There’s a Skunk and I Can’t Sleep

Last night was one of those nights I just couldn’t sleep. The seed of the problem probably was planted in the afternoon when I had an appointment at the hospital for different radiology scans. The waiting room reeked of clashing chemical perfumes that the other patients seemed to be dripping in. It reminded me of how everyone somewhat unconsciously raises their voice in crowded places to ensure their voice carries audibly to their partner over the drone of everyone else trying to do the same thing. It seems like perfume-wearing people who know they will be in communal areas around other scented people preemptively raise the volume of their smell (by dousing themselves in a bunch of extra spritzes) so that their fragrance will still be detectable over the blurry smell soup of everyone else. Needless to say, even tastefully applied mild perfumes tend to give me headaches, so it goes without saying that such superfluously applied artificial smells unagreeably blended together is a proven recipe for a severe headache.

Such was the case yesterday. I developed a migraine while waiting for nearly an hour between the CT scan and the ultrasound. When I got home, I drew the blinds and lay on the couch with a cold pack on my forehead, but the pain did not let up. After Tylenol and dinner, it was marginally dulled and I was able to fall asleep. However, shortly after that surprising victory, I woke suddenly to an offensively strong skunk odor. For the past couple weeks, evidence has amassed that convincingly indicates we have a skunk or skunk family living under our deck. Not only is this an unpleasant smell and a homeowner’s pest control debacle, but it’s also a particular offense to my sleep ability because there seems to be a receptor in my brain that signals the fight-or-flight response upon receiving olfactory sensory input of skunk scent. When I smell it at night, it’s like an exceedingly jarring jolt that wakes me, shaking all drowsiness and relaxation, priming my body to sprint away. There must be a mutation in my DNA that has programmed my body to think it’s prime skunk prey! Once the smell started penetrating the sensory deprivation sanctuary environment of my bedroom, all hope for returning to sleep was lost. I tried masking the smell by warming a sweet wax melt, but it was futile; I lay in bed restlessly turning for another four hours, my migraine fully screaming and pounding with every heartbeat, any degree to which it have previously abated completely awash.

I’ve mentioned how I have a major struggle with interoception, or my ability to sense my internal signals appropriately and in a timely fashion. This is a common issue for people with SPD or on the spectrum. Last night, I noticed in addition to the migraine, there was something else bothering me physically, though it took some time to properly identify the sensation and the source of the discomfort; my neck and jawline was insanely itchy. It seemed that once I determined the problem, it only served to make amplify the itch from a generalized facial and body itch to an extremely intense, localized itch. I wanted to rip my skin off. I am not certain what caused this reaction, although the CT scans and ultrasounds were of that area. It seems unlikely that the conducting jelly for the ultrasound would have any sort of allergen in it, but I can only assume that my little, crazily reactive body would find that .001% chance (or whatever it is) that a typically inert ingredient causes a reaction. I was miserable. I took Benadryl, wiped vigorously with bamboo sensitive skin baby wipes and liberally applied hydrocortisone cream. These steps certainly provided a degree of relief, but did not solve the problem.

Eventually, I gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs to lie on the couch. I was frustrated, uncomfortable, in pain, and tired. I watched episodes of The Great British Bake Off, made mental lists of all of the animals and foods that start with P and B (no idea why), and wished I wasn’t autistic. Sometimes that happens, especially as it relates to my extreme sensory sensitivities. I’m sure it was searing migraine pain, the itchiness, and complete lack of sleep, and the nighttime loneliness feeding my frustration but I found myself whispering into the vaguely skunky room around me, “Why can’t I just be normal?”

Fortunately, one of my “strengths” is my ability to operate fairly normally on days that follow even quite brutal insomnia. I’m usually crankier, in more pain, and have an even lower sensory threshold and tolerance for processing confusing communication, but I am able to complete all my normal activities like the reliable robot that I am. This morning I even met a new old friend for a planned walk, which was not only fun, but made me feel accomplished and connected.

One of our weekend plans will be troubleshooting the skunk problem. I hope it will also include a much-needed restorative sleep.

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