Graduation day – a sensory war zone

By Katherine Lockhead

That day was overwhelming for me. I woke up that morning, feeling excited and ready for the event that every student looks forward to from Grade 1. I called salons to get my hair and makeup done. It came as a shock to me that most of these places did not have any slots available, I was supposed to have booked ahead of time. I shook off the anxiety that began to creep up and managed to find a place who could take me on short notice.

I found my way to the salon. The walk there was quite a blur for me. My emotions were heightened. This is before the time of cell phones and Google maps, so I was left to find the place on my own accord. It was so bright outside that day, and the traffic seemed extra loud. Every step I took I wanted to take two steps back towards home.

I approached the door of the salon and was immediately filled with a sense of dread. The place looked dark, and I do not like the dark. It looked scary and cold and unfamiliar. But I went in anyhow, and after an uncomfortable wait was seated and ready to begin.

The makeup artist was appalled at my eyebrows and informed me that this was something I should have taken care of days ago, while proceeding to wax as little as she could to prevent redness. This was all so unfamiliar to me; I never went to places to have my hair done, let alone my makeup. I was excited, but I was also sick with uncertainty. I try to embrace new experiences and opportunities, though, so I managed to get through it with minimal discomfort. I was not sure that I liked the end result; the eyebrows were dark and bold, and I am blonde. Part of me wanted to wipe some of it off so that it was less noticeable.

After the salon, it was time to get my dress on and get grad photos taken. My mom picked me up and we headed to Wal-Mart. I am quite self conscious about the way that I look in photos. It seems impossible to get a perfect shot, and nothing less is acceptable. The entire experience was a disappointment for me as I wanted to take a picture without my glasses on but my face appeared childish and unfamiliar to me, and my nose looked fat. Knowing that I had a limited time before the ceremony would start, and not wanting to expel the remaining bit of energy I had left, I finally chose a set of photos and headed off to continue through my day.

We proceeded to the ceremony and I was instructed that we would be taking outdoor photographs. These are a bit easier than individual photos, as I do not have the opportunity to look at each one and decide if it is acceptable. The removal of that decision does alleviate a bit of my discomfort. I had not anticipated how difficult it would be, however, to stand and walk in stiletto type heels in a soft grassy area. With each step I took I sunk into the ground. This caused me a bit of sensory overload, though I recall trying to laugh it off with everyone.

Things get pretty blurry after that. I just kind of blanked out and started to follow instructions while I waited for the whole ordeal to end. I entered a dissociative state of mind. I do not recall walking down the aisle, getting my diploma certificate, or even eating food. I do not recall that my parents were there, though I know they were because of the photographs. I also do not recall any of the students that I graduated with. I do recall being given a chocolate bar “that I did not have to budget for,” as part of the gifts to grads section of the ceremony.

It is hard to describe just how intense this is. But if you can envision for me the feeling of entering a forest and suddenly it is much darker and colder than you prefer. The ground is soft, damp and unfamiliar and you are unsure of your footing. You cannot see properly and everything around you looks dangerous. There are thorns protruding from the plants, glowing eyes in the bushes, and deceptive shadows in the trees. You can hear so many noises, too, and it’s impossible to identify all of them. Your body is filled with fear, your chest is heavy, and you find it hard to breathe. You feel a resistance when trying to go forward, as if you are partially paralyzed. You would stop right there, if not for the disappointment you would cause to those who are waiting for you on the other side. Knowing you must proceed, you do. And when you finally emerge on the other side of the forest? You find a war zone, with guns firing and grenades flying, and the constant booming explosions of land mines all around you.

This is what graduation day looked like from my perspective.


Katherine Lockhead

I am a 32 year old female recently diagnosed with Aspergers. I have struggled my entire life with social interactions and was always a little bit odd. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder early into college due to my own determination in seeking out a diagnosis to explain my difficulties with conforming to the expectations that college presents.

Many autistic people have special interest. Some of us have many. I love to draw, especially human faces. I like to colour with high quality pencil crayons and make the drawing look as realistic as I can. I enjoy writing poetry and when I do, I often ensure to follow a pattern of syllables and rhyming schemes. I rap, and can do so as fast and clear as the best rappers in the world.

I am an accountant and have also ventured into less conventional work for a large portion of my life as a way to keep myself independent when the rules of society have become overwhelming. This alternative work and lifestyle has kept me travelling around western Canada for 7 years, and I have thousands of unique and beautiful photographs that really show a different perspective on the world around us.

Recently, I have become interested in sharing my story, through an autobiographical novel. In the process, I am finding that mini-stories are developing that really zoom in on the experience and give the reader a front seat with me in the roller-coaster of emotions that I feel. I have decided that as a way to keep myself motivated and inspired to complete the process of writing an entire novel, that I would share little pieces of me as I go – in hopes that others will be moved by my works and encourage me to keep going.

Featured image: Stefanie Sacks “Sensory Hell” Stefanie’s art can be purchased by emailing her at

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