My Experience Only. YMMV.

When I was a child, I was often told that I was “too sensitive” – meaning that I took things too much to heart, especially criticism and the taunts and bullying of other children. It was something that I assumed was innately wrong with me, and that I didn’t know how to fix.Sensory Overload in Children

These days, however, I’m too sensitive to sensory input.

I used to be able to write or read or edit with music on (instrumental music, at least). I used to be able to hold a conversation while the television was on. I used to be able to drive a car and look at the scenery around me.

Not anymore.

A fan is about all the sound I can handle while I write, and sometimes quiet is the only thing that will calm my nerves. I can barely process remarks anyone makes about the TV show we’re watching. And if I’m driving, I never even notice a deer in a field off to the side of the road. I doubt that I would notice a hippopotamus.

I’ve written before about my brain being overwhelmed with too much input, meaning too many thoughts, anxieties, and fears. But over the years – at least since my last major meltdown – I have trouble processing more than one sensory signal at a time.

It’s not just a matter of focusing in too completely on just one thing. (I have in the past entered into some movies so thoroughly that I’ve nearly killed my husband when he has asked questions like, “Will you look at this pimple on my back?” or whispered to me, “I think I know what makes that spaceship fly.”)

My ability to focus – to concentrate intensely – has been a casualty of my mental disorder. At my lowest point, I couldn’t even read a book, which is something I’ve been doing since I was three or four. I still can read only one chapter or one magazine article in a sitting

Now that I’m recovering (thank God and Drs. R. and B.), I can concentrate enough to read, and write, and edit. What I can’t do is separate out multiple sources of information on the way from my senses to my brain. If my husband talks while a TV show is on, it’s not just that I can’t make sense of what he’s saying, I can’t process either signal – the TV or him. It’s all a jumble.

If I went to cocktail parties (I don’t), I would be unlikely to have an intelligible conversation because of all the ambient noise and clashing voices. I recently went to a workshop that held a mix-and-mingle event on the first day. Having people chatting all around me was not just distracting, but almost painful and immobilizing. Focusing on one person at a time was the only way I could get through it.

And forget about Chuck E. Cheese or Cici’s Pizza! No. Just no. Video arcades – are you kidding? It’s a good thing I have no reason to frequent places like that. When I go to a regular restaurant, I have to ask not to be seated near any birthday parties or office functions. I wish they had a “no screaming” section.

I understand that sensory processing difficulties sometimes occur in persons with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and/or ADHD. I have never been diagnosed with ASD, though I may have manifested Asperger-like traits in my youth (well, OK, in my adulthood too). And I have been told by doctors that I have hyper-sensitive nerves. Is that the same as what I experience? I don’t know.

Most of the research and discussion of sensory processing and bipolar disorder occurs in the context of children, though I never noticed such difficulties when I was a child. But just as articles about autistic adults are rare (except, of course, for the high-functioning) and learning disabilities are forgotten about as soon as a person leaves school, it seems that sensory processing problems in adults also get little attention.

I can’t be the only one dealing with this.

As I learn more about my own difficulties and conditions that affect others, there is one conclusion I’m rapidly approaching:

Neurodivergent is neurodivergent. We may have different diagnoses, but there is much we share.

Comments on: "Senses and Sensitivity" (7)

  1. I have blamed my lack of concentration on my MS, but I have also noticed an increasing sensitivity to sounds, especially unrelated sounds, as I’ve gotten older.

    Repetitive noises are especially hard for me to tune out. I can’t deal with beeping monitors in a hospital and if a drum jam breaks out in a foyer at a con I have to skedaddle quick-like. Dance music, with a hard beat and no melody also makes me crazy.

    About 20 years ago I gave up a lifelong habit of having background TV on all the time (my Mom turned ours on first thing in the morning and turned it off as she was going to bed). I came to enjoy the quiet. Since I got married last year, I’ve had to get re-used to background TV a lot of the time and I find I can’t completely tune it out like I used to.
    If I am trying to do anything requiring actual attention like read something long and serious or write anything other than a quickie FB post, I have to ask to have it turned off or at least turned way down. We are, fortunately, coming to negotiated terms on this.

    I am also much less tolerant of talking in movie theaters or with friends while watching a movie or TV. It unfortunately makes MSTing tough. I used to be able to follow more than one thing at once, but that seems to have gone away with wither my youth or my non-degraded brain. Sigh.

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    • I considered that it might be age-related too. In my case it could certainly be both aging and an improperly wired brain, but I thought I wouldn’t explore the aging problem here. Maybe in my other blog. (P.S. Dan and I always joke about him watching shows on the “Screaming and Explosions” channel. Sirens optional. Even women’s high-pitched voices in ’40s screwball comedies bug me.) I actually used to be able to tune out a train that went by half a block from my apartment. People on the phone with me would say, “Is that a train going through your living room???” I would reply, “What train?”

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  2. I can totally relate to the noise sensitivity!!! I can’t stand having the tv on in the background, as it is almost always on here. I have to spend a lot of time alone just to control the noise levels I’m subjected to.

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  3. Hi! Interesting post, I wonder if you can relate to my post. would be great to hear from you.

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  4. Sorry didn’t include the link – http://wp.me/p7vA07-d hope that works

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