Sensory Sensitivity

Panda Eyes

I was forever getting sunburnt as a child. I despised the feeling of sunscreen on my skin, and even worse, a favourite in the sweltering summers of the antipodes, zinc on my face. I would cry and struggle and refuse to wear it. I’d rather not go to the beach than have to put on sunscreen (and honestly, the beach is a terrible place anyway. Sand!) I also hated having my face painted. The feeling was claustrophobic, and I would scratch and itch at my skin until I rubbed it all off.

As a teenager, the adult manifestation of facepaint was not much better. When my teenage friends were experimenting with makeup, foundation was making my face itch, mascara was making my eyes sting, and lipstick was making my lips dry out. I could never understand how people could wear eyeliner and eyeshadow without it ending up halfway down their face within the hour (I’m such a panda eyes). Maybe this was also why I never had a skincare routine – I hated the feeling of things on my face, and my skin was sensitive to texture and sensation.

Last year I looked in the mirror and realised I was getting these fine wrinkles from having dry skin. I had a panic and then went overboard (as usual) buying products and lotions to finally have a “proper” skincare routine. I spent a ridiculous amount of money, because from the cleanse/tone/moisturise ritual of my teens there is now serums and targeted creams and etc. I did have to become accustomed to the feeling of having something foreign on my skin, but as I now had a purpose for it I adapted, and I am glad I persevered. My skin looks so much better now, and since, as an adult, I still can’t stand foundation or heavy makeup, I don’t have the option of covering up blemishes, having my skin look halfway decent au naturel is wonderful.

Now that I have been diagnosed with autism, my freak-outs over things on my skin make so much sense. I was taking my dog for a long walk at the beginning of summer, and put on communal sunscreen. It was greasy and awful but I tolerated it for the length of the walk because I knew it was necessary, and then showered as soon as I got home and scrubbed it off. I went to the pharmacy to purchase a less-greasy one. Luckily there were testers, because ones that guaranteed to be non-greasy made my skin crawl. Yesterday I finally had the chance to use the ones I bought, a body lotion and a lighter, face lotion. While it wasn’t pleasant putting it on, I didn’t want to rub it all off straightaway, and even after I got out of the sun I didn’t have the urge to shower immediately. I wonder if getting into a skincare habit has assisted with that – putting on lotions and moisturisers twice a day has helped desensitise me a little. I still can’t do heavy lotion, but the lighter one is tolerable where once it wouldn’t have been.

I wonder if some form of desensitisation would help with other sensory issues I have. Certain colours hurt my eyes, as do intensities and shades of light. I get overwhelmed by too much noise, or loudness of noise. But even thinking about exposing myself to things that overwhelming is upsetting, leaving me at a loss for where to start. My psychologist keeps telling me I should practice mindfulness, and while I acknowledge that I really should trying is horrific. I’ve tried doing it during daily activities, but I can’t split my attention enough to do the paradoxical thing of focusing on mindfulness. (cue a half-hour rabbithole journey into googling adult autism and mindfulness.) I also find it itchingly unbearable to sit for ten minutes and focus on my thoughts or breath.

I feel like this post has the potential to become a meandering journey of blather. I started this this morning and have only just come back to it after a couple of hours of sleeping and not doing much. I’m incredibly low-energy this weekend after a stressful week at work, among other things. It’s Sunday, which is supposed to be my chore day, but I’ve spent much of today lying on my rug thinking “I should really get up and do something.” Dishes don’t get washed and beds don’t get changed by themselves, and sometimes (most of the time) it’s really quite irritating being a grown-up who is expected to take care of yourself. Particularly when disability exhaustion precludes you from doing so.


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