brain would under the circumstances. I know somedays the anxiety can be crippling. Other days, it can seem like it’s on a permanent vacation! Flip flopping like that can be draining and confusing.

Pushing through sensory anxiety won’t work to alleviate it, but that doesn’t mean you should stop pushing the boundaries of your life as a person with sensory issues. You don’t have to go in the shark pool, but it’s probably to your advantage to go up the edge and peek in.



Why “it could be worse” makes me feel worse

A few months ago, I was working on a new mantra. (The word mantra also sounds fancy and psychologically complex, so it feels cool to think I am working on one). I’m a goober, I know.

With the constant bombardment of social media, news media, and print media – ok, ALL THE MEDIA – telling me the pains of the world, I decided my new mantra would be:

“it could be worse.”

AKA, my own problems and pains are pointless because, well, look at how terribly other people are suffering.

In an attempt to alleviate my personal struggles, I thought it would be helpful to give myself some perspective. For instance:


The list went on, and it could’ve gone on forever. I thought, “if I constantly remind myself of how good things are in other areas of my life, I will simply banish the bad things with my super-positive-mindset-mantra brain power.”

And it worked, for a little while.

I read books about positive thinking. I read articles online about letting go of unpleasant thoughts. I watched videos on how to stop being depressed. I exercised when I felt my depression coming on.  I faked it until I would make it….except I wasn’t making it.

There was a gigantic flaw in my mantra.

I began to feel guilty for feeling upset or concerned about the “bad” in my own life. Or worse, I felt guilty for experiencing the physical symptoms of my own issues, like severe fatigue, for instance.






And so, my mantra began to crumble faster than an old crumb cake.

It occurred to me that while it was important to work towards having a positive perspective on my life, it was equally important not to disregard my own struggles and think of them as minuscule or paltry.

No, I do not have a brain-eating amoeba, but that shouldn’t make my struggle with my sensory processing disorder, or depression, or anxiety, or anything else less valid. It’s OK for me to be concerned about these issues and how they impact my life. They are not “first-world problems.” They are my problems, and they are real.


Yea I know, when I frame it like that, it does sound ridiculous.

Reasons the Mantra failed:

  1. Telling myself that other people have it worse did not make my problems go away. Rather, it made me feel worthless, weak and guilty for having them in the first place.
  2. It’s not about having a positive outlook, or different perspective on life. I am grateful for the life I was given, I appreciate the good (trust me, I really do). Thinking, “today I will not be anxious or upset by sound because there are people starving to death” did not – believe it or not – make me less anxious or upset by sound. It only made me feel selfish and powerless.
  3. It’s not about empathy, because I have cried for people I read about online in another country whom I’ve never met because they are suffering in ways I will probably never know. Did this change how I was able to face my own problems? Not really.
  4. In the beginning, my mantra sounded good. However, it would be the same as saying, “there are people who are happier than I am, so I cannot be happy.”
  5. I was attempting to control things which I’m literally unable to control most of the time.


What I’ve decided to do instead (and what YOU should do too):

  1. Recognize negative thinking patterns and focus my attention elsewhere. Similar to meditation, I am working on taking my negative thoughts or feelings, and letting them pass through me like water; in one side, and out the other. It’s OK for them to stop by, but they aren’t allowed to stay.
  2. Identify when my thinking patterns or inner dialogue is irrational – and make it rational.
  3. Not beat myself up with old school Catholic guilt for having problems in my life, even if other people technically have more serious problems.
  4. Stop stigmatizing my own mental health issues, because I deserve better than that.
  5. Try not to be super-duper jealous of the many people who have easier lives than I do (namely, people without neurological dysfunction on multiple levels). Also, continue to be appreciative of what I can do and all the good things my life has afforded me so far.
  6. Harry Potter movie binging




Xo Kelly