Self Care: managing my needs on wonky days

Some days I wake up feeling good, I am productive and get to the end of the day feeling pretty good. Some days I wake up feeling good, but somewhere along the way things go a bit off and I abandon plans in favour of chilling out to avoid overload. Some days I wake up and nothing feels right, the whole day is a struggle and the best way to describe how I feel is just “wonky”. 

I’ll try to explain what I mean by “wonky”. It’s a feeling of something (or everything) being off, but not being able to identify exactly what is not right or needs attention in my body or mind in order to stop feeling off. Another word for it might be overwhelmed, but for me when I identify that I feel overwhelmed I can also name a trigger or cause. Wonky is just a pervasive feeling of “not right” without being able to easily identify a cause of it.

I’ve been having more and more wonky days lately, and have been trying to work through why and how to deal with it. I think that a lot of the time wonky days happen when I am having executive functioning challenges (I explored this recently in another article- to read in a new window >> click here << ) or if I am experiencing increased sensory sensitivity.

I’ve been compiling a list of some of the things that I notice are often a problem for me so I can check in with myself to see what I can do to make things better when I feel wonky. In my head it is a bit like a mind map or flow chart, but for the purpose of sharing it with you I’ll just put it here as a list of questions, with explanations and solutions. (This list is in the order I use to check in with myself. I do the checks in this order because it lists the checks in order of how likely they are to be the problem, with the most likely at the top.)

Are you hungry or thirsty?
My body doesn’t seem to tell me I am hungry until I am really really, trembling and nauseous hungry. Sometimes (most days!) I forget to eat, so taking a minute to think about when I last ate and if I might be hungry is helpful. My husband commented recently that if he asks “are you hungry” my answer is often, “maybe a little” but then 5 minutes later I say “actually I am really very hungry and I need to eat now”. It’s like the reminder triggers something in my brain that allows me to subconsciously process and then catch up with what my body is needing.

Do you have pain anywhere, or might you be injured? 
To answer this I have to do an inventory of my body. I start at the top and think about my head then move down my body mentally checking to see if I have pain. It is fairly common for me to be experiencing pain but it not registering consciously unless it is significant or having an impact on my ability to move.
If I do realise I am in pain I can choose to do some stretching if it is muscle pain, move around if the pain is being caused by not enough movement or rest if the pain is caused by movement. If it is a headache I can take some pain relief if that would help, or I can rest, or take pain relief and rest.
If I realise I am injured I need to decide if it is an injury I can look after, or if I need medical assistance. It might sound odd, but I sometimes need help deciding if I need medical intervention because my pain response to injury is not typical- I have been told by doctors a bone can’t be broken because I am not in enough pain, and the bone turned out to be broken, so I get someone who knows me well to help decide if I should get help.

Do you need to use the bathroom?
Yes, I am an adult. Yes, I don’t always notice I need to pee until it’s pretty urgent. Sometimes I feel wonky because I need to use the bathroom.

Are you stressed? 
I sometimes need to ask myself this and check for physical signs of stress, like hunched shoulders, clenched jaw and  fidgeting/stimming, in order to determine if I am stressed. If I think I might be stressed I might need to do a thought inventory and see if I can identify anything that has been on my mind a lot over the past couple of days to determine what the stress is (unless it is something obvious like I have a looming deadline or the kids are all sick, etc.).
Stress isn’t always from something negative either (I wrote more about that a while back, to read more in a new window >> click here <<), so if I think I am stressed I will need to also have a think about how I might need to manage my time and stress load for the next few days to alleviate the problem.

Are you experiencing sensory overload?
This happens as often as me feeling stressed and the checks for this are much the same as the checks above for stress, but if I can’t identify thoughts that are stressing me I check the environment. Am I squinting from bright or flashing lights? Am I huddling to avoid a particular sensation on my skin or in anticipation of touch? Am I aware of any sounds or smells that are irritating me or making me feel gross?
The solutions here can vary: noise cancelling headphones, sunglasses, put on or take off a layer of clothing, move somewhere less crowded, turn down volume of tvs, music or other electronic devices, go home, go to my room and shut the door, get in bed under the doona and cocoon for a bit, go outside. What I choose to do will depend on the source of the overload, where I am, what I am doing and who else is around.

