Sunday, December 12, 2021

Soothing My Dysregulation


Hello, Invisible Audience,


Last week was the last week of classes for most of my students, including one I’m going to call Jeff.


It took one class to realize that there was something different about Jeff—he couldn’t seem to stop wrestling with other kids, and he was very disruptive when kids were trying to work on the projects or tasks I gave them.


I have to admit it wasn’t going well at first, but then I reached out to a friend who is a counselor for kids, and she gave me some pointers for kids like Jeff. One of the things she talked about was regulation—did he seem to be in control of the ways he was acting out, or did it seem a bit out of his control? It could be, she said, that he was dysregulated—that being able to respond appropriately was actually outside of his abilities.


She had several suggestions, but one immediately stood out as the best way to help both Jeff and the rest of the class, and it was so simple it took my breath away: push the wall.


When Jeff began to get squirmy or chatter away without being able to stop or when he couldn’t seem to concentrate, I’d take him over to a wall, make him put his hands against it, and tell him to push the wall as hard as he could for 10 seconds. Since it was Spanish class, I counted to ten in Spanish for him, stopping a couple times to say, “Keep going! Push harder!”


And like magic, he would do this and then sit down and focus.


I’ve been thinking a lot about that word—dysregulated—ever since. This is mostly because I’ve been feeling really dysregulated lately, but I wouldn’t have thought to apply that word to what I was feeling. Now, I snatch it out of my back pocket and slap it on my feeling whenever it comes up, and it feels like I’ve created a shortcut to something I didn’t know I needed a path for.


My dysregulation looks different than Jeff’s. I get panicky, and I go back over things in my mind again and again, trying not to forget things. I tell Siri to remind me to do things at certain times so I won’t lose track of them. I eat to try to calm down. Before all of this, I would have said I was seeking comfort. Maybe it’s the same thing, maybe not. But watching Jeff push a wall has made me question something I never quite knew I could before: what are my best regulation techniques?


I know what they aren’t. Mediation doesn’t work for me, because breathwork on its own brings on major anxiety. Drinking doesn’t help me, and thankfully I’m not apt to try that one often. A lot of times talking to friends helps, but sometimes it just keeps the pot stirred when I really want is for the damn thing to go away completely. And it hurts me to tell you this, Invisible Audience, but reading doesn’t help—it just pushes the need to regulate down the road to when I’ve put the book down.


The best way I know how to regulate for myself is swimming. I recently joined an athletic club with a pool, and my God, Invisible Audience. On the days I can make it there and have the energy to swim, I come out floating on a cloud. In the summers, just getting into and out of a lake or a river will do that for me, too.


Walks in nature are also one of my better regulation techniques, but only if I don’t take my headphones. I need to be able to hear the wind whispering in the pine needles, and hear the nearby sound of running water or the leaves as they rattle on their branches.


And writing to you, Invisible Audience. Telling you about what’s in my mind helps, too.


Love and regulated kisses,



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