sensory overload

  • This year was my 39th Christmas as an autistic person, but the first Christmas that I have known I'm autistic. It's been interesting. One of the things I have found a little weird about exploring my autistic brain is that I keep getting these little moments of "Oh, that's why I've always done this...", and this Christmas has been no different.

    I had a big one today. I've been reading lost of posts from other autistics on Twitter talking about coping with Christmas - the sensory overload, having to be social, and how they survive it all - all the while thinking that I've never really had issues with Christmas. I did have a little weep yesterday (Christmas Day itself), but that was because I had a stinking cold and didn't get enough sleep... wasn't it??

    Today I had a bit of a realisation. My husband dances with the village Morris side, and Boxing Day is a big day for them. As I was driving over I had a sudden flashback to last year, sitting crying in my car waiting for Husband to finish dancing so I could go home and back to bed. When I thought about it, I realised I've often struggled on Boxing Day. It seems to be the moment when everything 'hits' me, and the more I thought about it the more I remembered regular Boxing Day meltdowns over the last few years. At the time, there was always something to attribute it to - we were going through a tough time and it had all got too much being the main one. Today I started wondering if there was something else to it.

    In general, I am pretty bad at noticing when I'm getting overwhelmed until it really is too much. I suppose it comes from nearly four decades of masking. I will keep going and keep going, either until I keel over, or until the pressure is relieved, and then I keel over! I had a couple of meetings just before Christmas - both of them were only with one other person, and they were good, positive, and helpful meetings, but it was still too much. I got home and had to go to bed. It frustrated me that I hadn't noticed in time to be able to do something about it.

    I'm trying to get better at noticing when things are too much, but at the same time trying not to spend my entire life in my pyjamas under my duvet. As it transpires, I did go back out with the Morris today after dropping Tickle off at my mums, but I think mainly because I knew I didn't have to. Husband is so incredibly supportive and was quite happy for me to go back home and spend the day watching TV if that's what I needed to do. That knowledge gave me the freedom to make my own choice about it.

    My next step is going to be working out how to do this with the rest of my life. I've been approached about doing some work for a local arts charity next year, and I'm terrified at the thought of taking on an actual proper job instead of working for myself as a freelancer. I have absolutely no frame of reference for how to be successful as an autistic person in the workplace, and I'm not yet confident enough with my own needs and triggers that I can give particularly helpful guidance.

    I know it's a cliche, but I will have to take it a step at I time I suppose. Keep trying to notice what's going on with me, and keep trying to work out what I need to do to be a fully functioning, happy, human.

  • I thought I couldn't be autistic because I didn't have any sensory issues.

    Then I remembered how much I hate stickers. Thin, shiny bit of paper that stick to your skin. Urgh. And then they peel up at the edges and when you brush up against them they make a flicking noise... it makes me cringe. I hate going on training courses where they make you wear name stickers. I have learned to tolerate it, but I will take them off as soon as I can. The trouble is, taking them off involves touching them, and then when you try to throw them away they get stuck to your fingers...

    While I'm on the subject on thin, shiny bits of paper, I also can't stand receipts. When I was younger I literally couldn't touch them without feeling a bit sick. Now I have desensitised myself enough that I can hold one with a thumb and finger until I can find a bin to put it in. Or I stuff them into a particular pocket of my handbag (which I can then steel myself to empty all in one go). If I'm shopping with my husband or daughter I will just get them to take the receipt. My husband is always telling me off for not keeping them, but, urgh, WHY WOULD I DO THAT???? I can't think of many things worse than a draw full of receipts. Actually, I can. Finding one in the bottom of a shopping bag.

    After acknowledging that my dislike of thin, shiny bit of paper could potentially be described as a sensory issue, the realisations came thick and fast.

    Toothpaste makes me gag. I have given up completely on cleaning my teeth in the mornings because I've been sick so many times. I can usually manage ok in the evenings but I need to do an awful lot of rinsing and spitting, and if I'm stressed or feeling down, teeth cleaning is the first thing to fall by the wayside.

    I'm not even sure I will be able to write this next one because even thinking about it can make me gag... I am taking a break every few words to stare fixedly at other things in the room to try and anchor myself in reality and not get too drawn in. I hate, absolutely hate... oh god I can't even write the words. Let me try another way. I love to paint my nails. It's when they get too long that I struggle. I am lucky to have a very loving and tolerant husband who cuts them for me while I read a book or scroll through Twitter or *anything* to keep my mind off what is happening, because otherwise I will start to retch. I have been physically sick more than once when trying to do it myself. (I had to take a little break just then because I actually did retch a couple of times just thinking about it. I'm now under a duvet with a rainbow blanket next to my face because I really want to finish explaining this.) I will move on in a minute because I don't think I'll be able to fully explain quite how much this affects me without actually making myself sick, but I really want to get across just how distressing this is. Once I start to think about 'it' it gets stuck in my head and it's like it might as well be right in front of me. On a couple of occasions I have been at a friends house and found a discarded (deep breath, deep breath, deep breath) clipping on the floor or sofa and I can still remember those times in vivid detail even though one of them was more than 20 years ago. It is taking every ounce of self control I have not to start heaving again just thinking about them. The only way I can get over it is to force my mind on to something else, like the feeling of my blanket against my face, and the different colours of wool.

    Ok, back in the room, even if I've been so traumatised by what I've just written about that I can't remember what I was going to write next.

    (Breathe.)

    Smell. I have a really sensitive sense of smell. I remember as a kid being convinced that I could smell the difference between hot and cold. When I was a teenager I was really self-conscious about being on my period, as to me I smelled totally different to normal.

    I am really sensitive to bright light. I have to have photochromic lenses in my glasses because it's too bright for me outside without a bit of a tint. I've recently started trying out contact lenses, but yesterday I was wearing them in a room with very bright strip lighting and it was glaring so much I had to switch back to glasses! It's like driving in the dark and the rain, when the headlights of oncoming cars dazzle you. It was like that, indoors, with those lights. I could hardly see for trying to blink away the flashes around the edge of my vision.

    I've always had an issue with the word 'cribbage'. I'm better with it now, as I'm pretty much desensitised to it, but when I was younger I used to hate it. It felt like it should be made of sticks. (No I don't understand either.)

    I have a ridiculous pain threshold. I was always the kid in the playground at school who could stand and take a Chinese burn without even flinching. Once I fractured a bone in my foot and didn't realise I'd done it. By the time I noticed that my foot had been really hurting for quite a while and got it X-rayed the fracture had nearly healed. I still don't know for sure how I did it.

    I really struggle to tell when I've had enough to eat, and often don't stop until I feel a bit sick. I find it hard to tell where my body is, generally, and often thought that overeating was for me, a way to really feel my body. I've recently given up sugar completely (including carbs like pasta and bread) and since then I can't always tell when I'm hungry. I am wondering if the fact that my blood sugar is (hopefully!) now more stable rather than up and down like a yo-yo means the feeling I always thought was hunger was more of a blood sugar crash than genuine hunger. I can sometimes tell that I'm hungry these days, but at other times I just start shouting at everyone and get a headache and all shaky, and then realise I haven't eaten!

    The 'not knowing where my body is' also means I bump in to things all the time. I am forever covered in bruises from catching myself on door handles. And sometimes I just fall over for no reason. Then of course all the usual stuff - itchy labels in clothes, not liking slippery textures of foods like mushrooms or onions. As a kid I was completely freaked out by manikins and waxworks, but I'm not really sure what that was about. So, all in all it would appear that I do have one or two sensory issues..!!

    Writing this has been really quite traumatic in places, so I'm going to spend some quality time with my blanket now.

© 2019 Cat McGill