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Sensory Overload: Venturing Out into the World

Imagine that you woke up somewhere strange and unfamiliar to you. For the sake of this post, let’s say it is a huge mansion, a mansion with many halls containing many doors to all sorts of different rooms packed full of clutter. Oh, and guess what? You are not alone! This mansion is full of busy people, strangers actually (adds to the confusion), all noisily moving around in a hurry throughout the many rooms that surround you. What is this place? Where are you? What is all of this stuff? What’s going on? The only way to find out is to venture deeper into the mansion, where hopefully you will find the answers to all of your questions. At this point, you are more than likely either a little anxious or possibly somewhat excited to explore. Or both?

Navigating this overwhelming chaos

But now I want to add one more little detail to this scenario that might just change how you feel. Imagine now that upon waking up in this new world of excess stimuli that you can only see while looking through one of those cardboard tubes that a roll of toilette paper is wrapped around? That changes everything, doesn’t it? Because now you are trying to navigate around this overwhelming amount of chaos that’s all trying to pour into your brain through a small opening in your vision. On top of that, nothing is steady, almost like vertigo, and as you become more and more overwhelmed by your inability to fully see what looks like a mansion inside a giant blender, the volume of the hectically noisy people you are surrounded by grows louder and louder. You then realize that you actually don’t feel surrounded by all of this, you feel engulfed; you feel like you are drowning in it.

Attempting a big move

A few years ago I tried to move to Colorado to escape the heat of California and plant my roots in an environment with weather that was kinder to my Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I also have a better social life out there as my best friend from childhood relocated to Colorado a few years prior to my first attempt to follow suit. But this attempt of mine to start a new life out there did not last long as the MS treatment that gave me so much of my function back had stopped working; I was at the start of a full-blown relapse. Because I didn’t know how to handle this situation on my own just yet my best option seemed to be to turn back. I moved back home to California where my health continued to deteriorate while I tried to find a new treatment that would calm things down.

Visual symptoms plagued me

While I seemed to have stopped the progression of my MS (knock on wood) I definitely did not reverse some of the new symptoms that had begun to plague me such as my new visual symptoms. Oscillopsia, nystagmus, and what seems like an inability of my brain to decide what to visually focus on, all causing my eyes to constantly shift around. It was so overwhelming and much like vertigo it was nauseating, but over the next few years, I sort of got used to it and learned how to work around it… most of the time… but sometimes it’s still just too much.

Engulfed in a sense of panic

When you already have a tough time with noise sounding extra loud (causing you to constantly jump) or with differentiating where different sounds are coming from (a conversation between two people on the other side of the room sometimes sounds equally as loud as the person talking directly in front of me), the phrase “sensory overload” develops new meaning. As all the visual and auditory stimuli engulf me, I feel the same sense of panic that I felt as a kid when I got stuck in a riptide at the beach and almost drowned. My personal blend of sensory overload can make me feel like I am being swallowed by a vast ocean of swirling visual information and countless layers of sounds that really don’t mix together. I am overwhelmed by a desire to escape to a state of clarity in the same way that I had once been overwhelmed by a desperate desire for air.

Venturing out of my comfort zone

But just like I learned that there is a way to escape the pull of a riptide, I have also learned how to escape being mentally crushed by this immensely heavy ocean of visual and auditory stimuli. But it’s not easy and it’s still scary… the panicky feeling I get with it all and just how difficult it is to “get back to shore”. Between the fear of just how much stimuli is in the world outside of my bedroom, and the anxiety that I often experience when making the decision to actually leave the house, the idea of ever trying to move back out seemed utterly impossible. But I live in a world full of doors leading to so many rooms containing so many different things that I want to see and the only way to get there is to venture out of my comfort zone. So, at the end of this April, I am giving a life in Colorado another go, but this time I have spent a lot more time thinking about how to deal with the many possible ways that MS can hinder my ability to start my life and how I will navigate that life while “looking through a toilette paper tube.”

