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Art + Sensory Processing Disorder - How Invisible Differences Influence the Artist

Little known fact... what's led me to becoming an artist is a struggle with processing the world around me.

Art is my way of coping with my invisible differences. I guess you could say I'm not wired like most people. And the world isn't built for someone like me.

The world can be an overwhelming place as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

SPD is a brain condition in which multisensory input is not adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment. (Wikipedia).

There are several sub categories of SPD. In my particular case, I experience Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) characterized by sensory over-responsivity and sensory seeking/craving.

What Does Sensory Processing Disorder Look Like in Everyday Life?

My experience with sensory processing disorder in everyday life is being overly-responsive to normal, non-painful stimuli which can actually be experienced as painful or intolerable.

You know the nails-on-a-chalkboard-feeling? It's JUST a sound, yet it triggers something really uncomfortable and intolerable in a lot of people. Now imagine that magnified and applied to any sensory input around you.

The nervous system can only take so much, and tends to freak out after awhile. Fight, flight, or freeze mode kicks in as a survival response if exposed to too much for too long.

Since it's impossible to live in a bubble and the world is full of triggers, I've become accustomed to a pretty steady state of anxiety. My anxiety is mostly manageable and high-functioning as long as I can practice intentional self-care. But sometimes, the sensory input and anxiety builds up beyond functioning levels, and I just need to shut down and shut out the world for awhile.

Having SPD also means I seek/crave specific sensations at times. This craving isn't just, "I could really go for (blank) right now." This craving is, "I MUST do this RIGHT now because my body NEEDS it and nothing else will be right until I do this."

Some examples of sensory-seeking might be the irreplaceable feel of flannel or fur, listening to a precise sound frequency through headphones, intense physical exercise, or the tactile feedback felt from carving with power tools.

Carving with chainsaw & power tools are sensory-seeking tactile sensations.

It also means that compared to the average person, it takes much longer for me to process all the information taken in through the senses.

It means I have to take measures to guard and regulate my energy, otherwise system overload happens and I lose the ability to function.

Because I see, hear, smell, feel, taste, sense, and process things differently than most, I have to live my life a little differently than most.

Art has become my unique way of processing and regulating the stimuli around me.

The Gift of Sensory Processing Differences

Sensory processing differences can also be a gift.

It opens the senses to observing exceptional details of the world around me and connecting to nature in a profoundly deep way.

It has allowed me to choose a profession as an independent artist which grants the space, freedom, and control over my environment that I need in order to thrive.

My "home" where all is regulated and grounded. Where artistic inspiration flows from. The forest.

Artistic expression is highly attuned to nuanced details. Subtle and intuitive choices are made through art creation. An inner "knowing" what feels or looks right.

The creative process filters out all the busy-ness going on inside me and transfers that energy into another material. Art is an outlet for an abundance of senses.

When reality gets a little too "real," it can be painful. But that pain redirects me on this unique path as an artist.

Truly understanding myself, accommodating my differences, and making space for my authentic self to thrive allows life to become tolerable, enjoyable, and breathtakingly beautiful.


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