When I have anxiety attacks or severe depression, I tend to look like I am completely insane. You might see me rocking back and forth frantically (which is something I do on a less frantic level quite often, even when I'm feeling calm) while hugging myself, pounding or smacking my arms or the sides of my head, shaking my head, scratching my skin, and even, on one occasion, biting myself.
If you observed a small child doing these things, you may think, "Wow, that child must have autism and must be really overwhelmed!" (Many people would actually think, "Wow, that bratty kid is having a temper tantrum and needs a spanking." But I know most of my readers are pretty enlightened about special needs and would probably consider that there was something else going on besides just an overindulged child not getting her way.) Depending on how comfortable you are approaching a stranger, you might give the child's parent a sympathetic smile, and go about your business, or you might offer to help in some way.
Now imagine seeing an adult doing these things! What would you think? You might be afraid. You might think the person is on drugs. You might think the person has a severe mental illness and could be dangerous. You might call the police. And if the police also assume that the person may be dangerous, things could become dangerous for the person.
I'm not just writing this to point out to the public that an adult who looks like they're completely freaking out could be experiencing anxiety or sensory overload. I actually have a coping mechanism to share with you.
When I talked to my equine therapist, "Julie," about how severe my anxiety had been when I was about to move to Oregon, she pointed out that I seem to need a lot of sensory input. This can be true of a lot of people, not just those who have autism or sensory processing needs, but also people with anxiety disorders or PTSD. When you are in a state of high anxiety, you can actually start to feel like you're floating, or disappearing, or leaving your body, or dying. I don't know how to explain the feeling, exactly, but if you've experienced it you probably know what I'm talking about. For me, the smacking, scratching, rocking, etc, are ways of trying to get back into my skin and calm myself down.
Julie showed me a way of giving myself more gentle sensory input, in a way that will hopefully help me calm down instead of escalate, and also won't alarm the general public as much. It is called "butterfly tapping" or " butterfly hug."
I looked it up later, and I found a good video where the lady shows you two different ways of doing the butterfly hug, plus an alternative idea for if you feel self-conscious about butterfly hugging yourself in public. This can help adults, teenagers, and kids.
Julie also gave me the idea to give myself a pause button, to let myself tune out everyone else who may be yelling or talking at me, and to just be aware of myself and what I am doing and feeling. You can actually push a spot on your body, like your nose, to activate your pause button. Unfortunately, others will probably not literally freeze in time and space, which is what I wish they'd do sometimes. So you just have to internally pause things, even by physically leaving the area to be by yourself if you have to.
Our talk made me realize that I probably really need more sensory input in my life. I've always loved sensory input. When I was very small, I had a little rocking horse, and I would get that thing rocking like there was no tomorrow, to the point that it would actually sort of scoot across the room sometimes. And do you remember those mechanical animal rides that used to be in the fronts of stores? There were two in the front of Sears Outlet when I was little, a pig and a horse. I always rode the pig, which rocked very wildly. My little brother was not allowed to ride the pig, because it might catapult him off. He had to ride the much tamer and slower horse. But I loved that wildly rocking pig! Other things I loved were swinging on a swing (I could do it for hours) or a see-saw or glider, playing in sand, and jumping into the ball pit at Showbiz Pizza.
My grandparents' house was in an unincorporated area, and they had no sidewalks. But there were rows of those small, white stones separating the road from the lawns. When we'd go for walks, I loved to walk in the stones, to hear the crunching sound under my feet. I was always begging someone to take me for a long walk. I'd even specify, "Can we go for a walk in the stones?" And I could have walked all day, if someone had let me.
It is interesting how as a kid I instinctively knew to give myself sensory input. As an adult, I'm often concentrating too hard on appearing "normal," and forget that I still do need these things. The butterfly hug is a good way to get some sensory input in public... but sometimes I may need some stronger sensory input. Jumping into a swimming pool is an example that I mentioned to Julie. Except I don't usually have a swimming pool at my disposal. Does anyone have other ideas for this type of strong, whole-body sensory experience?
That is all for today. I just wanted to share the Butterfly Hug with you guys. I hope it helps somebody!