Continuing to adapt

I know that there will be many times where I feel like I am drowning in stimuli, but since that may be a problem of mine for the rest of my life, I am just going to have to continue to learn how to better deal with it and always try to find my way back to a state of mental ease and control where I can calmly take in a deep breath of air. I can’t let the fears that come with my MS hold me prisoner because that would mean that MS has beaten me and I will never let that happen. MS may win many battles in my life but the war is mine.

Do you deal with symptoms that cause you a sense of “sensory overload”? Does this result in a fear to do certain things? How do you manage this? How do you keep it from holding you back in life? Share below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Deborah
    1 year ago

    Thanks for this article, Matt!

    Three years ago, I actually did move to Denver, Colorado to escape the Florida heat. Moving here was one of the best decisions of my life and also one of the hardest.

    I was 65 years old at the time and with PPMS, it was much harder on me than I anticipated. Some of it was because my husband and I moved here without jobs and he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after living here for 6 months. We’ve also moved 3 times in 3 years which I never want to do again! So between the cross-country journey as well as the cancer journey, the move took a toll on my health.

    However, the benefits have been huge! I can actually go outside almost 9 months of the year without getting sick. The medical care here is far superior to Florida. My husband’s cancer was cured thanks to an awesome team of doctors. I have a wonderful Neurologist who treats my MS as well as a great female internal medicine doctor. Everyone I’ve encountered in the medical field has been professional, yet warm and friendly – unlike Florida.

    Overall, I find the people here fantastic – open, friendly, different and interesting.

    There’s so much to do here that I have sensory overload every day just trying to keep a list of what I want to do. There are many parks that I can visit when I’m fatigued to just look at a tree or a mountain stream and don’t require much walking.

    Because the weather is so cool most of the year, I formed a Walking Club and we walk most days on the High Line Canal Trail that winds through Denver. Even in the summer, the temps are cool in the early morning. There is plenty of natural beauty and cute creatures even though we’re close to the city. Walking keeps me limber and helps with the pain in my legs and I have lots of new friends.

    Hope you take the leap and come out to Colorado – I’m hoping you love it here as much as I do!

  • joannmaxwell
    1 year ago

    I certainly deal with sensory overload. Luckily, I am no longer working. Otherwise it would be a bigger deal than it is. If I spend time dealing with money matters and bill paying options, I definitely feel like I am in A large mansion with no direction of where to go. At those times I am able to take a break and either read, puzzles, or get up and just move around. Those things help me.

  • Matt Allen G author
    1 year ago

    For me I try to find something that completely takes my mind off the distraction OR something that overpowers the stimulus like music with my noise canceling headphones.

  • Christine F moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi @joannmaxwell, Thank you for sharing what works for you! I am glad you have found ways to help manage sensory overload! Best, Christine, Multiplesclerosis.net Team Member

  • joannmaxwell
    1 year ago

    You are welcome! I find it so necessary to find out what works for others. And then use them as they are appropriate for my situations.

  • Tess
    1 year ago

    Very hesitant to fly long distances. Would love to travel to Italy and Greece and Rome, but fear I would not be able to sit and be confined for such a long time. My body is in constant pain and cannot sit or stand that long. Am I destined to never experience the worlds I want to.?

  • Matt Allen G author
    1 year ago

    I think it is definitely possible BUT will probably require a lot of planning like, to have a game plan for how each day will go, where the bathrooms are in the areas you will be, where you can take a relaxing break to sit or a break to stand, where you can get water, where you can go to escape the crowds, the weather, every little detail you can think of so you can eliminate as many surprises as possible.

  • Margot moderator
    1 year ago

    Thinking of you @Tess,

    We hear you – it can be scary, and hard. You may find this page helpful that has more links to articles about traveling and travel tips: https://multiplesclerosis.net/spotlight/travel/ – hope this helps. Thinking of you.

    Best,
    Margot, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

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