Sensory Overload

I first heard of sensory overload specifically in terms of it being a trait of autism.  This started to explain a few things for me.  In a number of cases I would experience sensory overload.  Then I decided to do a search for it, and found the Wikipedia page, and looked at the list of “As a component of other disorders” and I saw that of the 8 disorders listed there, I have been diagnosed formally with 4 of them, almost certain that I have at least one of the remaining ones, and have looked into the possibility of the remaining three, and have significant “symptoms” of them.

So, how do I experience sensory overload?  It can vary from each experience, but every time my experience with it is some form of being overloaded by one or more senses.  My most common trigger for it is smells.  The biggest trigger here seems pretty specific.  While I may find certain “organic” smells disgusting, I don’t have anywhere near the reaction I do to them, as I do to that of fragrance.

Recently I have been offered two items which came from a thrift shop.  One was a dress, and that wasn’t so difficult to deal with, I threw that in my laundry, hoping to be able to deal with it in a few days.  I was not really ready to do laundry at that time, so I thought I could wait until I would normally do it.

Within an hour, I knew I needed to deal with it right away.  No big deal, just doing laundry earlier than I was planning.  So I washed it with my regular wash.  I didn’t think a whole lot about it really.  Whether or not it would be a problem to do that.  I use a “natural unscented” laundry detergent most of the time.  I have tried the “Tide Free” a couple of times, and have found that it simply did not work for me (it smelled too much, set too many triggers of sensory overload off for me when I used it).

I put one dress, which didn’t smell much different from what most people’s clothes in with a whole lot of my regular clothes.  Not expecting much of a problem at all.  While washing I could tell that the smell did not wash out fully, but at least I could be relatively close to it.  So I went with that.

When I started to deal with that laundry (due to chronic pain issues I like to space this out over a little time if possible) I first try to put on the dress, and it still smells way too much.  It is a lot better, so I trust that another wash should deal with it (still not sure it managed to, as I haven’t tried to put it on since then, even though it made it into the closet).  Then later in the day, I try putting on something that got washed with it.  Again…  Too smelly…

So, I would say that with this happening like this, that I think I have got to a point that I hopefully can wear it next time.

When I told my doctor that I couldn’t do laundry in the shared (with about 35 other people) laundry, he said that it wouldn’t be a problem, as the wash doesn’t smell really “at all”.  I didn’t really accept his experience, as I knew full well that he doesn’t have experience with the level of sensory overload that I have.

With smells like that, I find that I actually have a lot of physical symptoms that are possibly not explained by “pure” sensory overload.  If I do not monitor when I get the smell sensory overload experience, I know that I have to get out of that situation fairly quickly as I am quite likely to experience quite an increase in my pain symptoms if I wait too long to get out of that space.

I have experiences with pretty much every sense being a trigger for sensory overload.  Visual, sound, smell (as above), touch, taste.  Taste may be the least likely to be a true overload experience, and in some ways ends up being a “vector for recovery”.

What do I mean by that?  There are two ways that I can make sensory overload more manageable (it doesn’t go away, it just becomes more manageable) and that is by drinking coffee (usually double espresso), or eating spicy food.

In both of these cases, I am not really sure why they work, but I do know what happens when I do that.  It doesn’t really do much to reduce the intensity of the sensory experiences, but what it does do, is that rather than being overwhelming, the stimulus becomes “interesting stuff I can pay attention to”.  It gives me the ability to direct my focus where I really “need” to.

The use of stimulants has been used for people who are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to allow a person focus better.  This may or may not be what is happening here.

For now I will leave this as this stands.  It really is just personal experience.  And it is really only a small part of it.

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