Other Sensitivities

Photo by Bill Selak via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Bill Selak via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

This is a follow up to my post My Worst Sensitivities. Here are some more of my sensory issues. I consider these ones to have less of an impact on my life than the ones in my previous post.

Tactile, Continued

Aversion to water. I hate the feeling of water on my skin, and especially in my eyes. I have never learned to swim for this reason. One of the very small number of spankings I ever received in my life was because I was refusing a bath. When my husband and I shower together, he says I have a look on my face like I’m in pain the entire time. Despite how much I hate it, I do shower every day, because I hate feeling dirty and smelling bad more than I hate the feel of water. But sometimes when I can get away with it, like when I’m not working, I put off my shower until later in the day because I’m not a morning person and that horrible feeling in the morning is too much for me.

Visual

I don’t like bright colours. I dislike animated TV shows and movies for this reason. I never really liked most children’s shows or cartoons when I was a child because of the bright colours. I especially hate bright red and orange. But the colours I do like, I love. My favourite is a soft greeny-blue.

Sound

I have sensitivities to loud noises and auditory processing issues.

When the fire alarm in the building I live in goes off, I shake uncontrollably, even if I know it’s a false alarm. It’s the noise itself that rattles me.

I can enjoy loud music if it’s music I like and have chosen to listen to, but it drives me nuts if it’s someone else’s. Conflicting noises also drive me nuts. My dad has the tendency to put the TV on, get bored and leave the room without turning the TV off, go into the next room, and put the radio on in there. When I can hear a TV and a radio at the same time, it makes me feel like I’m losing my mind or like my head’s going to explode. It is very, very unpleasant.

I also have trouble in crowded, noisy environments picking out the one voice that’s talking to me. This has always made church attendance difficult for me, as standing around in a crowded church lobby and chatting with people is the expected thing. Trying to skip this is frowned upon, as churches are big on “community” these days and I would even go so far as to say many of them worship community more than they worship God. Going home to read the Bible and pray? Bad. Standing around making small talk about the weather? Good. (I realize if you don’t believe in God, this may not seem like such a bad thing, but for me, believing in God is the one and only reason I’ve ever gone to church. I’m not there for anything else.) In these situations, I stand there and smile and nod and hope they’re not asking me any questions. I have sometimes told people I have auditory processing issues and I can’t understand what they’re saying to me. Sometimes we then stand there in awkward silence before they excuse themselves to talk to someone else, but more often they just keep chattering away and I keep nodding. I don’t know why I keep doing that after I’ve already admitted I can’t understand them. I think it’s just because I hate making people feel bad or uncomfortable.

There are some sounds I like that you wouldn’t expect me to. I love the sound of traffic on a highway. I find it quite soothing, even when I’m trying to fall asleep. I live near an airport and I don’t mind the sound of planes overhead. I also love the sound of rain and howling wind.

Other issues I don’t know how to categorize include:

Sensitivity to hot and cold. This could be related to my hypothyroidism or other health issues. It’s getting worse as I get older.

Motion sickness, when I sit in the backseat of a car. This makes me not want to go anywhere with others unless I can sit in the front, but obviously insisting on sitting in the front seat on outings with people can come across as pretty obnoxious. It’s easier to just stay home.

Oddly enough, I love roller coasters and never get sick on them (although it’s been a while since I’d ridden one because I don’t know anyone else who can tolerate them). I think it’s because a roller coaster ride doesn’t last long enough for the motion sickness to kick in. I’m usually in a car for at least 10 minutes before I start feeling sick.

I might have more issues I’m just not thinking of at the moment, but the ones in this post and my previous post are the ones that immediately come to mind.

My Worst Sensitivities

Photo by DLG Images / www.directline.com via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by DLG Images / www.directline.com via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I have huge sensory issues. These are the worst ones:

Smell/Odor

The biggest one is odor sensitivity. This isn’t always negative. I can smell when someone bites into an apple in another room. I can usually tell when something is done baking from the way it smells. I can detect the slightest odor when no one else can, leading people to think I’m imagining things, but the source of the odor is almost always eventually located and I am proven right. My husband jokes that I should get a job as a sniffer dog at the airport.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can imagine, this leads to problems as well. I have been known to vomit if I smell excrement, sweat, or food that’s gone even slightly off. I am intensely uncomfortable if I smell cigarette or marijuana smoke. And I am nauseated by the smell of some cooking, especially curry, but also ground beef. Funnily enough, my mom says she was nauseated by the smell of ground beef cooking when she was pregnant with me.

