Uptight & Off Center by Sharon Heller, PhD

When your sensory experiences are out of whack, every waking moment feels like you’re engaged in fighting a war.  The word “normal” lacks any meaning whatsoever.  You live in a constant, swirling vortex of overload where even the tiniest little thing — the sound of a nearby cell phone, a faint but peculiar odor, a slight but sudden breeze on the back of your neck — can send you spiraling out of control.  Magnify this by the speed of life where everything is louder, brighter, and competing for your attention: engines, loud music, people who are constantly assaulting you as effectively as if beating the very life out of you, but they have no idea.  Worse yet, if you say anything, they don’t care.  It’s simply how they live, what makes them feel good.  You stay constantly tuned in to the fight or flight mechanisms.  It wears on your ability to sleep, which in turn affects your ability to heal, to reason, to simply function.  It will kill you as surely as a lack of food and water.  The choice quickly becomes whether you become a victim or a survivor.  Then it gets to the point where mere survival isn’t enough.  It deprives you of anything resembling a social life.  To the world at large, you’re a loose cannon.  To you, everyone else is simply an inconsiderate jerk.  It makes you irritable, violent, and in worst case scenarios, suicidal or even homicidal.

Everything the world is telling you is that it’s your fault.  After all, the only common denominator is you.  You lack self control.  You lack emotional maturity.  Society will move on just fine without you, and the world has no place for you in it.  Life itself is absolute hell.  But it’s your hell.  You burn in it.  Live in that long enough, “fight or flight” simply becomes “fight” as you become dead to anything resembling compassion.  Nobody else has any, why should you?  Reason is out the window.  You simply want the hell to stop, and heaven help the offender.

At the time of this review, I am 43 years old, and this is how I’ve lived the majority of my life, swinging back and forth on the pendulum between anger and depression.  The only metric I understood was that I am hypersensitive to sound to the point where I regularly suffer insomnia, migraines, vertigo, and anxiety attacks.  My other senses are similarly out of whack, but nothing like the never-ending devastation of sonic torture.  I was always told I was imagining things, that it was all in my head.  I knew better and reacted violently to anyone who made such claims.  Everything in life was constantly turned up to 11.  Peace and quiet became impossible ideals, forever out of reach.  Isolation becomes the next best thing.  Some become reliant on drugs.  I experimented with brainwave-altering sound frequencies.  Some become self-destructive.  I put myself in medieval armor and learned how to swordfight.  Whatever it takes short of compromising my overdeveloped sense of chivalry and honor, I’ve probably tried it as a means to regain some sense of focus and control.  Sometimes it even worked in the short term.  I could win a battle, but the war continued.  My solutions have kept me alive thus far, but to what end?  To suffer more of the same?  No.  There had to be a better way.

Recently I became aware of something called Sensory Processing Disorder.  It’s a form of autism, often misdiagnosed.  It’s a relatively new understanding that’s gaining traction in the medical community, something that doctors and scientists are learning so as to help children to cope.  The idea is that by developing coping mechanisms at an early age, these children can live productive lives, never needing to know the horrors that the insignificances of life can bring.

But what of the adults left behind?  Most doctors won’t even look at adults, and most adults will never admit anything’s wrong in the first place.  That’s simply the hand life dealt.  Got lemons, make lemonade.  I’m programmed to fight against everything, including learned helplessness, so once I learned of SPD, that’s what led me to find this book.  Knowledge is power; power is leverage.  Leverage wins wars.

SPD is an impossibly complex disorder that can and will effect people in any combination of sensory assaults from the lights simply being too bright to having no sense of balance and beyond.  It’s different for everyone.  As such, this book is broken into two parts.  The first half is simply describing how different sensory issues — either too much or too little — can affect a person, separately or in combination with other sensory issues.  That means that in reading this book, the reader will eventually come to a  point of recognition, understanding (perhaps for the first time ever) that this is more common than anyone might like to admit.  We are not alone, and someone out there gets it.  That in itself is a relief unlike anything you can imagine.  The second half deals with exercises and therapies — sensory diets — that can be utilized to help “normalize” a person on some level.  Trust me when I say anything is an improvement.  To have an entire list of things to try is beyond welcome.  To have it explained how and why these things work… even better.  The rest is up to me, but I’ve made it this far without killing myself or others, so this seems highly doable.  Possibility breeds hope, something that has been in very short supply.

In short, this book has become the key to saving my life and my sanity.  You can’t put a price tag on that.  Except that they did, and it’s rather affordable.  Who knew?

5 stars

2 thoughts on “Uptight & Off Center by Sharon Heller, PhD

  1. I don’t have the sensitivity that you have, but I understand the issue of sounds triggering fight or flight. Certain specific sounds trigger responses in me out of proportion to all reason. I can’t be in the same room as my spouse if they’re eating soup or cereal… and sometimes even regular foods the mouth noises cause such a visceral reaction that my only option (besides screaming, violence, or uncontrollable sobbing) is to leave the room or go even further. It’s an uncomfortable and baffling experience, especially since there’s the logical knowledge that the emotional reaction is so beyond reason.

    Best of luck in going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

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