Posted in musings

making accommodations for myself

Every fall and spring the women’s ministry at our church creates a Bible study and hosts a few events for all the women at the church (in addition to the regularly-meeting discipleship small groups). I’ve never attended any of the events before, or been part of the study groups, just because life has been busy, but I have been feeling the need for more structure in my spiritual life to give me direction and motivation, so I went to the first meeting of the year a few weeks ago (leaving Paul to do bedtime with all three kids 😉 )

Large group events like this can be challenging for me for a number of reasons. The first is simply the uncertainty: I had no way of knowing the schedule or plan for the event, nor did I know if anyone I knew well would be attending. The second is the number of people and the accompanying audio and visual (and potentially olfactory) stimulation. I often have significant anxiety or discomfort in church every Sunday because of this factor, and there was no reason to expect it to be different at this event. A third reason is my desire to appear normal and fit in; I really don’t like attention and so I somehow needed to find a way to handle any stress without looking like I was stressed (this is called masking).

Fortunately, as a 29 year-old, I’ve developed a few strategies for coping with these challenges.

To deal with my uncertainty, I thought back to other group events I’ve been to in the past and created a potential outline for the night: mingling, some talking from the front, maybe some music, probably some discussion questions. Other than knowing that mingling always comes first, I figured the schedule would be some modular arrangement of those four activity types, and I would just need to be prepared for all of them. I put my smile on, focused on looking at least near people’s faces when conversing, and thought of some basic questions to bring up that no one would be offended by (like asking about their previous experiences with the women’s ministry at our church – a particularly good icebreaker for the kickoff event for a new semester).

For coping with sensory overload (during both mingling and music) and for staying focused during the presentations from the front, I brought my fidget cube and a pen and paper. I am not really a note-taker, but writing is a fairly effective stim when listening to a speaker; the fidget cube is perfect during discussion and small talk as it is small and discreet, and can even be used during music. My goal for the night was not to pick my skin at all, and thanks to near-constant use of my alternate stims I mostly succeeded! I definitely flapped a lot in the car on my way home to shake off the tense/overloaded feeling though 🙂

[Flapping connects back to the masking issue: hand-flapping has never been a major stim for me because it is just such a big obvious motion and I feel extremely anxious and self-conscious if I do it anywhere anyone can see me. Skin-picking is more typically more subtle (unless I start bleeding…), as is rubbing my fingers together back and forth, and the fidget cube and writing are almost normal. But as I’ve been learning more about the purpose of stimming, which is to help the body cope with sensory processing difficulties, I’ve been trying to give my body opportunities to stim naturally without instantly shutting it down because of my social anxiety. Right now that looks like stepping out of an overwhelming environment and letting my body work through the overload before going back or moving on to something else, and finding a more private space where I can relax in the way that works most efficiently for me. Bluntly, I’ll leave church a few minutes early (like I always have, to pick up the kids), and instead of just walking to their classrooms I’ll let myself flap on the way; it only takes a minute or so and it decreases my inner tension so much.

Also I dislike the word “flap” but that’s what the action is usually called so it’s not really up to me to rename it…]

Anyway, the event was overall a success! Was it exhausting? Yes, of course – but it was also spiritually encouraging. I got to be with other women who love God, talking about Him, reading His word, singing songs of praise and worship to Him, and I even got to have a long-ish chat (far away from the realm of small talk) at the end of the night with an incredible woman who I deeply respect for a number of reasons, leaving me better equipped to pray for her and for family.

While my definition of a challenge may be very different than yours, I think it is true for everyone that it is sometimes very worthwhile to attempt challenging things – and that it is always worthwhile to give yourself the compassion, understanding, and acceptance needed to adequately prepare for and evaluate yourself during those challenging things. These were some of the ways I accepted and made accommodations for my own struggles (instead of telling myself I should just fight through them and be normal) – what are some of your strategies for doing so?

Posted in family life

his hands were dancing

Hands are useful communicators.

Sometimes we use them deliberately, pointing at an object of interest or gesturing to show how large or small an item is.

Other times they are less intentional – for example, someone may scratch their head or rub their chin while thinking, subtly communicating to others that now is not a good time to interrupt them, or that the pause in the conversation doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention!

Sometimes we are able to communicate emotions or needs with our hands faster than we are able to share them verbally.

My husband and my mom will both notice when my hands drift to my arms and start picking (a sign of escalating tension or anxiety, typically), and try to address whatever is going on; it would be very difficult for me to break into the flow of the conversation to bring up my anxiety until I was much closer to a meltdown.

Another good example of this is from Rondel the other afternoon, when he saw a bee near Aubade in the kiddie pool and started flapping his hands frantically until I came over and asked what was wrong; he told me later that his hands were telling me that he needed me. The worry of the moment made it difficult for him to access the relevant words, but his hands were able to alert me that something was going on.

Probably my favorite expression of hand communication, however, comes from a moment when Rondel’s hands were demonstrating a thrill of joy.

We were stopped at a red light waiting to turn left out of our neighborhood, and the boys asked me why we weren’t moving. “We’re waiting for the light to turn green,’ I explained, and showed them where to watch for the green light. When it finally turned green, Rondel’s hands went crazy waving around – and a minute later, when he had calmed down, he told me (referring to himself as “you”) that “Your hands were dancing because you were so excited that the light turned green!”

His hands were dancing.

I can’t really think of a more beautiful way to express the unadulterated, uninhibited demonstration of joy and excitement that is Rondel’s happy hand flapping. His hands were communicating to me the rush of pleasure that he was feeling, allowing me to share in it more deeply than a verbal declaration would have accomplished.