Holiday Meltdowns

I love the holidays and spending time with my family, but sometimes holidays bring out the worst in me. Holidays are the perfect storm for a sensory overload. There’s an extraordinary amount of people around, which means more noise, messiness, and general sensory experiences.

Everyday noise is usually manageable because I have learned to cope with it. Sometimes it becomes stressful and I need to be alone for a while, but usually I can handle life pretty well despite all the noise. During the holidays though, I feel stressed all the time. There’s noise and people and lights and something going on all the time. I feel like I’m in a tornado of constant motion and the noise swirls around me suffocating me, agitating like a blender grinding ice.

This constant commotion of emotions and sensory overload has led to some meltdowns this holiday season. Unfortunately, my family has been the recipient of my inability to handle everything. Luckily, I have been better this year than in the past. Still, I have been frustrated by my meltdowns or explosions of emotions.

I just hope that people are understanding. I hope that if you have a family member or friend with autism or sensory issues, that you understand that the holidays are harder for us. We try to participate and be kind and hold ourselves together, but if we break or snap, please understand that it’s not you. I promise we’re trying. I promise I’m trying. It’s just a lot to handle with so much going on.

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Sensory Savers

I carry a set of earplugs with me. I keep a pair in my car and in all my emergency kits.

I hate earplugs, but… they help me blend in while getting me through the most difficult circumstances. I have used earplugs in class when a video was too loud or if just the class in general was too loud. I have used them to fall asleep when the world just seemed louder than normal. I use them less now than I used to, but they are my coping skill when I can’t handle things.

I feel like my life is a series of trying to blend in by finding ways to do normal things abnormally. Not that anything I do is really abnormal, it’s just thinking outside of the box.

Recently I discussed with my therapist ways to address my sensory needs to make life more manageable. I guess I tend to neglect my needs in favor of appearing normal. So I haven’t taken time to find sensory stimuli to reduce stress in my life.

Hearing is one thing that has been pretty easy to find ways to deal with it. I can easily slip a pair of earplugs in and significantly reduce the pain I feel from excruciatingly loud sounds. I still feel nearly constant pain from all the sounds and sensory input surrounding me every day, but I’m going to start looking into more ways to fulfill my sensory needs.

Up until now I have learned to find peace within myself when everything becomes distressing. But it’s nice to know that it doesn’t have to be that hard anymore. It’s okay to deal with things differently and use things like earplugs and textures and smooth surfaces to help me feel better.

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Hearing Voices

I have been incredibly busy the last few weeks and I’ve had a ton of thoughts going through my head of posts to write, but this has been on my mind a lot lately so I figured I’d go ahead and talk about it.

Hopefully the title doesn’t throw people off. I’m talking about voices from when people are actually talking to you, not voices in your head or hearing things when no one is around.

Hearing the sound of someone’s voice is very hard for me to do sometimes.

I don’t know how most people hear the world, but when I hear the world I usually hear background noise first. I hear the sound of the wind rushing past my car as I drive more than I hear the sound of the radio. I hear the sound of the dishwasher or the dryer or the air conditioning or heavy breathing more than I hear the words someone is saying to me.

Unless sounds are at a different frequency, I have trouble differentiating between words and sounds. So if I’m listening to someone talk and their voice is at about the same tone as the sound of the dishwasher, I’m probably going to understand only about half of what they say. Meaning, I’m basically gathering the rest of the conversation from the context of what I do hear.

So if you’ve ever wondered why someone turns the sound up on the TV during the talking parts of a movie but then back down again during the action scenes, that’s probably why. The background music or other noises make it hard to decipher what people are saying so we try turning up the volume in an attempt to understand what’s going on. But when the other noises come back, we hear them at full volume and need to turn the sound back down. (Well, at least I do. I really don’t like loudness at all.)

So if I ever ask you to repeat something or look at you like I have no idea what you just said, it’s not because I’m not listening. I just can’t hear you with the sounds of the rest of the world. And I’m hoping that if you say it again, I’ll gather just enough from the context to understand the rest.

My sense of hearing

I was talking to a coworker the other day that wears hearing aids. She had just had her hearing aids adjusted and said that sounds were too amplified and were hurting her so she was going to get them adjusted. I told her that my hearing is pretty much always like that. I have very sensitive hearing and little sounds can seem extremely loud.

Things like the ticking of a watch, the sound of electronics humming, and the padding of someone’s steps can be debilitating at times. I can’t fall asleep with a watch on or next to the bed because the ticking is too loud. I have been known to take batteries out of clocks because I can’t tolerate their ticking. And that high pitched sound you sometimes hear from the sound waves of electronics is all too well known to me.

On the other hand, sometimes I can’t hear well at all. My ears produce too much wax sometimes and it becomes hard to hear certain sounds. When this happens I have a hard time hearing people over the phone or understanding what people say in person.

Sometimes I can even have super sensitive hearing and not be able to hear other things at the same time.

I really don’t know what triggers any of these times. They just kind of happen.

The hardest part of all this is trying to filter the sounds that come in. When things are too loud, I try to focus on something to try to filter out the excess sounds. When I can’t understand someone because I can’t hear them very well, I try to focus on what they’re saying and filter out the background noises.

For the most part, I do pretty well with dealing with sounds. Sometimes it is harder than others, but I do my best to remain calm and ignore the sounds that are overstimulating. It just gets harder when other things add to the stress of sounds.