December 30, 2021

Sensory Overload: The Bastard Son of Anxiety & Depression.

“There were too many sounds, and now I’m a b*tch.”

A friend shared that meme on social media the other day. I laughed and most definitely identified with the words.

Good old sensory overload. Something I’ve lived with my entire life yet had no clue what it was until I was in my 20s—that was only after my son received his autism diagnoses and I had to become an expert along with the experts. The deeper I dove into the world of autism and sensory processing disorder, the more I realized I was certainly, very much like the things I was reading.

I do not have a certified paper deeming me on the spectrum or anything, but I’m nearly 40 and to fret over it now seems moot.

Neurodiversity is here to stay, and interestingly, becoming quite niche.

I don’t know who created the prototype for normalcy. It is most assuredly sprung from some kind of puritanical, “What would Jesus do,” archetype. Pious, pretending to be straitlaced folks who created things like the 40-hour work week, no elbows on the table, and “Women only wear long skirts” nonsense.

If it weren’t for neurodiversity, the world would be straight lines, connecting point A to point B with zero colorful deviance…anyway, going back to the topic of “too many sounds and now I’m a b*tch,” it suddenly makes so much sense for Van Gogh to cut his own ear off. Sometimes the world is so noisy that I resist the urge to punch myself in the face.

It’s the little noises behind the big noises. The sound of a person taking a bite of food and biting down on their fork in the background of dinner conversation. Once it happens, it becomes the loudest noise in the room, and suddenly I can hear every tooth scraping a fork and every fork and knife scraping a plate, every gnash of teeth into meat, every sip of a liquid, every scrape of a chair leg. Then the light is too bright, and the refrigerator is too loud, and I need to move the dog’s bowl. I need to sweep again. My shirt is too loose at the collar. There are dishes in the sink. I forgot to buy ribbons for an order. What time should I start making the order? I need to confirm an order. I haven’t bought a single gift. Did I text (insert name) back? I need to go to the gym…all because someone couldn’t help but bite their daggum fork while they were eating.

Do not be alarmed. It is not your fault. I’m just describing why I am suddenly a b*tch when there are too many sounds.

Sensory overload is the bastard son of things like anxiety and depression. A brain that is in constant search of a “fight or flight” situation will find a source to fixate annoyance, anger, frustration, and even sadness on. The entire world becomes toxic and the next thing you know, the buzz of fluorescent lighting sends you into an absolute tizzy and you need to take a shower because it made you feel dirty…

Or is it just me?

Flashing back a handful of years ago to my autistic son stuffing his ears with green playdoh at school because he lived in fear of a surprise fire drill, now that I understand myself, I understand his wacky actions. That one unexpected noise triggers a sequence of overload that is hard to manage as an adult, let alone a barely verbal kindergartener.

There are probably thousands of millions of people walking this chaotic Earth in a constant state of annoyance due to auditory, visual, and tactile intrusion not even realizing that they are experiencing it. They have zero clue as to why they feel so annoyed and frustrated, and have no choice but to continue to move about their day.

We are sensory sponges, and if not given the opportunity to wring ourselves out constructively, we will explode in our choice of destruction. Pick your fuel: alcohol, drugs, sex, drama, gossip, ridicule, sadness, laziness, gluttony—these are the destructive ways we manifest our overload.

Overload can come from everywhere. Whether you are drowning memories or sounds, the sense of being overwhelmed will manifest itself somehow, someway if you do not give it a proper outlet.

My sensory overload, overthinking, and anxiety all rely completely on the expelling of energy through activity and eating right 95 percent of the time. The way I (and science) figure is that if our bodies are in proper working order, then our brain can focus and isolate things that are worth fretting over or not. When our bodies are given the best tools for performance, our brain is given a fighting chance.

If your body is fairly healthy, your brain doesn’t have to work extra hard to stop you from screaming at the top of your lungs in the grocery store because Christmas music is jingling too loud, someone is talking on their phone, and your left shoe is tighter than the right.

It is important for me to add that if things feel unmanageable, there is no shame in seeking professional help. A professional can help you work through things that feel too big, and medicinal help may be needed to get you over that hump of understanding your own brain.

What it all comes down to is understanding and accepting who you are and giving yourself a fighting chance in order to live life fruitfully.


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