Now’s the end of a very difficult week. Today I even had the thought when is it 2021, thinking that this week in 5 days has felt more like 5 months. Stress every day, managing it, hiding it, while it builds. Today its culminated into a semi-meltdown. Was going to write this yesterday, but thought to be positive about the new year. But today I realised that’s just hiding something wrong under a positive, (albeit falsely) facade.
So, I want to talk about sensory overload. For me, this week, I had a eureka moment, I was thinking about all the little things that piss me off, like royally, and if you know me then you might think from what I have said these things annoy me, but I mean they ANNOY me. Had the nagging thought this morning that I was so bothered by lots of little things cumulatively across the 5 days (specific memories over the 5 days) I wanted to punch a brick wall so hard that one of two things would happen; either the wall would break, or every bone from my finger-tips to my ribs would. Luckily for me, this didn’t happen. I also thought back to past meltdowns, starvation, suffocation and lots of other terrible things. Even thinking they would be the last straw and I would meltdown as soon as I got home, as always I hide it until I’m alone at home and all the stress comes out, taking its toll one way or another against my body. To which, maybe morbidly, the release of the stress is actually or feels, but the mind doesn’t understand as ‘enjoyable’ (?).
But back to the beginning. Let me talk about sensory overload.
These are really good videos that can simulate a lot of it for you, especially the first two which apply to me more strongly, the first the ‘attention to details’ small things in the scene noticed, small sounds, noticing other people’s reactions to you or things around you, the suddenness of everything. It’s taken me months to find that first video since I first saw it and knew it depicted how I experience things (minus the meltdown at the end, I hide it and hurt myself when alone in the worst cases).
The second captures the more cognitive, where things people say stay with you, good memory of what people say when they say it etc. and how it can follow you. For example this week for me, one thing one person said unknowingly set off a week like this and I’ve been thinking about it from Monday-today vividly in my mind. (sidenote: If I know you, then I could probably recall a quote I remember you saying sometime in the distant past that’s become associated with you, but I couldn’t prove you said it so I don’t pay it much attention anyway).
The third captures more about thoughts, the constant questioning of what people expect, people all too often, and I would say 400% more times than they know, do not mean what they say or don’t say what they mean. The quote I thought to myself today was lying to humans is almost as essential as breathing, and learnt just after they learn to speak, it’s very ingrained into human development, see numerous studies into the young age children learn that others have other perspectives from their own and hence can be ‘duped’ and lied to achieve a goal. Often when asked things, I question myself do you want ‘the’ truth or ‘your truth’. I do not mean this in any way like I know the totality of truth. More commonly people I have heard phrase it ‘do you want to be told what you want to hear’.
Now these videos, although they paint a good picture of particular aspects, I would say I’d be very lucky if they depicted how I see things. They depict things slightly worse than a ‘good’ time. However, the worse times get much worse. Imagine your own thoughts intruding like the voices in the second video, repeating, shouting. Imagine thoughts so loud that the thinking processing of 7 people are going on in your brain at the same time, seeing every particular detail, every job you are missing to do because you can only be in one physical space at any one time to do them, but your brain is shouting at your about each and every single one. Then there’s another level, the level that’s thinking, or thinking about thinking, then there’s the level of anxiety where you’re wondering is someone going to point out you’ve missed a job, or you remember something you forgot and need to go and sort. Imagine when you are in this state, there are so many thoughts that each thought gets slower because there are so many competing for the mind’s attention. So much so, that someone could ask me ‘what is 1+1’ and it could take a couple of minutes for me to answer, or a couple of tries because I need the question repeated because I didn’t hear as another thought commanded attention because you couldn’t speak the question faster than the time I’ve given 20 thoughts attention each.
People often may notice, I jump conversation from current back to one maybe a few hours ago, to even a few days ago, this shows the thoughts in my mind are not only most of today's but go back decreasing exponentially into my past. Again. Another level on top of what I guess you may, from the aforementioned parts thought to be too much. Imagine getting home, sitting in darkness not knowing what task you were going to do next, thinking of the next thing you want to do for a task but remember and forget it 6+ times over, and by the time you can remember and retain it long enough to keep it in memory 1 or 2 hours have passed of you sitting in darkness not noticing the time.
If you’ve waited for me to do a task and ask about it, walk off, and come back to check if I’ve done it, (even if you never speak to me, especially, especially if you think I haven’t noticed) newsflash, both I have noticed if you think I haven’t and this splitting of my attention to you, my overthinking and noticing, and commenting on your impatience in my mind and overthinking on many levels all is making this task take longer.
