To me, being regulated means my mind, body and soul are connected. Centered. That my senses are stabilized. All eight of them. That my mental, emotional or physical needs have not taken over. That everything is aligned and in place. Being regulated means I am the truest version of myself.
I need a lot to stay regulated. To reach that balance between being overstimulated and what I guess would be normal. Perhaps calm is a better, less-stigmatized word. I have to refrain from being over- or under-stimulated. From having too much going on at once or not enough. For excitement is just as dangerous as discouragement. Because either can make everything come crashing down. It’s always a struggle for me that even my happiness can be dangerous.
When I’m unregulated, it feels like my body and my mind are being pulled in one million directions. One million thoughts all disconnected. My mind and my body are out of sync. Out of rhythm. Like I can’t keep a thought that is attached to my body. Everything is fleeting. Fleeing. I have surges of anger and adrenaline. And I become easily confused. Overwhelmed.
Fortunately, there are many things that help me regulate my nervous system: having a sensory diet, seeing my occupational therapist for craniosacral therapy, doing the things I’ve learned, taking magnesium, using medical marijuana and CBD, and moving.
Moving as much as possible. Pacing around the house. Rocking back and forth. Rotating and undulating my body in patterns. Jumping on my mini trampoline. Doing yoga. Running. Letting my thoughts fly off my heels.
Instead of sitting and writing, I need to be standing and writing. Instead of using my weighted blanket, I need to do push-ups or go for a walk. A power walk. A term that makes me cringe. But it’s true. You’re exuding power in your walk. Purpose in your stride. Hence, power-walking. Basically, I try to exhaust my body so it can’t go in a different direction than my mind.
If my body does go in a different direction, I’ll feel panicked. Anxious. Angry. I’ll have a rush of energy. Burst out of or into a room. Throw things. Slam down objects. Smash into things to stimulate myself. Accidentally hurt myself.
Sometimes, I’m not even feeling panicked, anxious or angry; I’m simply unregulated.
Like the other day, I was in the kitchen making breakfast and my husband was reading the newspaper (very 1950s of us, I know), and he asked me if I was mad about something. With trepidation. Worried I was erupting and about to explode. No, I said, beaming a big, but cautious, smile. I’m great, why? Because you’re slamming things, he said. I convinced him I was fine. Great, in fact. I told him I was a bit in my head and didn’t realize how hard I was setting things down. Perhaps I was overstimulated from feeling too good. Not realizing I was unregulated. He told me, lovingly, not to worry about it. Relieved he wasn’t going to have to survive another one of my meltdowns.
I’ve often made our shared environment feel unsafe for him, which is one of the main reasons I’m so determined to figure this all out. Find ways to regulate my sensitive nervous system. And I feel like I’m finally on the right track. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll both have me back full-time. And, if we’re lucky, without the risk of me leaving again.
On days I’m unregulated, it’s difficult for me to interact with others. And the more things I have to do and the more people I have to talk to, the worse it gets. Unable to control my thoughts, they go in the direction of every person who has contacted me. Of everything that’s waiting for me. Of every task at hand.
If there are too many people and/or too many tasks and my system isn’t regulated, my mind jumps from one thing to the next. It goes nonstop. Racing. From one side of my brain to the other. Mental ping pong. Even if I use my tricks like writing down everything that comes to mind, things still creep into my thoughts. Disrupt my rhythm — how to respond to a text or an email, what I need to grade or to write, whom I need to call, what I need to arrange, where to fit it all into my schedule. My thoughts take over. A tidal wave of anxiety. And before I know it, I’m overwhelmed. And if I’m not careful, dissociated. Floating above myself and looking down.
It’s perhaps why this post is a bit unorganized. The excitement of having others reading my writing this past week is causing me to feel unregulated. Scattered. It’s sending me over the moon. Literally. The high makes me too fragile. Like I could come crashing down at any second. For so long, I’ve had so much to say and no one to listen; it’s overwhelming to know that people are actually hearing me. So thank you to all of you who are reading. But back to being unregulated.
I can tell I’m unregulated when I have a difficult time driving or writing. Handwriting, not typing. Writing with my thumbs on my phone is how I write best. Even typing on a keyboard can be difficult if my motor skills are off that day. And I have a difficult time speaking when I’m unregulated. Notice I said speaking, not communicating. There’s a difference.
Any kind of stimulant can mess up my regulation: caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, tobacco, sugar. Basically, all of the things you’re supposed to limit anyway. And on days I’m unregulated, I have to be careful with any of the aforementioned substances because they could cause me to become extremely physically overstimulated. Agitated. And if I’m already mentally or emotionally stimulated, then that’s a dangerous combo. Or even worse, trio.
Often, the more mental or emotional stimulation I receive, the more my body needs to move. To absorb it. That’s why students should not be punished for moving in school. They should be encouraged. Rewarded even. For doing what they need to in order to instinctually regulate themselves. So if you’re a teacher (as I am) reading this, please keep that in mind. Create safe spaces in your classrooms for students to regulate themselves. To get up and walk around. To move. To regulate their sensitive, developing nervous systems.
Everyone deserves to be regulated. To be their best self. When I’m regulated, I am the most creative. The most connected. The most able to interact with others. To be good to others and to myself. To be my truest self.