Mommy woes “dump” part 2: parenting with sensory issues

Sensory over-responsiveness checklist for adults

The one article I could find on treating non-spectrum adults with sensory issues

I can’t find any information on parenting when YOU have sensory issues, so here’s mine:

My earliest memory of rejection became what would be referred to in Inside Out as a “core memory” that shapes who you are. This “ball” was definitely touched by sadness.

I’m a very touchy-feely, physically affectionate person.  Growing up, I loved to warm up my moms hands by rubbing them between mine.  I also loved to play with her hair.  One time (that I remember) when I was maybe around 5 years old, I was trying to play with her hair when my mom sort of shuddered, pulled away, and told me to stop.  I remember exactly where we were in our den, and I remember feeling profoundly rejected.  Obviously, this is hardly a traumatic event, but I was too young to understand that, so it stuck with me.  I don’t think I tried to play with her hair again after that–and it went only my mental list of things for which I’ll overcompensate when I have my own child.

As an adult, however, I think I recognize that feeling that my mom got that made her reject my affection, because I’ve felt it.   I have tactile sensory issues, and when I get the “wrong” kind of touch, I feel discomfort, disgust, panic, or even rage.  I didn’t really put it together until I started moving away or snapping at my husband when he touched me the wrong way.

(Once I recognized it, I gradually taught myself to tolerate it by talking myself through it, so I’m usually fine).

I didn’t think anything of it for a long time because I think that everyone has some sort of sensory issues, and I didn’t want to come across as if I’m diagnosing myself with anything.  I’m not.  However, I definitely have some tactile defensiveness/over-responsiveness, and it’s a problem because (1) it can be extremely uncomfortable, and (2) I have a child that I hope never feels rejected because of my reaction to her touch.

What are my symptoms?

– I’m only a little bit weird about clothes.  Turtlenecks have never been okay for me, and I can’t have pressure on certain parts of my stomach.  I can wear thongs during the day, but I can’t sleep in them.

– I’m pretty ticklish, and I think people who tickle on purpose are assholes

– Light touch (think running fingers up and down my arms) make me itch.  I will scratch or just apply pressure to make the feeling go away.

– Someone putting their feet on me makes me have to fight the urge to punch a wall.

– Do you know that is the absolute worst?  Being in a car with the windows down.  I can’t stand the feeling of my hair (especially the little, fine hairs that frame my face) whipping me in the face.

– I’m orally defensive.  You absolutely canNOT get a throat culture from me–my tongue, which is apparently made of steel, closes off that shit the minute you come at me.

Generally, I’m okay with a firmer touch.  When I get a massage, I actually want it to hurt.  I love hugs and snuggling, and the only problems that I’ve had with it in the context of sex are my aversion to overly-wet kisses and oral defensiveness (which isn’t a problem with kissing, but it is with fellatio).

However, my kid has been…triggering?….me a lot lately.  Part of it is irritation because if I let her know that she’s hurting me or that I’m uncomfortable, I get “well, it’s not hurting ME,” or “well, I’m comfortable”–in other words, she’s being a normal, egocentric four-year old, but I’m human and it’s annoying.

There are two situations in which I’ve had a problem with this:

(1) She sits on my lap, back to my stomach, and I’m fine.  She starts moving her head (which feels as heavy and hard as a bowling ball) around, and I get extremely uncomfortable/angry.  Sometimes it hurts in the middle of my chest because I’m so bony.  She rolls all the way to the point where she’s basically compressing my nipple, and it REALLY hurts.

(2) She puts her feet on me, and pushes/moves them all over me (usually it’s my arms and legs).

I can’t stand it.  In the first scenario, I let her know that she’s hurting me, put my hand up when she’s about to roll to the point of pain to stop her, and then try my best to deal with her getting angry and freaking out about it.  I tell her that I’m hurting, and I may need to stand up, and she flips out.  Obviously, I’m modeling assertion by getting out of a situation in which I’m being hurt, but I still worry that she’s only able to experience it as rejection.

The second scenario makes me so uncomfortable that I actually feel angry.  I’m so overwhelmed by this that I don’t do anything.  Speaking up (which I’ve done before) will just make it worse because she doesn’t understand, and she’s testing boundaries.  So I just sit there, hate it, and try to figure out how to make it stop without making her feel rejected.  I feel so angry, though, that I’m afraid to even start.  This is the kind of thing that perhaps leads to me crying for no apparent reason once it becomes convenient to do so.  I’m writing about it today because I’m very tired–so it feels even worse than it would on a good day–and she’s being a real stinker.

I know that this sounds completely ridiculous and like another situation of me needing to be the adult, but I hope that anyone reading this will understand that I don’t always know what to do right away.  Sometimes I feel that every other parent but me knows exactly what to do in the moment, but that’s not me. I think about (ruminate, worry) things a lot, and it often takes me a while to figure out how to deal with even everyday parenting issues.

This issue has also become overblown because of my own “stuff.”  I swore would never happen with my kid, and then I realized that it was guaranteed to happen because I have sensory issues, and I’m trying to figure out how to not be made uncomfortable by things that would barely faze a person who doesn’t have this particular quirk…but without my kid feeling like her mommy rejected her.

I think it has also turned into a big “thing” in my mind because she only wants mommy every hour of every day.  It’s usually okay, but sometimes (like today, when I feel like shit and she’s in her 4-year old way, being a bit of a jerk), it’s overwhelming.  Because I’m a coparent, three times a week I have to listen to her cry and scream that she wants mommy as I hand her off to her dad.  I know cognitively that this is just how it is, and she’ll be okay, but this shit fucking wears you down.  Some days  I manage to shut it off and feel as “matter of fact” as I pretend to her to be, but other days, it feels unbearable.

The kinds of touch I described above ALWAYS bother me and feel bad, but the degree to which they’re difficult with varies based on what else is going on physically (how well I feel, and well-rested I am) and emotionally (how I feel, the qualities of my interactions with whoever is touching me).  If that makes my sensory issues not fit a particular category or diagnosis, that’s fine, because I don’t actually think I have a diagnosis other than “moody, delicate flower who’s trying to not be so.”


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