SPD and Tactile Defensiveness: Never Fully Dressed with a Smile
I recently bought a new pair of slippers because the pair I had been wearing were falling apart so badly that it became difficult to walk in them. I came home, put my new slippers on, cut the tags off and threw my old slippers into the garbage. Something I never do. Usually, it takes me days, sometimes even weeks, to adjust to something new to wear. It sits in my closet until one day, I feel prepared to give it a go. And I should have known better than to throw out my old slippers. Because I needed more time to decide if wearing the new ones was something I could handle.
In my new slippers, the inside lining on the bottom of the left foot is shorter than the one on the right, causing my toes to slightly fall over the edge in my left slipper, but not in my right. If this was happening in both slippers, they would at least be the same, but having it happen in one but not the other causes me to feel off balance. Uncentered. Teetering.
I had to take my new slippers off because the imbalance and the sensation of my toes going over the edge was about to send me over the edge. It was where all my concentration was going, and I could feel the panic rise up in me. This also meant that unless I wanted my feet to be cold all day, I had to dig my old slippers out of the garbage.
I have struggled being dressed, and staying dressed, since birth. If it were up to me, I’d walk around naked all day. Or wrapped in a sensationless fabric. Senseless.
When I was a child, my parents used to have a hell of a time getting me dressed in the morning. When my senses are the most heightened. The most raw.
With each piece of clothing my mom would try on me, I would explode into a fit so frenzied that, had the neighbors not known us, they would have thought someone was tearing my limbs off each morning. The screams were that deep. That invasive. And so was the clothing. It took both my parents pinning me down (gently) to get my clothes on.
Fabrics can feel like sandpaper on my sensitive skin. Like needles. Or worse. Like they are permeating through my skin and reaching my inner core. Making me feel like I'm trapped in my own skin and need to get out. Scratching and clawing until I’m free. Not something the parent of any 5-year-old would expect, but something that happened to me every morning.
My mom would buy new clothes, beg, plead, bribe me to wear them. But each morning without fail, I would rip them off. Scream and thrash. As if demons were escaping me. An exorcism.
She even started a rewards system once (what we called the Star Chart) where if I wore my clothes without ripping them off and having a meltdown, I would get a star for the day. If I got stars for the entire week, I would get a prize. It may have worked well enough to get me dressed, but once I had to put on my binding winter coat, it all came undone. I'd have a meltdown in the car on the way to school and rip my coat off. And possibly some clothes.
When rewards didn’t work, my parents had the idea of dressing me in my clothes the night before. To save themselves my meltdown in the morning and to avoid having their daughter walk into kindergarten every day with swollen, puffy eyes. So after my bath the night before, instead of getting into my footie pajamas, I’d get into my clothes for the next day. That seemed to do the trick. Unless the clothes were new; then the cycle would start over again.
When my mom found something I would wear, she would buy it in every color and pattern the store had. Loose-fitting, cotton-based clothing always won. And it still does.
Having a difficult time wearing clothing is something I continue to experience as an adult. I wear mainly cotton leggings and cotton-based shirts and dresses. I love sweaters in the winter, but sometimes I cannot stand them. Unless they're 100 percent cotton. And if I venture to buy something different on a good day, I typically find out on a bad day that I cannot handle the fit or the fabric. It itches and tears at my skin. Leaves hives and scratches. Like my skin is rejecting it, spitting it out.
Even as an adult, I still have to think about my clothes the night before, so I have enough time to process what I will spend the next day wearing. I also need to walk around my house in what I intend to wear prior to leaving, so if it isn’t working, if it will break my concentration throughout the day, I can change before I leave.
I basically wear a version of the same thing every day. And when I find something I can stand wearing, just like my mom used to do, I buy it in bulk, which also saves me from having to think too much about what I can wear. Or should I say, what I can bear.