My odor sensitivity is one reason I’m actually glad I’ve never been able to have children. I cannot change diapers or even be near a baby with a full diaper. People say, “It’s different when it’s your own,” but I don’t believe it would be for me, because (and I apologize if this is a rather crude thing to say) sometimes it’s not even different when it actually is my own, if you get my drift. You can imagine how difficult this can make everyday life for me.

I know at least one woman who loathes me and unfriended me on Facebook because I ran outside and threw up when I could smell dirty diapers in the church nursery. She’s one of those people whose life revolves around babies and children, so to encounter someone who is sickened by the smell of their natural functions is a great offense to her. In a way, I can understand. But I can’t help it.

Another problem my odor sensitivity has caused is with my in-laws. I am married to a Brit, and his friends and family always want to go out for “a lovely curry.” Unlike for most Caucasians here in Canada, it seems to be their go-to dining out or take-out choice. But I can’t do it. They say, “You can eat western food while the rest of us have curry,” but I can’t even be present where it’s being cooked or eaten. I will vomit. I have heard my mother-in-law on the phone with her friends talking to them about how weird it is that I don’t like curry, and how it negatively affects their plans.

Taste/Food Texture

I have food taste and texture sensitivities, as well as gastrointestinal issues. For texture, the worst is any kind of fat or gristle in meat, and I am grossed out by anything with bones. (I’m this close to becoming a vegetarian, but that’s a topic for another post.) When I go out, I stick to boneless skinless chicken breasts, shrimp, or white fish. I don’t like fish such as salmon, as it’s too strongly flavoured. At home I will eat roast beef, only if it’s boneless and I’ve cooked it in the slow cooker until it’s very well done and removed all obvious fat.

I don’t like most strongly-flavoured cheeses, and I don’t like spicy food unless it’s Mexican and as long as it’s not overloaded with cumin. In fact, Mexican is one of my favourite cuisines, taste-wise, even though it sometimes gives me a stomach ache. Speaking of stomach aches, I get horrible ones from bananas. I get mild ones from cucumbers and avocados. I like leafy greens, especially spinach, but it goes right through me. I also abhor the taste of coffee and won’t even eat mocha-flavoured desserts.

It is very difficult for me to eat at other people’s homes and I have had very bad experiences as a result. To compound this issue, I am prone to hypoglycemia, so I do need to eat regularly. If I find myself somewhere that has nothing I can tolerate, I can end up in a bad state. I have to try to remember to carry a fast sugar plus a protein bar at all times.

Touch/Tactile

I am sensitive to the feel of some fabrics and fits of clothing. I have hated corduroy my entire life. Touching it creeps me out as badly as nails on a blackboard. I also don’t like velvet or suede. There are others I have an aversion to that I don’t know the name of.

My sensitivity in this area has increased as I’ve gotten older. I used to be able to wear uncomfortable things for the sake of so-called beauty (like pantyhose back when they were still in fashion, or high-heeled shoes), but I can’t do it, or perhaps I’m not willing to do it, anymore.

Now I will only wear soft fabrics, preferably with some stretch in them, and nothing too form-fitting in my abdomen or arms unless it’s very soft and stretchy. In recent years I have shopped almost exclusively at Old Navy because I can always find affordable, comfortable clothing that fits me the way I want it to. I’m sorry if that sounds like a commercial. They’re not paying me to say that. They can if they want to.

I also don’t like physical touch. I remember my parents arguing about this when I was a child. My mom thought I should hug the relatives, and if I didn’t like it, I should get over it, because it’s the kind and loving thing to do. My dad thought I shouldn’t be forced to hug anybody. He doesn’t like hugging either, so that is one thing he’s always understood about me.

My aversion to touch got worse when I was about 7. I remember being cuddled up to my mom and smelling a certain odor coming from her body, and it just grossed me out to the point where I couldn’t touch her after that. I never explained that to her, and I don’t think I should have, but I think she’s since felt hurt by my rejection of her physical touch. Also, around the same age, I somehow came up with the weird idea that if people touched me, they would be able to read my mind, and I didn’t want that. It’s not that my thoughts were bad, it’s just that they were mine.

I no longer believe people can read my mind. Maybe my life would be easier if they could, as my motives would no longer be misunderstood like they often are.

There are exceptions to my aversion to touch. I like touching and being touched by my husband (although there are things I can’t tolerate even with him, like being tickled), and I can hug my closest friends. And I love cuddling with cats, although I can’t always stay in one position for a long time like they want me to.

