Sunday, October 23, 2011


I recently had the worrying experience of coming very close to a meltdown in public. Worrying because it would have been very embarrassing for me and the other people present. I just prefer to keep such intense reactions to myself.

But even more worrying because I did not see or feel it coming. I went from feeling calm to getting extremely agitated within a few minutes. And I suspect it is the result of a lifetime of suppressing my reactions to intense sensory and social input. I have learned to hide this not only from others, but also from myself. Before my diagnosis, I just believed it was wrong to get irritated so easily. And that I should try harder to stay calm and not act like a child. I now know that there is nothing wrong with getting overwhelmed, but lifelong habits and ways of thinking are hard to overcome. I have become so good at pretending that I feel OK that I actually believe it myself.

What I need to learn is how to identify the earlier stages of overload, to recognise the building stress. In hindsight, I can see the things that led to me being overwhelmed, but in the situation all the dots did not connect. I need to know when just taking a break will be sufficient and when leaving a situation is the best thing to do. I need to look more carefully at what is happening, how it is affecting me, and then learn to predict how much more I can handle.

And even more important, I have to be kinder to myself despite the fact that others may not understand or become impatient or feel inconvenienced. I spend a huge amount of energy accommodating and pleasing other people, probably too much energy. And they do not know this, how can they when doing the same things do not require nearly the same amount of energy of them? That is probably why they cannot understand my frequent irritation or fatigue. I work hard, I get tired, and I owe it to myself and to the people around me to insist on getting more down-time. 

It is scary though. I find it hard to read people, to pinpoint what they are really feeling, but I am good at picking up negative or positive vibes - feeling them, but not understanding them. So when I state that I do not want to do something, or want to be alone, or do not enjoy something I often feel the negative reactions and not knowing what it means makes me very anxious. Is the other person feeling irritation? Disappointment? Anger? Resentment? Rejection? Concern? I have no idea, and since people mostly respond with the universal and frustrating "It's OK", I am left feeling confused and guilty and insecure. 
And instead of using my down-time to relax, I worry. Maybe I need to be more honest and try to describe what I feel and experience and what my needs are. That is hard though - the sensations and feelings I have are so many times not connected to words at all. Take the imminent meltdown - if you wanted to know how I felt, I would have to show you the physical reactions I had to suppress, I cannot describe in words how I felt.

What I want to do is accept that my needs are important, and that even though it may inconvenience others, getting what I need will benefit them also. This is a continuing education - teaching both myself and the people around me.


  1. Hi Cecile. I find it difficult to recognise the signs of impending overload myself - it seems that one of the side-effects of sensory overload is to interfere with my recognition of those signs. I assume it's just a result of my mind being unable to handle so much at once.

    Instead I am learning to recognise the situations that cause the overload and try to avoid them as much as is practical. But it still happens now and again. The impact on other people is not easy to accept - it's a natural result of caring about their feelings.

    But your feelings are just as important as those of the people around you. It is crucial to find a balance between your needs and theirs, and remember that it is not selfish to include yourself in your considerations.

    If only I could manage to follow my own advice :)

  2. @bjforshawLOL at following your own advice. It is always easier to see what to do when you are not in the situation causing the stress.

    The unpredictability of it all also gets to me. Sometimes I can handle things quite well, and the next time I try the same thing it is difficult and stressful. I think that makes it hard for our loved ones too - not knowing from day to day how I will feel.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this, I feel this way often too.