Going back to a point, earlier, about being natural for humans and my aversion to this, aversion, more like repulsion/hatred. My best friend, over many years, would lie and lie to me often when drunk many times when not, small lies, worth-nothing lies, I always notice if you say something and do another, if you do it I’ll notice, if you say it I’ll notice. What hurts as the lies mean nothing is the fact that you lie to me. Why? Especially when you know me more than any human, that I am averse to lies, I prefer shit truths than happy lies, always have been this way, even if I wish I wasn’t. Imagine a scenario, your friend saying they’re going to leave the club as they’re tired, they leave and club with other friends in another part of the club leaving you alone without anyone there apart from the alcohol to keep you company (my inspiration for my favourite Project Empathy photo), I, know they lied to me before they ‘act out’ the lie. I am left to watch them act out the lie I know they told and just wish they do otherwise. Get depressed and meltdown hard after this. Imagine this going on every weekend for months with a lot of self-harming each time, yet every time you hang out with them hoping they’ll prove that you’re wrong, that you don’t know them (this is the inspiration for a poem I wrote, called ‘I Know You’. Now to make things worse, imagine this best friend is more to you than family or any other human on this godforsaken planet. How losing this friend brought me the closest ever to intentional suicide (as opposed to just ‘a meltdown gone wrong’, worse still is knowing that you know this friendship was like this for years and years but you just put it out of sight all along). Think I've mentioned the worst part yet? I wish upon this person the greatest pain, the cumulative pain all life past, present and future can offer, but then I don't, I realise, I don't hate them, it's the opposite, I care about them so much, I would give my soul up for them but, I was, am, so hurt it's expressed in anger as it's easier (the basis for a poem called 'Hidden By Anger'. I then wrote a poem today, about how I'll accept and walk through Hell alone, as always, it's what I've grown accustomed to, and will do with my diagnoses, meltdowns, overloads and all, how I have life to fear as Autism means I'll be abused, misused, misled, miss out, left out and shunned, it's called 'I'll Just Burn Alone', because I wouldn't want anyone there burning with me, despite wanting others to know how it feels, I change my mind and say I'll go alone.
“I Know You”.
I know you, I know the promise you break before you make it.
I trust hoping what I know is wrong.
Knowing I won’t be.
Knowing I won’t be.
I know you.
I know and try to believe the lie.
I believe it anyway.
I know you.
Better than you think.
Knowing the promise would be broken.
Know how your words pierce,
As you lie not knowing it.
But I know you.
Know what you do.
Before it’s done.
Before it’s a thought in your mind.
But I know you.
Hoping always I’m wrong.
But always knowing I’m not.
“Hidden By Anger”.
Too truly fooled.
By the masks and false façades,
The feelings faked to hide others.
How we shed a smile to hide the tear,
The anger to hide pain.
It’s all too simple to see the mask,
To think you’re seeing the face.
To miss the lie before your eyes,
Hiding truth just inside,
Under that cold surface;
That sadness and pain.
A nag outward to fool,
But care inside.
Hiding deep pain unfurling.
Shock falsely to misdirect From coming to terms with an unwanted truth.
It may be funny,
That we hide the soft truth, Under a harsh exterior.
To protect our own tender insides.
To fear the vulnerability and show the fist.
Where vulnerability is really all there is.
“I’ll Just Burn Alone”.
Here I offer,
A flame, to consume you,
All you’ve ever known,
All that can ever will be.
All of you.
Totally in endless torture.
Let the flames lick,
As your skin, creases, blackens and burns,
A foul stench of life, mid-end.
Pain, horror and torture.
The screams have no sound,
As the Hell consumes,
Endless, for you.
Any and all pain,
For you now know.
But yet. I choose otherwise.
Change my mind.
Turn the other cheek.
I shall never find understanding,
I shall reap inside the Hell I live.
Clutch the burning hole inside me,
Raging and yelling,
Sending ripples into and through reality.
Timeless waves of pain through being.
I’ll just be content.
To let myself burn alone.
In the silent blackness.
Pain all consuming,
I smile into the devil’s wretched face.
Off I walk laughing,
Welcoming pain worse than death.
For how am I to expect,
An end to this pain.
I’ll grab Lucifer’s face,
“Do you believe you know Hell?”
I’m just going to scare you with mine.
Then you’ll know true regret.
Regret for your possession,
Of eternal life.
Then. You will know pain.
As I laugh forcing Satan,
Into true Hell with my smile.
Here, for now,
At least, until that day.
I’ll just burn alone.
This eureka moment, to me, was like, to put it into perspective for you. Being born blind, but then at 23 realising ‘oh wait, this sensation of seeing shapes and things at the front of my head with different shades is actually sight?’ (in case it isn’t clear as it’s difficult for me to explain in a way that makes sense. Like being born blind and at 23 realising you were never blind all along, but you didn’t recognise this sense as being that of sight. This is the shock of the eureka moment.
Even many of my natural quirks, behaviours and even things that are as much a part of me as any ‘me’ there is. Such as an intense focus on productivity, my love of poetry, photography or academic study, they are all ways of reducing stimuli, focussing on an essay or even 4 essays due on the same day (which I have had) is actually easier than ‘normal’ everyday. The essays are actually one type of thing, even if different topics. I can read well while listening to music because the music drowns out sounds of people talking, all other noises etc. but I do not like working in silence because every noise is greater and more piercing. Loud noises piss me off, if you bring a balloon into the same room as me and I’ll be staring at you swearing under my breath curses on you if you damn pop that thing, yet even if watching it will still jump out of my skin if it pops. Even just thinking, I spend probably less than 20% of my time without listening to music in my ears.