I have become pretty good at putting on an act, like when I used to attend church, where people hug all the time. I act like it’s okay and like I even enjoy it, but my skin is crawling with revulsion the entire time. And there was this one woman I couldn’t handle hugging because she had really bad body odor, so not only was I repulsed by the touch itself, but I nearly vomited every time she came near me. Then I was terrified of hurting her feelings if she realized I was vomiting because I thought she smelled bad. But then I actually did hurt her feelings because I started avoiding her. She became very aggressive, actually chasing me down and saying, “I’m not going to let you get away without giving me my hug!” (For what it’s worth, I heard her saying that to other people too, so I wasn’t her only target.) It was so horrible, I actually finally had to confess to her that I was uncomfortable with hugs. To my utter horror, she started to cry and she told me about how when she was a child, she desperately wanted someone to hug her and no one did, and that’s the reason it was so important to her to have hugs as an adult.

Immediately after the encounter, I went out to my car and had one of my meltdowns, crying and shaking and gasping for air. I was certain that I was a horrible person who had disappointed God with my lack of love and my callous treatment of one of His people. I felt that I’d be better off staying away from people entirely, instead of being around them and hurting their feelings so badly.

More of my sensitivities are mentioned in my next post.

The Puking Pipeless Pied Piper

Photo by Benjamin Griffiths, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Benjamin Griffiths, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

*Warning: This post may be triggering for those with odor and gag reflex sensitivity.

Through no effort of my own, I seem to be some kind of Pied Piper for cats and dogs. Is this an Autism/Asperger’s thing?

As I mentioned in a previous post, when I was a small child I used to go for walks in the woods with my dog and cats. They would all follow me or walk alongside me completely of their own volition. No leashes or harnesses. This does not seem weird to me, but my mom often brings it up. She says she’s never seen anything like it. She says even other animals would join in sometimes. It was like a fairy tale.

Animals have always appeared to be drawn to me. Dogs I’ve never encountered before get really excited when they see me, as if they already know who I am and think very highly of me. As if I’m some kind of celebrity in the canine world. If I’m with a group of people, I’ll be the one dogs run to.

Photo by Nadir Hashmi, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Photo by Nadir Hashmi, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Often I’ve been told things like, “He’s not usually like this with anyone. He was abused before we adopted him and is afraid of new people.” Meanwhile, he’s frantically wagging his tail, jumping all over me, and trying to lick my face.

Photo by Eric Danley via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo has altered from original (slightly cropped).
Photo by Eric Danley via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo was altered from original (slightly cropped).

I’ve even had aggressive dogs calm right down and sit down submissively at my feet. My mom is afraid of dogs because she’s been bitten before, but I have never had a dog act aggressively towards me in my whole life.

Cats are naturally more aloof than dogs, but they like me too. (My cat is cuddled up on me as I type this.) Again, it includes cats who don’t usually warm up to people. I’ve inadvertently pissed people off by somehow managing to be a magnet for a previously feral cat that they’ve just claimed will only come to them. These cats will saunter right up to me and push their head into my hand so I will pet them.

Photo by Peter Stevens via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo was altered from original (cropped).
Photo by Peter Stevens via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo was altered from original (cropped).

A long-time friend who has witnessed this happen to me many times once said that animals sense that I am just completely harmless. But a lot of people are harmless. This seems like something else.

People have often said that I should be working or at least volunteering with animals in some capacity, but I have a problem. I am extremely, cripplingly sensitive to odors. If I so much as get a whiff of excrement or even a wet dog (among many other things), I will vomit. This has caused problems for me many times in life.

I try not to let it happen. At home I keep a bottle of scented oil from The Body Shop nearby so I can immediately get another scent into my nostrils. I try to use mind-over-matter to think of other things and ignore the revulsion. I have a specific song that I quietly sing to myself as a distraction: My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music.

My husband now tries to help me by singing it to or with me when he sees that I’m about to spew. More often than not this is all to no avail and the inevitable happens. If I can’t get away from the smell, I will continue to dry heave even after my stomach has long been emptied, making it impossible to function in any useful capacity.

Obviously there is no way I can volunteer in an animal shelter or start a dog-walking service. I would be useless. It’s hard enough sometimes to have a pet, but our cat brings so much joy to our lives that we work around my issues. Outside of my own home I would not be able to have so much control. The litter box is kept in a storage closet with the door left open just wide enough for our cat to enter. Every time I need to be near the closet door I breathe through my mouth (this doesn’t always work because if the odor is strong enough I will smell it through my mouth too). My husband handles all the litter box and cat puke issues. That was our arrangement before we adopted her and is the only way we can manage having her. If my husband goes away to a conference or something, I have to get someone else to come and scoop the litter box. It is difficult to explain to people why I require this and I know they don’t understand and probably just see me as a fussy princess who finds icky things unpleasant, but it is so much worse than that. It is completely undoable for me. I’m sorry I’m like this. I hate being judged.

