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.
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.
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.