Sensory Overload

This post Sometimes it is best to say nothing at all! by Bill Nason is excellent and so true. To read it, just click on the pink title. Below is my reaction to it, how it is useful to us and a bit more about my own sensory issues throughout my life.

For both myself and Sophia, voices become like fingernails on a chalkboard when the sensory system is overloaded. Sophia and I both have this sensitivity and sometimes we just need space and some quiet time.

I have built up coping mechanisms over the years, but she is just learning, so it is good that I understand exactly what she is experiencing and can help her build these mechanisms up slowly.

Even if in the middle of a lesson, when one of us has had enough, we simply take a break and come back after we feel better and then it is smooth sailing. Often we will take a bike ride together without speaking, or draw or read for a bit and then we are fine.

Pressing on when in this state does nothing but lead to a full shutdown or meltdown. This is one of the things I love about home educating, is allowing her to feel and know her own limitations and learn to self-regulate before it gets past the point that she can.

I went through life not knowing what was happening to my mind and my body, and I don’t want Sophia to have to be afraid of, and distrust her body and mind, like I did for far too many years.

Now as an adult in my late forties, if I do too much and ignore my signals, I shut down and my body literally makes me unable to move and I usually must sleep at least two hours to recharge.

This has changed over my lifetime; when I was younger my mind would go blank and I would stare off into space and rock, or I would lash out in anger. I had no idea where the anger came from but I felt it start in my stomach and flow out all around me.

When I hit puberty, I would just pass out. Everything would start to get dark and my hearing would go and I would just drop on the ground. I was really scary, especially if I was not fast enough to sit down before drifting out. I passed out a lot as a teenager, and I know now it was because of all of the activity going on around me. Especially at school or places where there was multiple sensory over-stimulation.

The grocery store or shopping when it is busy has been the worst throughout my life especially in my late teens and twenties. I would have to sit down right where I was to avoid passing out and hitting my head on the ground.

Having someone yelling at you, or expressing their displeasure with your actions is not helpful, in fact it makes it worse especially when they just leave you sit there because they are embarrassed.

So you find yourself not in control of your body, scared, vulnerable and alone. Then strangers either try and help, by talking to you and asking if you are alright, or touching you, while you can’t respond; only pull away or push them back. Or others ridicule you, make snide remarks or assumptions about drugs or alcohol or say mean things about you because they are ignorant.

I am better know, but some days it hits me. Usually, I can tell when I am getting overwhelmed, because I start to get angry before my mind goes blank. Thankfully I have an amazing husband who does all the grocery shopping. But more than that, he also understands me, so when we do go together, he knows the signs and helps me out by gently taking my hand and leading me through, or getting me a cart to hold on to when my knees start to buckle.

The other shoppers may see my knuckles turning white from gripping so hard, or they may wonder why I am leaning over the cart; it is to keep myself from falling.

Often people who know me, will try to talk to me in the store when I am in this state, and I feel bad because I have to keep it short or I am not really there, sometimes I don’t even remember speaking with them. Often I don’t even recognise them in that moment, until a coupe days after; when my brain is clear.

In my twenties and thirties, when overwhelmed I would get uncontrollable tremors and I would be in a fog and I would feel far away and couldn’t respond, or just close enough to respond in one word sentences. I spent many breaks in the bathrooms at my jobs over the years trying to regulate myself before this point and sometimes I would fail and have to sit there for a while until the tremors stopped and my mind became clear, and I was functioning enough to leave or get picked up.

When you are in a work environment, hypersensitive senses are simply impossible to ignore for too long.

The people smell; the overwhelming smells of colognes and perfumes, body odours, deodorants and shampoos, lotions and make-up, shoe polish, what they cooked for breakfast and their breath are just a few that overpower me.

The environment smells; the smell of the papers and tapes, glues and copy toner, air fresheners, a variety of foods (some quite pungent), cigarettes and cigars, the fresh cut grass and flowers on people’s desks or outside the door, chemicals used in cleaning, etc. all affect me.

The constant noise; of office machines (copy machines, 10-key and keyboards typing, computers humming, scanners, etc.), paper crumpling, people writing (yes I hear the pen go across the page), the constant buzz of the lighting, the air conditioner blowing or heater humming, phones ringing, and not to mention office chatter and gossip, make it so hard to maintain an equilibrium within that type of environment.

I even hear what is outside, birds chirping, trees rustling, the wind howling, trucks and motorcycles on the freeway, lawnmowers and leaf blowers in the spring and summer, and wood chippers and chainsaws in fall and winter, bugs buzzing, airplanes, helicopters and jets, etc.

It is especially difficult when in a position where many personnel speak with you (often before you have quite focused on them and they have your full attention) and they get way too close and are just so loud.

Empathic and psychic sensitivities are also a huge issue. I can feel other people’s emotions, I know who had a fight with their spouse (and usually what/ or who it was about.) I feel their despair, hopelessness, feelings of being trapped, the need to leave the situation, how hard it is for them to hold it together everyday and their sadness.

I know who will be divorced or separated by the end of the year. I know whose partners are cheating, whose kids are thieves, liars or drug addicts and who has addictions or is abused. I know who has issues with control, with manipulation, who is passive aggressive, or has low self-esteem, who was molested or beaten as a child, and on more than one occasion who was close to death.

I also feel people’s physical ailments and pain; broken limbs, backaches, headaches, earaches, toothaches, stomach ulcers or constipation, period cramps or women’s issues, bad lungs and heart issues, etc. I feel them all in my body.

I feel all of this with my non-physical senses, on top of trying to maintain my physical senses. Up until a couple years ago, I had no idea why, and it was much more difficult trying to discern what was me or mine and what was not. At that point I was unaware that others did not have these sensitivities.

That is why I ended up on medication, in order to fit in to the 9-5 work life and be like everyone else. However, the tremors did not stop (only lessened) and my mind was still numb -but now all my emotions and all of my senses were dead as well; the good along with the bad. I had to slowly learn how to regulate my senses in order to be off of medication as I loved helping people and I was no longer available to do that while being numb.

This is just a small glimpse into how sensory issues have affected my life and maybe it can help you see how it affects you, or someone you love. I am glad to be able to use my experience to not only help my child, but hopefully other parents who may benefit by us sharing our journey.

If you want to know more about ASD and sensory issues, I encourage you to check out more of Bill’s posts or purchase his books, as they are very helpful and insightful.

As for us, we are learning every day and we all just do the best we can. Some days are harder and some are easy, but they are all necessary for growth.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have and thank you for taking the time to read our blog.

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