Are you tired?
I don’t always sleep well. Sometimes it’s because the kids aren’t sleeping well, but sometimes it’s because of one of my semi regular periods of sleep disturbance in which I just can’t fall asleep at night. I’ve become more relaxed about these times over the years and learned to go with the flow during my less sleep times, but I still need to be reminded that when they are happening I should allow myself more rest during the day so I don’t burn out.
Sometimes I find it easier to go to sleep during the day, but won’t think to do it unless I am prompted. I also don’t always notice I am tired, as ‘tired’ and ‘sleepy’ aren’t always the same thing for me…. so I don’t think to lie down to sleep unless I am feeling sleepy, but it is possible to go to sleep without being sleepy if I am tired enough.
I have found that the most reliable way to figure out if I am tired enough to sleep is to lie down with my eyes closed for a while, so if all the above checks haven’t fixed my feeling wonky, sometimes the best thing to do is go lie down and see what happens. With the kids around I can’t always do this, but there have been times I have and been surprised to find I then slept for hours and could still sleep that night.

Are you unwell, or becoming unwell? 
I check this because it can be a good prompt to slow down for a few days. It’s not always possible to tell if I am becoming unwell, but I do a check for sore throat and ears, headache, body aches, swollen glands, temperature, etc. If I think I am unwell or might be becoming unwell I try to give myself more rest and I set reminders to eat and drink and take any necessary medication to make sure I look after myself.

Are you feeling wonky for more than one reason? 
It’s not uncommon for me to have more than one of the above things needing attention all at the same time. It’s also not uncommon for it to be pretty difficult to choose which one to address first.
For me, if I realise I need to deal with more than one thing I usually do it in this order:
1. use the bathroom
2. eat
3. manage pain
4. reduce sensory stimulation
5. make a plan to manage stress
6. rest or sleep if possible

I’d be willing to bet that I know many other neurodivergent people who do similar checks on themselves. If you are one of those that do, and you’d like to share, I’d love you to leave a comment on this post so others can read too and we can help each other become more aware of ways to improve our own self care strategies.

6 thoughts on “Self Care: managing my needs on wonky days

  1. All surprisingly similar to what I experience and utilize. I have just one addition to this. I have noticed, kind of by accident observing my youngest son, that we are quite sensitive to changes in weather. If a major storm is coming through, sleep will be disrupted a couple days prior and we’ll either have a surge in energy or zero energy. I have less tolerance for others and need to spend more time alone in quiet, uninterrupted space when it is a low energy wonky day. When I get those blissful if wonky days, I try to use creative outlets like writing or painting, or get some project I’ve been avoiding done since I seem more prone to hyperfocus on those days.
    Side note: I’ve never been able to explain the bathroom thing quite as smoothly as you have. Thank you for that. 🙂 Same would be true for the pain thing. Great post!

  2. The hungry / tired / overload confusion is a pretty everyday one for me! I find they tend to creep up on me too: I don’t realise I’m “wonky” until I’ve been there for quite a while, and suddenly everything is just too much. At that point of course it’s hard to work out why.

    Coping mechanisms for me include quiet space (taking 10 minutes is usually not a problem, and works if I catch things early enough), a snack (just in case), followed by anything I can do to “turn down” my environment (screen brightness down, noise cancelling headphones, etc). My best indicator of when things are wonky in the morning is if I can’t cope with having the radio on! Best not to leave the house then… 🙂

  3. I assume that you’re insensitive to temperature. Do you find that suddenly being sensitive to it is a sign that you’re getting sick? That’s how it usually works with me.

    1. I’m actually very sensitive to heat, and love cooler weather. If I start to feel the cold I might be getting sick, but if it is hot, I will feel under the weather no matter what so it’s harder to distinguish if I’m becoming unwell in warmer months.

  4. Pingback: Sensory overload

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