Overloaded: what it feels like

Right now I’m feeling sensory overload, and my head feels all scrambled. I really do not feel like writing a blog entry – I feel like hiding under my duvet – but it occurred to me that it would be good to try to write about it when I feel like this, because it’s immediate and I can explain what I am feeling. If it’s a bit jumbled, I apologise, but it will hopefully show how my mind works when I feel like this.

The kind of overload I get is not just sensory. It’s also an overload from too much information in general – doing too much, spending too much time with people (and of course ‘too much’ is a relative term, and will be different for each person, and will depend on all sorts).

I’ve spent quite a bit of time with people lately, and right now I’m thinking I do not want to spend any more time with people. So I thought I would like to explain why this is, because often people have a stereotype that people with Aspergers aren’t interested in people, don’t care about people, etc. And this is really not the case. So I will explain.

I find people fascinating. From a very young age, I read novels, because to me they were a great way of understanding people. There is also a stereotype that people with Aspergers don’t read novels, and while this may be true of some people with Aspergers, it is not true of all, and certainly not true of me. To me, people have always been a fascinating puzzle (you know how people depict autism as a missing jigsaw puzzle – well, to me, autistic people are the easiest to understand! It’s the other ‘normal’ kind who are the puzzle!).

The puzzle was much more manageable in novels – there was no sensory overload, no auditory processing issues, no multitasking oftrying to read body language, words, and meaning. Just words on a page. I learnt a great deal about people by reading. As a child and teenager, I didn’t speak much to people – I found them too overwhelming and confusing – but as I reached adulthood, I decided to try getting to know people. I wanted to understand people, and to talk to them and spend time with them. I made myself do this.

And here is the result. I found that being with people could be very rewarding. I could enjoy their company and find them fascinating to talk to. Obviously some I felt more comfortable with than others, and some I felt uncomfortable with. Small talk confuses me. I prefer talk that goes beneath the surface. So with people I know a bit better and can talk about more meaningful things with, then I feel more comfortable. But at the same time, being with people is extraordinarily exhausting.

If I don’t know the people well, then the unsureness of what to say and how they are interpreting me, and the attempts to analyse this, are very tiring. But even if I know people well, and am comfortable with them, being with other people requires an extra layer of awareness that being alone doesn’t. You are always aware of the presence of the other person as well as your own presence. You’re aware of the other person interpreting you, and your effect on the other person. If you are close to the other person, it’s not so much a question of anxiety obout being wrongly interpreted, but more simply a multi-tasking thing. It’s so much easier to have no other person to keep track of in my mind. When it’s just me, I can lose myself in whatever I’m doing.

So, while I enjoy the company of others, I also need a great deal of time alone.

Some other things that affect me are weather, diet, and exercise. While sitting out in the sun can be nice for a while, it leaves me exhausted afterwards. As for diet, all kinds of things affect me badly – processed food, caffeine, sometimes wheat. Exercise is a difficult balance – the right amount gives me more energy, but a bit too zaps all my energy. Another factor which applies to females is the menstrual cycle. I understand that one is not supposed to talk about such things, but quite frankly, I think it could be useful to talk about this, in case others are affected in the same way. In general, for all women, not just those on the spectrum, PMS causes the body to be more sensitive to sensory stuff, and more fatigued, and also causes an inner feeling of mental tension. For someone on the spectrum who already has sensory sensitivities, is easily fatigued, and also easily feels mental tension, then this time of the month can be quite disabling.

Right now I have PMS and I have also been out in the sun for a walk with other people, and have in the past few days spent quite a bit of time with other people (whose company I enjoy). The effect on me right now is as follows: My head feels like it’s all over the place. I am finding it hard to concentrate and I feel hot and prickly and unsettled. I am sitting on my bed, but a while back when I was standing up and on the phone, I was pacing back and forth, feeling a strange unsettled feeling. I want to shut my eyes and stop writing this. The laptop is hot on my lap, and my neck aches and my eyes ache and I half want to scream and half want to hide under my duvet. I can’t tell if my body wants sensory stimulation or lack of it. I felt the need to turn on music (which I don’t like to do very often) but as soon as I was listening to my favourite music, I realised my body was at a heightened intolerance to it – the music seemed to be prodding my head and somehow intruding uncomfortably into my body. And this is quiet relaxing music.

I am very tired. And hot and cross and not wanting to write this blog post, but not really wanting to go to bed, because I’m not feeling settled, but still my body is heavy and tired and my eyes are closing. I feel dizzy and my tummy hurts – sharp stabbing pains. My mind wants to focus but darts back and fro. My eyes are closing so much I have to sleep right now, but I want to post this. I’m trying to find a way to end the post, to tie up the loose ends and give some good advice, but my mind can’t focus and I’ve lost track of the entry as a whole, and how it began, and I feel too tired and unfocused to read it through.

So this is me in ‘overload’ state. The solution for me, right now, is to go to sleep!

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13 Comments

  1. Hi 🙂

    I can relate to some of this, no doubt (aside from the menstrual cycle 😉 ), and I feel for you. I can’t stand too much human interaction, even if I deeply care for the person. I am much more comfortable in silence, even in my own loneliness. Just this Saturday I had a friend over to hang out — he was here for 6 hours. By the third hour, I was already hoping for him to be gone.

    I can understand the restless/tiredness, too, though I imagine my diet is the main cause for this.

