October 10th was #worldmentalhealthday and I thought I would repost the drawing I did for it last year. I’ve been seeing lots of Instagram posts today that are so genuine and honest, people explaining the struggles of living with mental health issues.
l did this drawing last year to explain how mental health affects sensory people (and how the two can become quite intertwined to the extent that it’s hard to tell what’s responsible for what feeling, thought, etc). I’ve explained before that my mental health is confusing to me because my issues can randomly intensify and l also struggle with episodes of depression which can be really debilitating. Obviously everyone’s mental health is very different but I do think it’s important to be supportive to each other both online and in the real world.
I do think it’s great that self care is becoming more a ‘thing’ now and it really is important in order to keep functioning in life. I find that my mental health mixed with my sensory issues (and now knowing I’m autistic) is always tough to deal with but having a community of neurodiverse and like minded people here on Instagram has really helped me to understand not only myself but to understand how others cope in the big wide world. (Doodle is my own view of mental health and sensory issues and I totally understand that not everyone may agree / relate to what I’ve said and drawn as we all experience things very differently.)
Hello! Here is drawing number six (part of a series on our 8 senses, scroll back in my feed to see my previous drawings!) ✏️ which is all about Interoception which is a lesser known sense that actually helps you understand and fell what’s going on inside your body (think of it as an inner sense)…
A sensory diet is important! It’s a way of self regulating (like using fidget and stim toys) and usually involves physical activities like rolling on a yoga ball, having time on a swing or trampoline, heavy work activities like using weights or lifting and carrying things. The idea is a sensory diet helps you to become more grounded as you are getting the regular input that your body needs. As a result you may feel calmer and more in control of your behaviour and mood. I’ve definitely seen the benefits of having a sensory diet (for example I use a therapressure brush to do body brushing which has helped me to desensitise my limbs to touch).
I never feel full…like my stomach and brain just doesn’t have that sense wired in..it’s really odd and can be annoying (comment down below with a hands-up emoji to join the club) I experience this even more in restaurants, due to the busy, noisy environment I literally cannot connect to what my stomach is feeling because I am filtering so much other information.
Visual cues – these can be super helpful, especially to remind ourselves to do daily tasks like personal hygiene, to drink and eat enough and what to expect during the day. I know a lot of people use social stories (google the term for more info, they were developed by Carol Gray in 1991) as a tool to help with self care skills, social skills, changes in routine, etc. You can make Velcro versions so you can easily change out what your day looks like.
Hypersensitivity to pain…if you’re a sensory being you may well be hypersensitive (over-sensitive) to pain…I know I am!! I am very tuned in to pain and when something hurts it REALLY HURTS even if it’s something small like a cut it’ll be super distracting to me. Equally you may be hyposensitive to pain (under-sensitive) and not realise if you are hurt/injured.
Grounding exercises – these are super useful when your mind is whirring, thoughts swirling and your heartbeat feels a bit rapid and all over the place. Most smart watches have in-built breathing exercises / apps built into them (e.g Apple Watch does, my Fitbit does too!) and these can be helpful in terms of distraction by looking at something visual and timing your breath along with an animation. Of course there are lots of different grounding exercises, another good one to use when you are overwhelmed is to sit and use your senses to ground you, name a few things you can hear, smell, touch, see, etc. This can diverts your brain and distract you.
Alexithymia is a difficulty in recognising emotions and identifying feelings. This is something my autism assessor said she think I might struggle with. I definitely find it super difficult to explain my feelings to others because I genuinely cannot recognise or process my own emotions.
Do comment down below if you can relate to anything in my drawing or anything I’ve said, I’m always keen to hear how everyone copes with these things. Two more drawings to go in this little series!
Hello! Here is drawing number five (part of a series on our 8 senses, scroll back on my blog to see my previous drawings!) ✏️ which is all about touch and tactile processing….
Weighted blankets are THE BEST. I got mine from @sensorydirect (they do a great scheme where you can borrow a blanket on a trial period to see if it’s right for you before purchasing it) I’ve had mine for a few years now and I bought a lovely pale green cover for it which looks fab on my bed!
Unexpected touch is hugely overwhelming and can be quite frightening to me. For example – anybody coming up to me and tapping me on the shoulder from behind or just touching me when in conversation with me is too much to handle.
Fidgets, you know the score, they are pretty great. They work as good stim toys and distractions when in different environments.
Cooking and baking…I hate the texture of ingredients on my hands! I have to wash my hands a lot when baking things because it affects my mood when I have distracting weird textures on me. Things like egg, flour, kneading dough are too overwhelming. Fun fact: When I was at secondary school we had to make a dish in food technology class involving handling mince meat…I hated this idea so I took like medical gloves in to avoid the direct texture (I got some very funny looks from the rest of my class) yet when we started cooking everyone seemed to want gloves and nobody wanted to touch the meat!
Oversized clothing = comfy! I like huge baggy t-shirts and jumpers with skinny jeans / jeggings. I prefer tighter things on my bottom half and much looser clothing on my top half.
Labels and tags inside clothing are THE WORST. I don’t understand why there can be small books worth of labels inside some clothing items and they seem to be a nightmare to detached without leaving jagged annoying edges or leaving a hole in the actual clothing. I love @uniqlo clothing as their t-shirts don’t come with any tags (just information printed inside!).
What do you struggle with it term of touch and tactile processing? Comment down below!
