Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fashion for the tactile-defensive woman

I don't know if anyone's actually interested in yet another post about my sensory issues.  I guess I feel the need to get this stuff out there, because there seems to be a lot more awareness of SPD and related issues among kids, but not so much said about adults with the same problems.  Naturally adults are more self-aware and able to handle sensory issues themselves, so it doesn't need to be talked about, but I often think that my own experience with them makes it easier to understand my kids' sensory needs.

So let's talk about fashion!

I've complained before that I wear very boring clothes, and that I never can seem to find, afford, or be brave enough to wear the kinds of clothes I admire on other people.  For instance, I love flowy blouses, but I never bought any.  Finally someone gave me some, and I don't wear them.  I like them, sometimes they get put on briefly for a very special occasion, but I always find some reason why I don't want to wear them.  The same goes for everything else I like -- I talk myself out of buying it, or I can't find it, or I can't afford it, or even once I own it, it just sits in the closet.

But recently I had the opportunity to shop for myself without any pressure.  John set aside some money for me to spend on some new clothes, now that I'm at last at a shape and size I can expect to keep for awhile.  I went by myself, because I know that when I go with others, they often talk me into buying things that I don't wind up wearing.  And I made a point not to be limited to the women's section -- men's clothes are often better quality.  So I should have been able to find what I wanted.  I was in Target, where I often admire the clothes on display.

Sure enough, I saw lots of things that, initially, I liked.  But I noticed that I could not even consider buying something until I had touched it.  And most everything I liked -- the filmy, flowy stuff -- felt terrible.  All rayon and polyester.  I realized that if I bought that stuff, I'd never wear it; it was too uncomfortable.  Occasionally I have an item of clothing that is soft enough to wear despite being synthetic, but even then it usually gives me trouble: either static (ugh, fabric clinging to me! NO) or trapping smells (yuck).

I went through that whole doggone Target feeling like the princess and the pea.  Nothing was soft enough except the t-shirts.  I passed up many gorgeous blouses, but I did walk out with some nicer t-shirts in beautiful colors.  I couldn't even make a real effort to buy pants.  There was one pair that was finally soft enough ... and then I realized I was in Sleepwear.  Sigh.

Later I tried a little online shopping, but it's really hard for me to get up the nerve to buy something when I can't touch it first.  Even cotton isn't always soft, and some things just aren't available in cotton.  I did pick out a dress in a linen/rayon blend, because it was just so pretty, and I'd be wearing a slip under it anyway so hopefully if it's rough, I won't feel it too much.

This is it -- though, maddeningly, it's on sale now for way less.  Ugh.

Here's what I like to wear: knit shirts, yoga pants, well-broken-in low-rise jeans, knee-length cotton-jersey skirts, flat shoes, smooth sweatshirts, flannel.

Here's what I don't like to wear: synthetic fabrics, nappy fabrics (velvet, suede, chenille), cable sweaters, anything tight (especially in the arms), anything that touches my neck, tailored or structured clothes, stiff clothes, sweatpants that are fuzzy inside, wool, anything bulky or voluminous, hats, scarves, coats, most boots, heels, gloves, nylons.  Some of these things I used to wear, and probably will wear again when I have a less stressful life (I used to live in a massive floor-length black circle skirt and a variety of chenille sweaters), but when I'm already kind of maxed out, I simply can't.  I try sometimes for special events.  Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I end up spending half an hour trying things on before I get fed up, rip it all off, and go in jeans, a knit shirt, and a hoodie.  I used to feel bad for this -- like I'm failing at something if I can't wear "nice clothes" -- but honestly, I'm lucky not to have to dress a certain way for work, and if anyone has ever judged me for dressing down, they never told me about it.

I usually compensate, given the choice, by wearing brilliant colors that make me happy.  The new shirts I got are coral, red, royal blue, and pine green.  They make me feel "dressed up" even though I'm still just in jeans.  I still wish people made more gorgeous clothes in 100% pima cotton though!

It's taken me a long time to figure this stuff out.  Something that I've been putting together lately is that a kid with sensory problems does not necessarily know his senses are the problem.  I remember so many times as a kid when I found a certain scenario uncomfortable or scary, I wasn't thinking "this room is too loud" or "people are jostling me too much."  I just felt horrible and even sick.  Church was a common place where I would have tense or panicky feelings.  Our usual parish was okay, but others sometimes weren't, and I didn't put together that it was because the music was too loud and the pews too crowded.  I knew there were some textures I hated -- velvet, for instance, gives me goosebumps if I even think about watching someone else touch it -- but it didn't always occur to me to mention "I hate this dress because of how it feels."  I just wore it and felt cranky all day.