    I enjoyed reading this, so I hope it is something you’ll keep up to date with.

    See you around.

    James

    • Hi. 🙂 Yes, I think overload is something a quite a few people can relate to, and it’s not just people who are on the autistic spectrum. Although, yep, you do kind of have to be female to relate to the menstrual cycle bit! 😉

      My diet also influences overload and fatigue – I should be much more strict about what I let myself eat!

  2. Well done. I’d say you explained it really well. What it feels like to be on sensory overload, and how we get there. I also like the part about the novels. Though, I will say, the only fiction I like to read is murder mysteries. And I’m all picky about them. I don’t like them to have swearing, for some reason it feels like an invasion in my head. Mind you, I can talk like a sailor quite comfortably. (weird I know). The victim can’t be a kid, and neither can the perpetrator. I know I’m weird. But mostly I stick to non-fiction these days. And my son doesn’t really care for novels either. Interesting. Anyway, good post!

  3. Your entry makes so much sense to me. I’ve just come back from an all night party and I found myself getting overloaded, but instead of going somewhere else, like a fool I stayed where all the dancing was and tried to be normal. I had so many of my friends there supporting me and chatting, but when they kept asking me to dance with them I eventually overloaded and had to get outside and hide on the stairs to cry. I felt so bloody pathetic. I try not to upset my well meaning friends who just want to help me, so I don’t tell them that I was upset, but they know I have Aspergersy.
    I slept there overnight and went home at 2pm, it’s taken me 6 hours to get my energy back.
    I’m still glad I pushed my barriers though. 🙂

  4. I’ve been going through menopause for quite some time, and it has nearly been my undoing. I’ve been unable to find any research on the topic, but some anecdotal evidence suggests that Asperger’s women have far more problems than NTs with both PMS and menopause. All I know is that I haven’t acted this autistic since puberty (which also was a horrible time), and on my worst days the sensory overload is crippling.

  5. *nods* I don’t tend to get stomach cramps during overloads – my head kills me instead – but everything else you describe is indeed very familiar. So familiar that I don’t even tend to think of it as “being in overload” until I’ve been in it for a while and I realize I desperately *need* the darkness and quiet. (Which is a problem.) I like music (it distracts the part of my mind that is always one step away from an anxiety attack)… but yes, when I’m in overload, I can’t tolerate it, no matter how soft or relaxing or pleasant it is.

    And I *love* novels – specifically, SF and Fantasy. To quote from my most recent post:
    Books… books were wonderful. Books I could understand. Books *explained* things, *told* you what the characters were feeling. Let you look inside the head of characters to see what they were thinking. (There’s a reason that I prefer third-person limited when it comes to stories.) And they were full of stories. Stories that let me use my imagination. Stories that *fed* my imagination. Stories that took me far away from all the sensory input that I couldn’t handle, all the emotions that I couldn’t handle, and all the situations that frustrated me because I *couldn’t understand them*. Books were a treasure.

    Hm. I should probably change that to read “were / are” at some point. They’re still treasures to me.

    😉 tagAught

  6. Thankyou, this was an excellent post to come across! A relative of mine has Aspergers, and v late in life, I think I’m coming to the conclusion I too have Aspergers, or at least am somewhere on the spectrum 🙂 This was very informative and honest, many thanks.

  7. About a year ago I started dating a guy and a few months after we had been dating he told me that he had a book that he wanted me to read. It was a book about women with Aspergers. At first I was pissed. How could he say that I had autism! I was intelligent (more intelligent than him I thought), articulate, social, warm, and witty. After I got over the initial pissed-off-ness however, I decided to read the book. While there were some things in there that I didn’t feel applied to me at all, the vast majority of it was like reading an explanation of why I am the way I am. Now months later, we don’t talk about it anymore, but every once in a while I have what I call “Aspie Days”…..Strangely enough, right before my period starts tends to be my worst Aspie Days. I was trolling the internet trying to find information on the link between female hormones and Aspergers, and I came across your post. It helped me feel like maybe my hair-brained theory wasn’t so hair-brained after all. Thank you for writing, even when you didn’t want to.

  8. I find it hard to recognise encroaching overload unless it’s brought on quickly because I have no obvious pain, just a gradually increasing pressure all over my body that either gets released in meltdown, or, more commonly, goes away once I’m no longer subject to sensory assault.

  9. I read this because I felt like wanting to relate to people who have experienced this sensation. I am studying Microbiology and Biochemistry and today’s practical was a disaster, I was completely overwhelmed by my senses. I really would have liked to go home and hide the the cupboard.
    There was a lot of people in the lab all talking to each other, the Bunsen burners were all alight giving off a warm heat ang glow, the desk felt coarse, the smell of the brain broth wafting to my nose, the bacteria spread in a random conformation, the lights flickering, the speakers making a grating noise with the microphone, lots of people asking me questions……
    I felt so dazed, like my head was stuffed with wool and my tongue felt like rubber in my mouth, I could not seem to answer the questions. I could not make myself speak in fear I would give them the wrong answers, and I could not focus with the babble of voices. I felt like shouting and crawling into a ball and shutting everything off.
    I am so tired now, I don’t want to be around people, yet I wondered if other with Asperger’s feel the same. Although you spoke a lot about social interaction as a cause of overload and my root cause was assault from my senses, I was pleased to see that some of what I am feeling now is what you have experienced.

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