Writer’s Workshop: If I Could Change One Thing About Myself

Mama Kat in one of her prompts for this week asks us what one thing we would change about ourselves if we could. She also asks us to think on why it can’t be changed.

This is pretty much a no-brainer to me. If there’s one thing I could pick to change about myself, it would be to widen my window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is the window at which point someone is stimulated enough that they aren’t bored too much, but not so much that they are overloaded. Each individual’s window of tolerance is different. Some people thrive on challenging activities and exciting stimuli. Others can barely handle any sensory or cognitive demands. I belong to the latter category.

If I’m correct, the window of tolerance also refers to the ability to tolerate distress or frustration. My distress tolerance is and has always been extremely poor.

So why can’t it be changed? Well, I tried. Ever since I was a little child, psychologists have recommended I work on distress tolerance. Now I must say I really wasn’t aware of the problem at all until I was about eleven, but even when I was, I had no idea how to heighten my distress tolerance.

My tolerance for sensory and cognitive demands was manageable up until I suffered autistic burnout at age 21. I mean, I was in classrooms with 30+ students in them, doing my schoolwork at a high level high school. Ever since my burnout though, I’ve hardly been able to function in group settings without getting overloaded. I also can’t seem to handle any sort of pressure.

In 2017, when I was being kicked out of the psychiatric hospital, it was recommended that I do dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). One of the modules of DBT is distress tolerance. The community psychiatric nurse (CPN) who started DBT with me, even wrote increasing my frustration tolerance as a treatment goal without my having asked her to. I didn’t see how I could work on this. After all, seeing this goal written on my treatment plan already created such immense pressure that I felt overloaded without even trying to work on the goal.

I know I have a bit of an external locus of control. This seems to be tied in with poor distress tolerance. I mean, it isn’t that I genuinely think the world owes me a sensory-friendly, low-demand environment. However, I can’t see how I can work on changing my ability to handle sensory stimuli, demands and distress.

Mama’s Losin’ It

10 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: If I Could Change One Thing About Myself

  1. I’m with you. I sense and absorb other peoples strong emotions if I’m in a group situation or a party or a conference or whatever and this happens to me automatically and it results in feeling like I need to crawl out of my skin and escape. It feels kind of like a type of anxiety. It’s not something I can control. This level of sensory absorption is called “being a highly sensitive person.” You don’t “get over it.” (I can’t believe anyone would say that!) But what I’ve learned is to recognize it in the moment it’s occurring. Sometimes I recognize it and leave the room. Last spring I recognized it happening to me while at a conference listening to a speaker regale us with his abusive childhood, which made him relive that pain and I picked up on that and started to absorb it, starting to feel that anxiety to escape—but recognizing it right away, I took several deep yoga breaths and told myself, “this isn’t your pain,” and that helped me disengage from it and relax again. That was my most successful moment managing it. On the upside, I consider being highly sensitive a gift because it does allow me to tune in and be emphatic with someone more easily. I think there’s an energy drain component too, I’m constantly aware of, so I know I can only give away so much energy talking to or being around a group of people before I have to retreat. I think of energy like a checking account and I can only write a check on for just a certain amount. I don’t want to overdraw the bank, so to speak. That’s how I stay balanced in it, but it took many years to understand then learn how to cope iwth. (I’m in my 60’s). But because it has upsides that are good, I don’t want to be over it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for your extensive comment. Yes, I relate to a lot of traits of highly sensitive people. However, because I’m also multiply-disabled, I tend to feel intense distress when needing to do tasks that are challenging for me (such as even simple housework), etc. It’s not just emotions or sensory stimuli that cause me distress. To use your terminology, I’m on an extremely tight budget where it comes to energy.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think poor distress tolerance is pretty common in those with mental health issues. That may be why it’s one skill module in DBT. I’m sorry you can relate though.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I can so identify with you on many levels, Astrid. Possibly having to deal with my own ADHD which, as a child was never identified during my school years but something I learned about myself as learning disorders became a hot topic.

    As I wrote on my own blog, I’m overly critical and analyze things to death. This combination finds me backed into one corner, or another, and I just want to become invisible at times. At times, when the pressure mounts, I short-circuit but, other times, I rise to the challenge at hand. There seems to be no happy medium involved.

    Being handed anything and told…”just deal with it”, often puts me into a tailspin and, like you, my energies, at any level, just disintegrate.

    The world might not owe us a comfortable, sensory-free environment but, conversely, the world definitely expects a great deal from us and, in the process, fails to acknowledge any of the pros, and cons, which makes us who we are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. I can relate to a lot of what you describe. I am not diagnosed with ADHD but I definitely have some traits particularly of the inattentive type. It can cause my ideas to run wild but then I’m not often able to take action on them or I do act on my ideas impulsively and land in the middle of a challenge. I agree the world often fails to see and appreciate our competence as neurodivergent people.

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  3. I hate that you have to struggle with these things. If I have something as simple as a stubborn headache it ruins my day. Every ailment humans have is bound impact our quality of life and I just hate that you have struggled with so much for your entire life. It must feel so frustrating and lonely. I’m so glad you do not give up and instead continue to work on everything you need to acheive peace. You deserve it!

    Liked by 2 people

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