When I was in boarding school, I had an outfit forced on me that was just. so. terrible.  It was a dark green jumper and a dark-green-and-white horizontally-striped knit shirt.  Everything about this outfit was horrible: the shirt was very tight in the sleeves, which were three-quarter length so that they hurt my elbows when I bent my arms and collected sweat at the armpits.  The jumper was made of a suede-feeling material that made my skin crawl if I happened to brush against the outside of it.  It had big buttons down the front, which ended short of the calf-length hem, so that every step I took the loose sides would flap against my legs, making my nylons twist around my legs.  Every moment in that outfit was a torment.

And it was pretty ugly, too.

I knew that my clothes were uncomfortable -- not just that outfit, but basically all of them -- but it didn't connect with me till much later that maybe this had something to do with how claustrophobic I became at that time.  I got upset when people would jostle me, or stand too close, or loom over me.  I guess it was just too much stimulus.

And that, I think, is something to remember when dealing with autistic and SPD kids.  They don't necessarily know that they're overstimulated.  They just know that they don't feel good, and that certain things feel better or worse.  Marko does not ever say his clothes are uncomfortable, but he massively resists ever changing them.  He usually has some kind of explanation for it ("I have to wear red for Gryffindor!") but if I provide a different red shirt, that's still no good.  I suspect he's used to the clothes he's been wearing awhile, and if he puts on new clothes, he'll have to get used to them all over again. Who knows?  He also hates having his nails cut, claiming that it hurts even though I never cut them that close.  But I understand totally, because I too hate cutting my nails -- because of the noise it makes, and because my fingertips feel oversensitive for a day or so after I do.

I think the real trick, when it comes to shopping for Marko, is to bring him along and let him see and feel the clothes before we buy anything.  I don't know what it is that makes him love or hate a garment, but I do know it sucks to buy him something and have it wadded up in the drawer because he suddenly "hates trains" or "doesn't like green" or whatever is the explanation du jour.  It doesn't always work -- he swore up and down he'd start wearing underpants if I bought him the Star Wars ones, but he only did it once before abandoning them in the drawer and making a huge fuss if I try to get him to wear them.  So it's back to commando, and honestly, if he's more comfortable without underpants, I can't really see why he should wear them.

Here's the thing: I can wear things that make me uncomfortable.  But it's going to distract and annoy me all day if I do.  So I don't push Marko too much about clothes, knowing that even if I succeed, it might cost me some of Marko's good temper throughout the rest of the day.  Isn't the best way to set him up for success allowing him to be comfortable?  So I have started requiring clean clothes each day (something he resists) but I always make sure one of his top favorite outfits is available.  Unsurprisingly, he gravitates toward knit shirts and sweatpants.  Who wouldn't?

Facebook sometimes shows me ads for various "sensory clothes" -- tight tank tops, vests that squeeze you, even a whole cocoon that covers your whole body -- but that stuff actually sounds awful to me.  Perhaps that's for sensory-seeking kids -- not everyone with sensory issues wants less stimulus, like I do.  Then again, perhaps it's the same idea as white noise -- drown out the unwanted noise with a bigger noise which is at least consistent.  Still, white noise is still noise, and I still don't find that adding more noise to any situation makes it better for me.  But I wonder sometimes, if there is some kind of stimulus out there that would help when I'm overwhelmed.  Right now I just do exercises, and it helps somewhat.

But the best solution for now, when I'm constantly being touched and jostled and pulled on by kids, is to wear the very most comfortable clothes I can find.


The Sojourner said...

I think you and I correspond in about 90% of our clothing choices. Why is everything not 100% cotton?

The Sojourner said...

One thing I do like, counterintuitively, is to get backrubs when I am feeling overstimulated. Something about having the firm, even pressure in a non-ticklish part of my body helps counteract all the...static...of being overstimulated.

(For me, being touched too much feels kind of like when you have a radio whose reception is cutting in and out. Just awful discordance.)

The Sojourner said...

J loves getting bear hugs or getting rolled up in a sleeping bag like sushi filling, but he hates tight clothes too. (Or any clothes, let's be real.) I suppose some people must like those, though, or there would be no market.

Sheila said...

I hate backrubs when I'm overstimulated. Big hugs are good though. I'm still looking for that magic, perfect thing that will undo an afternoon full of noise and touching -- like this one. I'm in yoga pants and a cotton shirt but my shoulders are still up around my ears because of how loud the kids are being and how many hours Jackie fought her nap. (About five hours, with brief in-arms dozes.) Sometimes pushups help a little. But what I really want to try is a pull-up bar. I'm convinced that hanging by my arms would make me feel a lot better. I'm not sure why, it just sounds like it would be great.

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