My last week at STAR & in Denver

Hi friends!

I’ve been home in New Zealand for about six weeks now, and I’ve been wanting to blog about my last week of sensory processing disorder treatment at the STAR Institute, but just haven’t had the head space until today! Transitioning back home has taken a fair bit of my energy, but it’s going well. Over the next… while… (days? weeks? who knows!), I want to share with you not just how my last bit of time in the US went, but also how settling back into being back home is going, and what my life and SPD are looking like at the moment 😊 For now, here are the things that happened in my last week of treatment!

 

A beautiful Fall adventure

In our last week in Denver, Mum and I went on a couple of drives to the the gorgeous aspen trees in all their autumnal glory. I’d never seen aspens before, and I am smitten. I love the way they shimmer in the light! Here’s some photos for you:

Like woah.

 

A successful counselling session

In my previous post I talked about how my SPD has caused some issues with my emotional regulation, and how we tried to incorporate a psychologist into my treatment, but it went terribly 😅 I really wanted to have another go at seeing somebody else, because I need help to manage my emotions – and I figured I’d like to try seeing someone else while my OT, Carrie, could still be with me, because that made it feel a lot safer. I was reaaaally nervous though, because my experiences with mental health professionals have been a bit of a mess!

We put several things in place to help our next attempt to go better. We made a big list of things that worked well for me in a therapist, and things that didn’t. This was super helpful for me to know for the future, and also helped Carrie to find someone who would be a good match. I also watched some videos of the counsellor talking about SPD on the STAR youtube channel, so that I could get a bit of a feel for her style.

Then, throughout the session, we all played with mad mattr while we talked (kind of like kinetic sand, but softer. It involves lots of proprioception, and it works really well for organising my sensory system). We also spent half the session just in casual conversation, so that I could adjust and be regulated before we tried to bring up anything emotionally difficult, and even then, we only talked about what I felt up to talking about.

I actually felt really comfortable, and was able to ask lots of questions that I wanted to ask. It was a very affirming session that let me know that I’m on the right track with my emotional processing, and gave me a lot more confidence in finding a therapist, and the tools I need to help make therapy manageable for my sensory system. The main things I learned were:

  1. I don’t need to find a mental health practitioner that knows about SPD, but I do need one that is open minded, and who realises that they might have to approach things a bit differently than how they would with a neurotypical person.
  2. Pacing is SO IMPORTANT. My SPD means that I have to take working through my emotions super, super slowly. I need to advocate for myself and say when I’ve done enough for the day, and having a therapist that respects my slow pace is key.
  3. What kind of mental health practitioner they are (counsellor/therapist/psychologist) and what style of therapy/approach they use is less important than finding someone who is open minded and the right fit for me.
  4. I need to feel safe to be able to successfully work through my emotions. For me this means finding the right person, in the right space, bringing along things to make it easier (such as my mad mattr, water etc), and having a support person with me (my Mum!). If it’s not feeling safe, it’s not going to work.

 

Right now I am taking a rest, because they don’t recommend that you rush into more therapy after the intensive programme at STAR – my brain’s been working super hard, and it needs a break to consolidate everything – but next year I will look for a therapist here at home to help with my emotional regulation, and I feel much more confident about it with these tools and pieces of knowledge up my sleeve!

 

Meeting the head of marketing

Another cool thing that happened in my last week at STAR is that I got to meet with STAR’s head of marketing. Carrie knows that I’m super passionate about advocating for SPD, and asked if I would like to meet her. We talked about me maybe writing some things for them in the future, or doing something on Instagram… or anything really! It was really cool and definitely food for thought 😉 Definitely lots more SPD content coming up next year! For now, I’m slowly churning over some ideas, and processing everything I’ve been learning 😊 And writing this to you!

 

Consolidating strategies and goals

In my last session at STAR, Carrie helped me to consolidate allll of the strategies I’ve been learning into some super useful information sheets (they’re in the top drawer of my desk right now, and I refer to them all the time!). We broke all of the tools and strategies I use into:

  • alerting strategies for low arousal (e.g. Just Dance, pink grapefruit lip balm)
  • calming strategies for high arousal (e.g. as much contact with the ground as possible, restorative yoga)
  • organising strategies for split arousal (e.g. kneading bread, drinking a thick drink though a straw)

 

Obviously those examples, and everything else on my lists, is highly individual! Everyone with SPD is different, and everyone’s strategies are going to be different too. What lowers arousal for one person might heighten arousal for another. I’m still learning and adding to my strategies all of the time, and it’s becoming much more instinctive.

(If you missed my blog post explaining arousal and are a bit confused right now, you can find it here)

 

Saying goodbye (but not really)

This is Carrie, my wonderful occupational therapist! Leaving STAR and saying goodbye to Carrie was so hard. I felt like I was in this safe little sensory world, and travelling back home felt a little bit scary! I felt really at home in Denver too, and it all felt quite emotional… but I was really excited to get home to Babs, my babycat, who I’d been missing very much (and my family and friends too, of course 😄)!

AND it’s not reaaaally goodbye! Now that I’m home, I’m having weekly video call sessions with Carrie, which has been such a helpful and affirming check-in each week. She’s kind of like my sensory mentor, which is amazing. I also feel sure that I’ll be back at STAR at some point for some reason or other! I’m so passionate now about helping others with SPD, and I’m not sure where that’s going to take me yet, but I’m excited to find out.

I’m beyond, beyond grateful for everything that STAR has done for me. It truly changed my life. Before I went, I was worried that I had my hopes set too high on the whole thing, but they way surpassed even my highest hopes! I’m especially grateful for Carrie, who is such a talented, intuitive, all-round-amazing OT! She made me feel safe, understood and supported right from day one, and has helped me to process and work through so, so much 😊 Things have been pretty rough for me for a couple of years, and I’ve returned home in a completely different space, and feeling much more like myself. I feel like I understand my brain and body so well now, which is an enormous relief, and I’m learning more about managing my SPD every day.

 

That’s all for now! More coming soon about transitioning back to being home, and where I’m at right now 😊 As always, if you have any questions about anything, please hit me up! Leave a comment below, or drop me an email on the contact page. I’m not the speediest replier right now, but I promise I will get back to you!

Hope you’ve had a great week.

All my love,

Sarah

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *