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What It's Like Being a Teen With Sensory Processing Disorder

At 16 years old, I find I’m an independent person. I don’t maybe have friends, but I’m not rude. I’m quite a kind person — I just don’t like being around many people at once.

I have sensory processing disorder (SPD) for starters, and often little things like sitting in my kitchen can cause me to have extreme panicky feelings. I find sitting anywhere besides my room is difficult because the material and fabric hurts my skin. My skin is very sensitive to touch. Sitting in chairs can cause me immense pain, and accidentally bumping into things can leave me sobbing on the floor, waiting for the pain to subside.

I can’t go to food courts, for the smell is too much for me to handle and the noise is so overwhelming. I do not like going to grocery stores. I can hear and sense the constant beeps and sharp noises from carts and materials rustling against each other and voices all around me. Even going to the mall or any group setting is a challenge.

Body odor, coffee, perfume, pungent foods, sweet things and spicy things make me cringe and evacuate the situation. Sharp noises, dishes hitting each other, toilets flushing, the television, multiple conversations happening at once, constant repeating sounds and deep rumbles make me uncomfortable and scared.

Sometimes, I feel like I have to rip the clothing I’m wearing off my body when I lay down at night. My shirt can feel like it is “choking” me or my pants are rubbing my skin the wrong way. Certain blankets scratch and itch my skin, making me freak out in tantrums from the way it feels against me. It gets to the point that I cannot relax. I can’t eat specific things because the texture bothers me and makes me convulse. I also cannot eat food that is not a certain flavor I’m used to.

After all of my normal daily tasks, I finally explode with my anger, rage and pent up aggression from being so tired of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and in my own body. Everything is a challenge with SPD, and everything is a constant battle against your own senses and feelings. I feel like I cannot fully live my life because I’m always afraid of what could happen, how I might react to certain noises, smells or feelings.

I avoid everyday situations and feel like I’m not fully experiencing my life because I experience things too much. I feel everything to an extent where it is debilitating on my needs and daily productivity. Exposure therapy is the only thing that has helped me in my journey through dealing with SPD. With my accompanied generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depressive disorder, panic disorder, derealization disorder, and bipolar II disorder, SPD can make all of these three times as worse than they already are.

It makes me shut me down, stay in my room, not take showers for days upon days, lose all sense of hygiene, stay hidden inside my room and regret I didn’t do more with the little time I have.

The little time I have relief, I still feel constant fear. I am a prisoner to my own problems, but I will not let them control how I deal with them. I force myself into uncomfortable situations on a daily basis to fight back against my senses and emotions. I constantly stride to learn and take power of my problems, letting myself know I am more than a name, a statistic or even just a hormonal teenager. I am me, and I’m unique and can deal with anything life throws at me.

Gaining knowledge of how to help, distract and accept myself is the only way I have made progress. That was the first step for me years ago, when I had my first bad episode. I consider learning about these illnesses and how to cope with them to be life lessons. They help you understand yourself better, and they are self-empowering.

Distractions are not always the key to moving forward. We need to learn to accept our emotions and senses before we push them away. We need to punch our problems in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.”

If you are struggling with similar issues, know this: You are strong, courageous and powerful. You are an unstoppable wildfire of amazing personality, worth and attitude that makes you a very special person. Always fight to change, no matter what that might look like to you. We all have little accomplishments we can hold onto, whether it be brushing your teeth for the first time in a week, getting out of bed to go to the kitchen for even a few minutes or talking to a friend or loved one. These accomplishments are there to remind us we are trying and we can do it.