I hear about volunteer opportunities for animal lovers and think I would be ideal for them if only it weren’t for my odor sensitivity. I especially love cats and I wish I could handle having more than just one, but more cats mean more odor. I watch kitten cams on Livestream, which I greatly enjoy and find to be quite therapeutic, but it’s not enough. Whenever I hear of homeless or sick cats my heart just aches for them and I wish I could take them in.

Photo by California Chan via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo has been altered from original (cropped).
Photo by California Chan via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons. Photo has been altered from original (cropped).

It’s frustrating to feel or be told that I have some kind of gift with animals and yet not be able to do anything about it. So is this an Autism thing? I mean, I know the sensory issues are, but is the animal-magnet thing? Since I’ve suspected that I have Autism, I am seeing a lot of aspects of my life in a potentially new light.

Why I Think I Probably Have Autism

There’s always been something different about me. I’ve never quite fit in. I’ve always felt like an alien, observing humans and studying them to try to figure out all the things they seem to just intuitively understand.

As a child, I had an adult-sized vocabulary and was reading novels by the time I started kindergarten, but I struggled to learn to tie my shoes. (In fact, I still avoid lace-up shoes to this day.) I took everything people said literally, was socially and physically awkward, and although I was able to make some friends, I was often told by my peers that I was weird. I have always had gastrointestinal issues, and huge, life-altering sensory issues. I could go on and on about the ways in which I was (and am) different, and in which I have struggled, but will save all that for future posts.

I’m an avid reader, and in the ’90s, I came across a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, and identified with almost everything it said, thinking it finally offered a partial explanation for what’s “wrong” with me, even though it didn’t seem to explain everything. Then in the 2000s, I read a number of books on introversion, again relating, but feeling that there were pieces missing. In 2011, I read Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World. It seemed to overlap somewhat with The Highly Sensitive Person, but described the severity of my sensory issues with more accuracy. I thought, so that’s it. I’m sensory defensive.

I also read somewhere, perhaps it was in the book itself or somewhere else, that people with autism experience sensory issues like those who are sensory defensive. But while people with autism have sensory issues, not everyone with sensory issues has autism. Wondering if autism was the final piece of the puzzle, I started reading a bit about it, but as soon as I read that people with autism lack empathy, I knew that could not possibly fit. I am extremely empathetic, to almost a crippling degree. Still, every time I came across any article about autism, I felt a certain affinity with the people I was reading about, and remained intrigued by the subject.

At one point, I started getting counseling to try to deal with the sensory overload and meltdowns I have always experienced in the workplace (when I’ve actually been in the workplace, that is, but that’s a topic for another post), and I once casually mentioned to my counselor, “I wonder if I might have Asperger’s Syndrome.” He laughed and replied, “No, I know a guy with Asperger’s Syndrome and you are nothing like him.” So I pushed the idea aside again.

Then a few months ago, a long-time friend, someone I have always felt an affinity with, told me that she had been diagnosed with autism. We started talking about it, or more accurately, messaging back and forth about it, as we both communicate better in writing than speaking. She explained to me that it was no longer believed that people with autism lack empathy, and also that Asperger’s Syndrome often manifests differently in females than in males. She suggested I read the book Aspergirls, which I did. That’s when all the missing pieces fell into place. I am 99% sure that I have high-functioning autism, or what was formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. I showed the book’s list of female Asperger’s traits to my parents. They both agreed that it fit me completely and that it explained many of my lifelong traits, much of my behavior as a child, and my continuing struggles as an adult.

I don’t know if I will seek an official diagnosis. I don’t like talking to doctors and find that I am usually misunderstood. I don’t know if I have the emotional energy to pursue this. I’m not sure if it would even do me any good if I did.

So, I am self-diagnosed for the time being.

My friend has started a blog about her life and experiences, and I find myself relating to much of what she writes. It has inspired me to start my own blog. I think I will enjoy having this outlet for expression.

I don’t know if anyone will read it. I don’t know if I care if anyone reads it or not. I can’t promise to never use bad words (unlike my friend, I kind of like many so-called bad words — except blasphemies — and sometimes find them to be helpful intensifiers, or at the very least hilariously funny) or to never express an offensive opinion. I can’t argue or debate though; I am bad at it and it stresses me out to the point of illness, so whatever I’m putting out there will likely remain undefended if challenged. But here goes, for better or for worse. If you’re reading this, welcome. If you comment, please be gentle. Making myself this vulnerable is a little scary.