Feminist Aspie

Crashing Down To Earth: Sensory overload and its aftermath

on May 18, 2014

It seems there is one lesson I’ll never learn: if it can be helped, don’t plan to do anything after doing something I know will be massively overloading. I mean, I know not to plan to do anything stressful. I’m vaguely grasping the concept of not planning to do anything involving other people. But when it gets really bad, even that blog post I was planning to write and that bit of work I was planning to finish are not going to happen. They won’t happen. Nothing you can do. They just won’t. Do. Not. Plan. Anything.

Generally I get two types of sensory overload (your mileage may vary):

Same reaction, different threshold. For example, jumping at a loud noise that didn’t startle anyone else. Or arriving at the lecture hall and immediately flushing up. The former is over in a split second, the latter is a bit more horrid but still fades away after a few minutes, and both are very quickly forgotten about as I generally get on with life. For me, the main problem here is self-consciousness rather than anything else.

A Huge Draining Longer-Term One. For example, arguments, unpredictable crowds, parties… oh, and that weather I’m trying in vain not to talk about. At least all the other stuff exists in finite spaces for a finite period of time, and can be escaped from. Anyway, this is where my reaction to The Overloading Thing becomes, at least internally, really different from the standard neurotypical not-liking-this-much reaction. There is, somewhere, a threshold at which a meltdown will happen, but luckily I don’t tend to reach it all that often. Throughout The Overloading Thing, I might be coping pretty well; in fact, it’s pretty likely that I’ll still mainly be enjoying the event as a whole, seeing The Overloading Thing as simply a drawback that’s worth it overall. Sometimes I even get used to it and think I’m absolutely fine.

And then I get home. And. I’m. So. So. So. Drained.

As those of you who follow my Twitter and have had to put up with my whining for the past couple of days may know, I don’t handle heat well. I mean, my body is okay; to be fair, this is probably because it’s stuck with a terrified obsessive controlling brain that only lets it out of the shade when it absolutely has no other choice, but I’ve never actually had sunstroke or similar, I vaguely remember dehydration happening on holiday once when I was like 4, and sunburn is very rare too. My brain, on the other hand, just goes all over the place. It’s an sensory overload thing, and then a panicking-about-sensory-overload thing; consequently, it both worsens and is worsened by my other hypersensitivities. I was out all afternoon yesterday at a garden party, and I had a great day, but realistically it was too much people-ing and too much sun (seriously, if you’re doing outdoors-y stuff, make sure there’s a bit of shade, it’s a tiny silly little thing that not many people understand and it’s massively frustrating) to handle in one sitting.


Still, though, I figured after getting in, having a cold shower, putting some cream on the burned shoulder and continuing to underestimate just how much water I am in fact capable of drinking, I’d feel several billion times better and could, well, get on with the aforementioned stuff I’d planned to do. I have a tendency to think “hey, looks like I survived that without a meltdown or a shutdown, hooray for me” and assume I’ll be fine afterwards. I always forget just how much a massive sensory overload, whatever the cause, wipes me out totally. “Tired” doesn’t quite cover it.

Instead, I end up doing, well, not much. Check Facebook. Check Twitter. Check WordPress. Go back to Facebook. There’s nothing new. Scroll down anyway. Put more cream on the relevant shoulder. Stare blankly at Facebook. Think “Okay, so I overdid it”. Think very little else. It’s a state of “nope, that’s it, limit reached, no more input please”. I’ve found that sometimes, for some reason, a little positive input seems to help; despite the many quiet gentle relaxing songs in existence (and, well, the “silence” alternative), last night nothing did the trick quite like this, or this, or this (which is where I got this post’s title from). I have no idea why that is, especially when there are quiet gentle relaxing Muse songs in existence too, but there you go. I even paced around the room a little, which is my standard “MUSIC IS HAPPENING YAY” stim, but perhaps less ideal when you feel like you’ve used up every last drop of energy. Senses are odd. Other than general sensory oddities, though, I tend to just… sort of… want… nothing… to… happen.

Of course, eventually it starts to get better. The only completely reliable “cure” I’ve found is a good night’s sleep; having said that, the vast majority of my Overloading Things are in some way related to big social events, which tend to either take place in the evening or at least go on until then, so that’s probably why. I suppose, eventually, a lot of time to hide away and recover and regulate would have the same effect. In a way, though, it isn’t totally over; most of the time, it gets filed away under “Things That Made You Feel Awful Which You Should Try And Avoid Where Possible In Future”. If something has gone consistently wrong in the past, I guess it’s natural to perceive it as a threat, to worry about it, to plan ahead and specifically go out of your way to avoid it. Even where that’s not always 100% possible. Or  50% possible. Or possible at all. Or possible at all with no firm knowledge of when it will become possible.

No wonder the slightest bit of sun freaks me out so much.


13 responses to “Crashing Down To Earth: Sensory overload and its aftermath

  1. alexforshaw says:

    I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Muse recently; I also find the heavier tracks to be more soothing when I’ve been overdoing things. Perhaps it’s the predictable regularity of the stimulus that contributes to a feeling of security.

    • Yeah, I think so 🙂 I tend to stim a lot to music too. Also Muse = favourite band and a mahoosive special interest; although this blog’s only been around for a year and the post titles reflect that, there was, believe it or not, a time before Bastille. 😛

      • alexforshaw says:

        New Born was my first exposure to Muse – can hardly believe that was 2001! I know Bastille supported them on recent tours, but I’m not familiar with them: yay!! another band to explore! 🙂

      • Went to see Muse around this time last year, Bastille were supporting, and the rest, as they say, is history… 😛

    • Also, something they don’t tell you about using song lyrics as blog post titles: That one line *will* be stuck in your head for ages afterwards.

  2. […] not been reading or keeping up to date with anything. Then I read this post from Feminist Aspie. It’s everything I have been for months on end now. “The Overloading Thing” has […]

  3. Falen Cook says:

    This is really old. Can you please explain how this felt as a child? I have a 10 year old who is really really struggling in the heat. We live in southern Cali and it’s taking over her life. I want to know how I can help her the best, when it is always hot

    • Hello! Sorry to hear she’s having a hard time 😦 I don’t know if this is helpful or just a shameless plug, but I wrote about the heat thing in more detail about a month or so after this post, link here: http://wp.me/p31gnY-LS (The comments under this post, and the linked post by A Quiet Week, are also worth reading for other experiences!) I don’t think it felt particularly different from this as a child, although I definitely think I’m better able to express the anxiety as an adult which can prove helpful. I really wish I had some magic solutions for you, but I don’t think I do! More recently I’ve found it helpful to try and logically think through the actual risks; given that I’m in England and if we’re “lucky” we get a couple of days a year of low 30s (Celsius – so I’m guessing mid 90s Fahrenheit?), I can at least rationally know that as long as I take basic precautions (which is never an issue because I’m kind of obsessive about it as you can probably tell!!), it’s safe. I get the impression where you live is a bit further up the scale though!

  4. (Edit: Google’s conversion chart tells me a really hot British day is more high 80s Fahrenheit, occasionally nudging past 90)

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