Attending events and social gatherings is difficult for me. Which makes even the thought of the holiday season overwhelming. I feel the joy that the holidays bring, being with loved ones and being thankful, and I want to participate as much as possible. I want to celebrate.
But I have to be careful.
Because of SPD, I need to pace myself. I can’t attend everything, and I need to be aware of what will happen to me after I do attend.
I recently went to a celebratory dinner at a restaurant. I thought I was prepared. I looked at the menu online beforehand to see what I could eat. I looked forward to seeing people. I expected to walk in to see a few tables and familiar faces.
But when I got there, everything was different than what I expected. It was more than a dinner. More than a celebration, even. It was an event. Complete with a preset menu and assigned seating. Music and entertainment.
The place was buzzing with people. Many whom I didn’t know. There were flashing lights all around. Microphones and speakers to amplify every sound. Conversations and smells and unexpected movements.
During the event, I pushed through, trying to be present, ignoring my needs, which caused me to enter into a state where I no longer knew how to take care of myself. It’s an all or nothing case sometimes.
What happens to me goes beyond overstimulating my senses. But it is difficult to describe. It is difficult to communicate to others why events, especially events where things happen I’m not expecting, are so difficult for me. It’s as if every cell in my body becomes altered by the experience. It changes everything in me.
My ability to process my thoughts decreases, my ability to handle sensory stimuli lessens, my energy-level drops, my appetite changes.
And whether it’s because of my will to survive in the outside world or my stubbornness to accept my own limitations, I continue going to events and to social gatherings.
And then I pay for it for days after.
The day after the event, I was still on a high from it--buzzing with stimuli--and I kept it going, feeding the beast. I went to brunch and ate what I shouldn’t. I consumed too much caffeine. I socialized. I exerted more physical and mental energy than I had. I kept myself overstimulated.
Why, I don’t know.
It wasn’t a conscious effort, but what felt like a natural one.
Two days after the event, it all caught up to me.
I couldn’t eat. I found it difficult to think, which made it difficult to work and to communicate with others. I felt weak and had low physical energy, but I knew I needed to exercise, so I pushed myself to go to the gym.
I barely made it through the overstimulation there, but for some reason, I thought I could go to the store. Something I have a difficult time doing even on a good day.
While at the store, I heard every sound and saw every light. A man was whistling near me, so I moved in one direction. A light was blinking, so I moved in another. I could hear the conversations of everyone around me even with my earplugs in.
It was as if the sensory stimuli was attacking me from all angles. An ambush.
I finally left when I couldn’t communicate with the saleswoman who was trying to help me. Once in the car, I had a meltdown--sobbing and rubbing my head, trying to be aware enough not to hit it--and I had to frantically leave the parking lot because a nearby truck was making a beeping sound that was causing me to feel even more confused and disoriented. Internally rattling. Insane.
When I got home, I couldn’t process my thoughts well enough to cook dinner, so my husband did, but he cooked foods with strong smells, which overwhelmed me so much I had to leave the room and couldn’t eat.
After, even though I was exhausted, it took me hours to calm down. I drank chamomile tea and did yoga. I took melatonin. When I went to bed, though I was completely exhausted, my husband’s snoring kept stimulating me awake to the point where I woke him up three times so he would stop snoring long enough for me to fall asleep. He eventually went downstairs because he knows the drill. And I slept for 10 hours.
Three days after the event, I finally saw clearly how overstimulated I became because of the event, and knew I should have been more cognizant of what was happening to me while I was there. Perhaps it would have saved me from dealing with my symptoms for days after. But perhaps not.
So as much as I look forward to the holidays, I have to pace myself. I have to limit attending events and social gatherings based on what I can handle. So that everyone around me, and myself, can have a very Merry Christmas.