From Overload to Anger

Sometimes overload — whether sensory overload, social overload, or general emotional overload — feels like exhaustion. It feels like muddy thoughts, dull senses, and an overwhelming desire to escape. That’s often what it feels like, at least for me. But sometimes what overload feels like…is anger.

Let me back up. For most of my life, I didn’t know I was autistic, so I didn’t realize that I was extra sensitive to many sensory inputs. Sure, I could tell when sensory issues were bothering me, but in general I assumed that if they were bothering me, they would be bothering anyone. The situation alone was the cause, not the situation plus my (autistic) sensitivities.

What this means is that I assumed that other people would know they were creating an offensive sensory environment, and they just didn’t care. I assumed my assessment was an objective truth: it simply was too loud. Too bright. Too smelly. Too chaotic. Too upsetting. All the other people involved? They should have known this was too much.

And I would get so angry that they didn’t. Angry that I had to say something, to call attention to myself and the difficulty I was having. Angry that they didn’t just know. Because it should have been obvious…right?

But my assessment is always my assessment: the combination of me and the specific situation. Yes, some things would be too loud/bright/scratchy/crowded for almost anyone, and yes, sometimes people are inconsiderate. But often I would end up getting angry about something no one else even realized was a problem. It might be the annoying, distracting buzzing sound that no one was fixing because no one else heard it. Or the loud background music that kept me from understanding what someone was saying…because of my own auditory processing issues, not the music’s volume.

So I try to catch myself now when I start feeling this way, and ask myself whether the problem really is as self-evident as it feels to me, or if it’s partly my own idiosyncratic (and autistic) response to things. Of course, if it is the latter, I can still ask for the situation to be changed — and now I can ask in a way that acknowledges that other people may not have realized the problem, rather than angrily assuming they didn’t care.

And none of this is to imply any self-blame on my part; there’s nothing wrong with having sensory sensitivities and needing to take steps to be more comfortable. But being aware of those sensitivities, and how they contribute to my perception of a situation, can help me not only head off feelings of overload, but also recognize and own that perception before overload flashes into anger.

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2 thoughts on “From Overload to Anger

  1. “there’s nothing wrong with having sensory sensitivities and needing to take steps to be more comfortable”

    That’s something I have trouble with. I constantly feel guilty for being sensitive to environmental factors (some of which most people CANNOT notice, so they’re certainly not deliberately ignoring those things) and for needing to back off so I don’t become overloaded.

    This evening, I have to spend a few hours around people who will all attempt to talk over one another (they always do) in an environment where I have trouble hearing anyway, and I’ll be expected to keep up with the several very loud conversations that will be happening simultaneously, and if I say I’m having trouble hearing the person sitting right next to me, it will be “my fault,” the way it always is, because I “should have been paying attention.” *sigh*

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have trouble with this, too. I *hate* asking for help, and I don’t much like attracting attention in the first place. But I think it’s important to remember that we are who we are — and those same sensitivities can bring a lot of gifts, too, like noticing birdsong that others tune out, or smelling the different scents that make up delicious food. We get told all the time that it’s our fault for not “measuring up,” just like you described, so I wanted to be clear that that wasn’t what I meant.

      But I’m sorry you have to spend an evening like that. Sensory issues are one of the biggest things I wish more people understood and accepted.

      Liked by 2 people

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