My mum is super creative and a while back she created a small zen garden inside a wooden box, complete with miniature rakes and pebble! It’s super easy to do (she used sand from a beach!).
It’s a very calming therapeutic activity to do. It’s just satisfying to shape the sand and rake it back and forth, you get a range of sensory feedback. Definitely recommend trying this out for yourself as an inexpensive sensory activity.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit an actual Japanese zen garden in Cornwall a few years ago and it was such a calm and relaxing experience. Being able to walk around and immerse myself in the surrounding nature and experience the quiet and subtle sounds of wind chimes and running streams was so grounding and calm, I’d love to have access to a local garden like this!
Have you ever been to a zen or sensory garden before? If so how was your experience? Comment down below.
Here is drawing number four (part of a series on our 8 senses, scroll back to see my previous drawings!) ✏️ which is all about auditory processing and dealing with sound….
Water flowing is something I find really calming to listen to and grounding, keeping me present in the moment. I love listening to the sea, and running baths whilst sat and listening is something I find very theraputic (to the extent where I’ll ask my family if anyone is planning on having a bath so I can listen!)
Surprise noises! Ugh they are the worst and I think alot of people will be able to resonate with me on this one. I’m talking about abrupt fireworks, loud babies and children crying (makes me feel upset / emotional I have no idea why), noisy clocks ticking, loud sneezes, that sort of thing.
The sound of nature is fab. Just getting out and away from screens and noisy town traffic for a walk has definitely been something I’ve been enjoying over the past few months.
Noisy eaters…I appreciate a lot of people don’t know that they eat nosily or actually might not be noisy eaters but I LITERALLY PICK UP ON EVERY SOUND around me which is frustrating! Also weird sensory thing: I cannot stand the noise of drinks pouring. I don’t know what it is but I hate the ‘glug’ / ‘glugging’ sound as it pours into a cup – it sets me on edge.
Repetitive sounds, I understand that these are important, such as ambulance sirens, loud halers, fire alarms, they are alerting us to important things. It’s just they can make me jump and feel overwhelmed / unsettled very quickly. I’m an expert at masking this when I am out and about.
Music and podcasts are something I naturally gravitate towards. I am definitely more into podcasts than I am music (I get songs stuck in my head very easily which is very annoying so I can never listen to music in the evening otherwise I go to bed with a song on loop in my head!). I like to work and listen to podcasts on loads of different topics such as crime, policing, graphic design, illustration, autism, mental health, self care, science, technology, etc.
Construction and building work…again I’m sure lots of people can relate to this one! There is nothing worse sensory-wise then the constant background noise of construction work. It’s unpredictable, varies in noise levels and can mess with my mood instantly.
Hearing protection is THE BEST! Ear plugs, earphones, over ear headphones, wireless headphones, ear defenders the list goes on. They can really help surviving in loud environments and blocking out varying levels of sound.
Let me know how you cope with sound and which sounds you love / hate in the comments below!
In this episode I was joined by the the super lovely Allie (@whensouthmetnorth). Allie is an autistic creative and advocate who alongside her current postgraduate study (a masters degree in Education Research at the University of Oxford) is also a research consultant for Neuropool which is a start-up for supporting neurodivergent people run by neurodivergent people. Allie has a special interest in creative writing and is a published poet. She is currently writing a novel and also drafting her first ever play script, which features an autistic protagonist.
So here’s what we chat about:
All things autism related…her journey to diagnosis and her autism assessment experience
Life throughout secondary school and university and coping in a sensory world
We touch on relationships with friends, family and partners
I did a little photoshoot with my small box of fidget and stim toys (because why the hell not?). I think I underestimate how helpful these can really be and I forget to use them if they aren’t in my line of sight, which is when I end up biting my nails, bouncing my legs or flicking / fidgeting using my eyelashes and eyebrows.
Sight and Visual Processing…here is a new drawing (part of a series on our 8 senses, scroll back to see my previous drawings!) ✏️
Mood lighting is…THE BEST. I have @philipshue lights in my bedroom and it makes the world of difference especially before bed as it’s such a calming way to unwind rather than having my main light on 💡
DO NOT get me started on a rant about fluorescent and neon clothing. I once ranted for a solid few minutes on my podcast (search 21andsensory hehe sneaky plug right there) about a guy who worked in my open plan office who ALWAYS hung his bright yellow fluorescent cycling jacket in my view EVERY DAY. Gees it was too much to handle visually! I knew he was unaware the pain it was causing me but it’s the little things like this that can really affect my mood and ability to generally function! 🚴♂️
Visual stims such as bubble liquid timers, desktop and fidget spinners are the best! 🙌🏻
Lights flashing such as sirens, alarms and cameras can be disorientating and bewildering 🚨🚔📸
Bright screens = not okay with me. I always have my screen brightness down whether it’s on my phone, tablet or laptop ☀️😎
Aaaah clean and tidy places fill me with joy visually! Tidy room = a tidier(ish) mind for me 😍
Okay ewww colourful shelving at supermarkets = NOT cool. I cannot find what I need (cereal aisle, confectionery aisle, you know what I mean) it’s borders on physically painful to walk down these aisles and it messes with my mind trying to process all the colours at once 👀
And finally…hello sequins. I have sequinned fidgets, notebook, doorstop and a pillow! I love the sight of sequins especially in sunlight (and the sensory feedback in terms of texture too!) 💚
So there you have it, what do you love and hate in terms of visuals? Comment down below!