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!