Sensory Overload, It’s Real and This is What It Feels Like
December 21, 2017 Kristance Harlow
Even in the sanctuary of a quiet church, I hear the tapping of a foot, the chattering of people, voices echoing. The sounds feel heavy, as if they are literally weighing down on me.
When this happens, I can’t focus on just one sense — it is all of them happening at once and on overdrive. Instead of tuning out hushed voices outside my door, it feels as if they are in my face and everything occurring is happening at the same level of intensity.
A busy restaurant is always too much. I must sit against the wall. I’m not sure I can taste the food in front of me. Is it because of the commotion? Chattering voices, music, clattering silverware, and the lights casting a dim glare — coating the plates in a hint of yellow. The lemonade, I can taste that. At least I can taste the lemonade.
Despite being followed by depression for most of my life, there are some symptomatic experiences that only joined the party recently. Among the most debilitating is sensory overload.
When it takes over, I cannot process the things that are going on around me. I feel tired and fearful. I’m unable to experience stillness. My eyes are sensitive to light. My spinning head distorts every noise. I can have headphones in to block out the noise of the world, but my head will still throb with the thickness of expanding brain fog. I feel full of adrenaline, but my eyes are drooping with exhaustion. I want to finish a thought, but I can’t.
It’s not just being overwhelmed — this inability to find peace is worse than that.
It can happen without a moment’s notice, any day and any time. It interrupts vacation, and it disrupts work. When my mental health is in peak condition, my work flows effortlessly. My store of knowledge is organized, and I can access what I need with ease. I can see the big picture and follow the details.
Sensory overload doesn’t kill my motivation; it kills my productivity. I have the urge to create, to write, to do things — but my brain is somewhere else. I will try anything to get out of my head and dispel the fog. I’ll go for a walk, talk to someone, play with my dog, go to therapy, and take a nap. I’ll write on paper instead of a computer. I’ll switch locations and go from my home to a café. It doesn’t seem to matter. I can hardly get an entire sentence down before I lose focus.
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