Getting dressed, a sensory nightmare & how I cope

Simply put, sometimes I don’t get dressed at all. I went to work in my pajamas, my kids schools, the park and the bus stop. All without a care in the world about the looks. Did you think autistic people don’t notice when you smirk at the way they dress? I notice all the details you think I don’t. I may not be able to always tell what that smirk means, but I can still see it.

I was not always able to get out of the house with pajamas on. Part of my routine was that I could not leave the house in pajamas. This was an unhealthy routine for me, and it took a very long time to break. The fact was if I tried to get dressed and the clothes didn’t feel just right,I was having a meltdown.

It may not always be possible to leave the house in pajamas. You may need to wear a similar feeling set of clothes every day. In this case, I encourage anyone with sensory problems to find a nice comfortable set of underclothes to help dull the feeling of all your clothes. This will make it easier for you to switch styles for work or home or the gym, without as much frustration.

Another thing I would like to emphasis is to really find what you like, wear it, and do not feel obligated to explain it. Even if someone asks. Not just for pajamas either. I have always gotten comments about the way I dress. Although I feel it I dress ‘normal’ I get questions from teachers, friends and strangers alike frequently. Most often about elastic skater skirts with dinosaurs and sloths, overalls, printed leggings, cartoon design purses. These things are comfortable for me, and make me feel joy, as well as comfort.

Up until recently I would answer the questions, what is that print? Did you make that? Where did you get something like that? The problem with answering these simple questions is that I am uncomfortable doing so. I can not tell if they are making fun of me or asking a serious question. And I refuse to waste any of my time trying to figure it out again.

I refuse to waste any of my life on strangers questions about my clothes, however harmless. When I went to the park in my pajamas, maybe I was smirked at, but I smiled much larger, because I succeeded at something they would never understand. I avoided a meltdown, and I did it on my own after decades of not understanding why it was so hard to get dressed for me.

Before I left the house the first day I left in pajamas, I spent 20 minutes “getting ready”. I was actually hiding in my room trying on different things, switching leggings, looking for looser shirts. Getting worked up, near tears, skin crawling, stomach turning, my children were playing rambunctiously in the other room, ready to go! Waiting on me! While I could not get it together and just get dressed, like a normal person, I thought anxiety spiking.

But I’m not a ‘normal’ person. I am autistic, and had I known this my entire life I would have known to stop trying to force myself into any uncomfortable feeling clothes a long time ago. New understanding, a light bulb so to speak, comes on in my mind.

I don’t owe anyone clothes that make me uncomfortable. I don’t owe them an explanation for them either. I owe myself joy over frustration. I don’t always catch myself, sometimes I end up curling up, mute and frustrated and tears streaming down my cheeks. That day though I chose to enjoy my life, without explanation or shame.

Once I spent 36 hours in pajamas. I avoided a sensory meltdown. I was also a great mother to my children, a wonderful wife, I wrote, I took my own time, I was a pet owner, reader, and so much more. I encourage everyone to adopt this thought process. No one owes anyone else an explanation for their attire. Don’t ask, don’t judge, you never know why someone is in their sweats at Wal-Mart, kids towed behind looking more like a swamp monster than a mom.

2 comments

  1. Brilliantly said. I love the clarity of your own value and the boundaries you have found (especially the one about not explaining…really love this and giving myself permission to do the same). Our clothes and actions don’t tell the full story do they?! My heart is filled with joy and compassion because of your ability to articulate your experience. (If I had to explain everyone all of my and my children’s sensory needs and choices I would never get anything done!! Grateful you are educating in a relateable way.) Cheers and blessings, Casey

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