Some other things that piss me off, being given a task from someone, but when two people either give me contradictory tasks or tasks that compete for my attention and I’m left thinking ‘which one?’. This reminds me of a time as a kid having a brief outburst yelling at my mum and dad “sort yourselves and what you want from me among yourselves first before you ask me!”. This I think was before the divorce. Additionally, some background I come from a strict house where my gran and aunt said to my older cousins (whose house isn’t so) “you both wouldn’t like 5 minutes in their [my] house”. Yet I still shouted that out. Even surprised me to which they were shocked and agreed to what task they wanted me to do.
The many many thoughts help, help me to multitask, I’ve written essays while doing other tasks (I use ‘written’ but I mean written out in my mind to be noted down when I have some free time next). I get a lot of tasks done often as the thoughts, that often feel like millions of voices keep me on track, one of the reasons while I managed going out, a full-time Masters all while working 30-40 hours every week for my MA and managing to pay for the MA fully that year and similar stories going back to my first year of Undergrad.
The worst parts of the overload, the too much information comes to a fine line where it clicks and the voices all compete, I can’t keep up, where even standing or being alive in the location I am in takes so much effort and concentration that any additional task comes to be more than I can handle (by ‘additional task’ each thought or aforementioned level is included in this, as is everything anyone says to me, in addition to the immense effort spent on hiding all the thoughts, overwhelming and my own reaction from the public.
When it gets too much, there is one focus, on getting out, you complete any tasks as best as you can handle while your mind is shouting abuse at any human in the vicinity for giving you this additional shit to deal with when it’s too much to breathe at the moment and your mind’s screaming to escape home and reach for a knife, plastic bag or to starve yourself for a week. The overload doesn’t stop though. It can help and hurt. When it gets to this stage, avoiding the harm is impossible, all the mind can do is damage limitation, damage containment. The thoughts focus on pain to escape from all other thoughts, stimulus, anxieties, fears, overload. However the overload isn’t all negative, it’s this overthinking that’s probably the only reason I’m alive from some of the times I’ve had meltdowns. Suffocation, the mind points out, ‘poke a few holes into that, give yourself a little more time before you lose consciousness’, or with knife in hand, it’s preferable for that rather than the brain saying to escape, out of the window from the 3rd or 4th floor. The overthinking has also tainted starvation, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (don’t mean those terms but have no others to explain what I mean) the first says it's enjoyable for your stomach to ache, ignore it and show it to give in to what your mind demands, while the other side gives you temptations of chocolate, crisps, and everything else.
I’ve wondered how to put over sensory stimulation into words for months. I’ve wanted to create a photo showing this, but have been unable, the problem a photo is one snapshot imagine 40 photos in a single photo. Or imagine 20 people, all there thoughts, sensations, daily tasks, ideas, wishes, etc. all in the head of a single person all at the same time.
Even tonight, the overthinking, both help and hinder, works out ways to trick your own brain and mind, for example, I’m doing poetry, photoediting and research for the workshop I’m giving on mental health and the arts (I’m planning a blogpost on this, meant to write instead of this, but if I didn’t then I definitely would have a meltdown, while as of now I’ve avoided it thus far, and doing this work in a busy pub will mean I’m away from home and cannot ‘meltdown’.
All of this, overload for me is natural before any senses get involved, overthinking is normal. Before I see or hear or smell anything I’m already overloaded, but I’ve become accustomed, and can cope, can actually use it to be productive, at least until pressures can make it too much. But as I mentioned in my lack blogpost, my Autism, my overthinking offers the solutions to its own problems, through the overthinking.
Imagine each terrible memory you’ve ever had, even the ones I know you reading this will have forgotten, imagine those and more coming back at a meltdown, when you are most vulnerable, in addition to all this overload and stimulus, which I remind you, the breathing alone is just about all you can handle.
Even writing this has caused overthinking, both venting and triggering memories. But also knowing how best to deal with it, with whatever degree of success I can attain. To go to a bar and write poetry, research my mental health and the arts workshop I’m giving (the only thing that’s stopped me having a full-meltdown so far) and do some photoediting, albeit dark photos.
With all this all on my mind, I bet it can hardly be surprising that I can focus on 3 essays due on the same day all worth 100% of their respective modules with an exam on the next day in a different module worth 100% and I would prefer these essays over a ‘normal’ day.
So I guess, to conclude; with a point that reads a better ending and lesson I've learnt throughout life but have tried not to, and causes a lot of anxiety (if I didn't have enough from the essay above on a daily basis).
I then wrote a poem today, about how I'll accept and walk through Hell alone, as always, it's what I've grown accustomed to, and will do with my diagnoses, meltdowns, overloads and all, how I have life to fear as Autism means I'll be abused, misused, misled, miss out, left out and shunned, it's called 'I'll Just Burn Alone', because I wouldn't want anyone there burning with me, despite wanting others to know how it feels, I change my mind and say I'll go alone.