For the most part, I’ve always been a sociable person and have literally craved being around people. Now that I am on disability and spend a lot of time alone, my desire to be around others has only increased. So whenever my body will let me, I jump at the chance to go to a social gathering. The more I am stuck at home, the more I enjoy getting out and talking face to face with people. Whether I’ve known them for years or met them that day, I usually have no problem breaking the ice and having a pleasant conversation with someone (even if that presents its own challenges). If my wife and I attend a party or event together and she wants to catch up with a friend, she’s pretty comfortable with leaving me alone because she knows I’ll entertain myself (or more likely, others). There are times, however, when I am around a lot of people and suddenly become a different person. I get completely overwhelmed by crowds!
I’ve mentioned before how I at times suffer from sensory overload, a much more common issue with MS than most people realize. This issue with crowds is 100% related to that. For me, getting overwhelmed around a large crowd happens due to a variety of triggers. It’s not just because it’s a large amount of people, although, yes, there is a certain bit of claustrophobia I start to feel when this happens. Noise, attention span, and cognitive issues are what really hit me hard when I am in a large crowd.
Too many different noises at once
The massive amount of noise is normally the biggest part of the issue for me. It’s not necessarily that the place is loud (although that can hurt too), it’s that there are a lot of different noises. Large groups of people all having their own conversations can be a real nightmare for me. If I’m talking to someone else, I begin to have trouble pulling their voice out from all the background noise, even if they are right next to me. Many times, even if I normally would be able to hear them fine, if there are too many other people around, I end up just smiling and nodding and not really hearing what they are saying. I simply can’t pull their voice out from all the rest of the noise, which can end up leaving me pretty confused. In addition to being confused, sudden noises are pretty painful to me. Being in a large crowd increases the chance that the noise level won’t be consistent and that I’ll end up in pain or even on the floor.
Following conversations is hard
Lots of separate voices combined with all those bodies around me also make it impossible to pay attention. As my disease has progressed, my ability to pay attention has degraded. This happens with many of ussuffering from MS. It is so easy for me to become distracted now. It’s an issue I never had until recently, so for me, it seems extra disorienting. My brain begins to feel like it’s being pulled in a million different directions! Not only does this make me feel uncomfortable and useless in conversation, it greatly contributes to my fatigue and even being able to stay on my feet or sit up. That’s something I think many people don’t get, that just trying to follow a conversation in a crowded room can literally have physical consequences for us. So even if I am sitting and simply having a conversation somewhere, I can still end up paying the MS Tax even though it seems like I wasn’t really active. Even if my body wasn’t doing a lot, my mind was, and that still adds up.
If the crowd is too big, joy can become despair really quickly for me.
Cognitive issues are also something I battle with daily but become increased around large crowds. Short term memory is a big issue for me. Many times I will completely forget what conversations I’ve had when I am out in large groups. Not only full conversations, but even the beginning of whatever conversation I’m having. I’ll also forget what I’ve said and tend to repeat things. It’s extremely frustrating and embarrassing too. I’m sure I sometimes seem like I’m not paying attention to people, when I am exhausting myself trying to keep up, trying to remember what we’ve all said. It’s rough and depressing too. Remember at the beginning of this article how I mentioned that this is something I used to enjoy? If the crowd is too big, joy can become despair really quickly for me.
Sounds like a nightmare right? At times it is. I am lucky that I do not suffer these issues as badly as many others do. I also do very well when things are consistent. I’ve mentioned before how important a consistent temperature is for me, but it extends past that. A consistent environment that I am used to makes everything more bearable for me (again, I am lucky because that doesn’t help everyone). For example, if I go to one of the local spots that I go to all the time, there is much less a chance of a large crowd becoming a problem for me there. I’m not sure why, maybe because most aspects of the place are so familiar that there is less overall new input coming into my brain, but I really don’t know. It is just easier for me to be around crowds if I’m in a place I am very familiar and comfortable with. Even then, sometimes I need to escape to a quiet room or car for a few minutes to collect and reset myself. If I can’t escape physically, I’ll try to look down at something on my phone and escape there for a minute.
It’s not only sensory issues
Aside from sensory issues, large crowds can be a source of stress for folks with MS for other reasons. Finding and using a bathroom can be a huge source of trouble for us (that may seem trivial to some, but as someone who has wet themselves in a crowded bar, I can tell you, it’s a very real issue). Whether we are using our cane, wheelchair, or no aid at all, mobility can be pretty problematic for us and navigating a large crowd can seem next to impossible. So while I haven’t focused on the physical issues of dealing with a crowd with MS, know that they do exist.
Crowds can mean trouble for many of us suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. This has been my experience and I know it is not nearly as bad as others’, while some may not have these issues at all. I get some great comments on my articles and those experiences that everyone shares are every bit as helpful (many times more) than anything I’ve written myself. So regardless of what your experience is, I’d love to hear from everyone and learn about what being around crowds is like for you.