1. Surfacing – Part 3

An excerpt from the book I’ve been working on – tentatively entitled Countdown to a Meltdown. Trigger warning for in-depth descriptions of sensory issues & balance issues, as well as a little bit of interpersonal conflict.

Stepping into on my slippers, I shuffle slowly to the bathroom. My bladder is over-full this morning, which frustrates me as the urine drains from its holding place in my body. Even sitting on the commode, I suddenly become lightheaded and reach out to the sink counter beside me for stability. Focusing my gaze on the lines of the shower tile in front of me… holding my gaze absolutely still… steadies me, and I focus on the straight lines till my bladder is empty. Flowers and lattice-like lines jump out at me from the shower curtain, and pull my gaze away from them, concentrating on the straight horizontal lines of the tile. The floral pattern is too uneven for me, the folds of the fabric are too wavy, the colors are too variable. And I can’t keep them all from intruding on my gaze, so I get off the commode as quickly as I can, balancing myself on the vanity surface as I rise and pivot.

Washing my hands, I relish the feel of warm water running over my skin. It soothes and comforts me, as flowing water often does. But the sound of the water rushing out of the spout is too loud. I adjust the spigot to slow the flow, and let the warmth run over my hands. I “zone out” for a few minutes, feeling more balanced as I lean against the edge of the sink counter. Then I remember where I am and what I’m doing, and I turn off the water and dry my hands on the hand towel to my right.

As comforting as the warm water was, having wet hands afterwards agitates me. I dry them thoroughly, almost obsessively. I cannot tolerate the feel of dampness on otherwise dry skin – especially my hands. I have never been able to tolerate damp sleeves. It distracts me terribly and pulls my attention away from keeping my balance, making me nauseous and irritable. I push the sleeves of my sweatshirt farther up my arms and dry my skin as completely as possible, working my way across the hand towel, in search of drier fabric. The towel is scratchy but dry, and I make sure I have every last bit of moisture off my hands before I brush my teeth. I have to be able to hold the toothbrush. And I can’t do that with wet hands.

Brushing my teeth after I’ve dried my hands bothers me a bit – more water splashing on my skin and coordinating my toothbrush motions distracts me from keeping my balance, and I have to steady myself on the edge of the sink counter. With one hand firmly planted on the level vanity surface, I’m able to immerse myself in the motion of my toothbrush and focus on the feel of the bristles on my teeth. When I was a kid, brushing my teeth used to drive me crazy. The loudness of the scrubbing would echo thunderously in my sensitive ears and all but deafen me. This morning, my ears are sensitive. Very. The thunderous sound of the bristles on my teeth is almost painful. I concentrate on the taste of the toothpaste, though, and run my tongue over the surface of my clean teeth to get my mind off it. I have to brush my teeth; that’s not up for discussion. I want to keep my teeth healthy. I want to keep my teeth. So, I just buckle down and deal with it.

When I’m finally finished, I run my tongue over the surfaces of my teeth to make sure they feel clean. I generally floss in the evenings (as well as during the course of the day, as needed), so I don’t need to concern myself with flossing when I brush, first thing in the morning. And a good thing, too. I’m so off-balance, the very thought of pulling floss from the container, wrapping it around my fingers and working my way across all my teeth makes me a little sick to my stomach. My attention to detail last night pays off today – I don’t need to floss. I did well, the night before. And that helps take the edge off my agitation this morning. As I rinse and spit for the last time and rinse the toothpaste from the edges of the sink, I feel a little more centered.

But something is wrong. I realize that my hands and wrists are wet again, and a sudden rush of irritation courses through me. I reach for the hand towel and try to dry off, but it’s damp from when I washed up before. Agitation and frustration courses through me, and I pat the towel, looking for a dry spot. But I was so thorough before, I used up all the dry areas of the hand towel.

I need to get them completely dry. Wet hands don’t let me felt the world around me. They make my grip slippery. The water wrinkles my skin, which makes it difficult to feel things. I feel my way through my life, although I’m not overtly hyper-tactile. I soothe myself with the feel of my hands and fingers rubbing themselves… fabric… rough tissues… spongy objects. When my hands are wet (or even damp), I feel off-centered and anxious. So, I have to get them dry. I have to. Now.

Turning slightly, I find my bath towel hanging nearby, and I rub furiously at my hands and wrists, anxious to be dried off. I’m irritated that I’m using my bath towel for a hand towel. That’s not the right way to do things, and then my bath towel will be wet when I use it later.

But I have to get my hands dry.

Already this day testing me, and I haven’t even made it off the second floor.

I desperately need some coffee.

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