Tag Archives: sensory overload

Is this illness or stress?

Autistic people tend to get quite stressed with sensory issues, changes in routine, the need to plan, anxiety build-up, and social communication all playing a part. Stress can and often will have a physical impact: this might be stomach pains, headaches, sickness and more extreme symptoms. I have found this out myself on more that one occasion. Headaches, feeling sick or having pains in my stomach is far from uncommon, and I know by now that they are all signs of an overload. When I was around five or six, before I was home-educated, I would have awful pains in my stomach and feel as if I were going to throw-up knowing that I would have to go to school the next morning. If anyone had seen me they would have thought I was ill, but this was something I felt every night and every morning before school. It was not an illness, it was stress and anxiety brought on by my hatred of school. In more recent years there have been two times when after a big event, for example, a talk or my book launch I have found myself racked with stomach cramps that have led to me being unable to anything, but lie down and wait for them to pass. These have not come on an hour or two after though; the first lot came the night after my book launch, and the second lot came the morning after my talk. I have not had anything like them at any other time, and despite how bad my stomach can get, this was much worse. The first time this came on after my book launch I knew I was going to be sick; it was around eight when I first started feeling the pain, and I was up till after four in the morning, throwing up four times. The next morning I was fine – they were gone as soon as they’d arrived. The second time I was not sick, but again the pain started when I woke up and I could do nothing but ride it out. By the end of the day I was almost back to normal.

It is my belief that these pains and the sickness were brought on by the build-up of anxiety and stress that led up to each event. Add to that the social pressure and sensory impact of the two events, and you can see why the stress and overload might be so great it has a physical impact on my body.

In fact sometimes it can be all too easy to put something down to stress or anxiety or overload. On Monday night I started to feel pain in my side and stomach again, not as bad as the two times talked about before, but the same kind of pain. I had been to two quite stressful and overwhelming appointments in the week leading up to this after months of not doing much at all, so I put it down to that. I had been trying to get back to normal after a long time of not doing anything and I had been doing well, but now my body was telling me not to push it. So when I woke up the next morning and the pain was still there I cancelled the appointment I had for that day, and decided to rest. In fact the pain lasted most of the week. I am free of it today, but it’s been there to greater or lesser degrees since Monday.

On one hand the fact that I was able to see when things were too much, and take a step back with out pushing myself too far is a good thing. In the past I have not always been able to do this, and although I was in pain this time there was no throwing-up, and the pain was not anywhere near as bad as it has been in the past. But it made me think; as soon as I felt that pain and the feeling of sickness that came with it in the first day or two my mind instantly said “stress and overload”. On the third day I thought about the idea that it might be a strain of some kind, but that would not make sense as I felt it in two places, and as I say it also came with a feeling of sickness. But I do wonder how do you tell normal pain and feelings of sickness from pain and sickness brought on by stress? I knew what I had been doing in the week leading up to getting the pain for the first time so I guess it makes sense that my mind would jump to that. But in doing so I run the risk of ignoring a real physical illness that could get worse the longer it’s left. It’s a hard call to make; you do not want to go running of to the doctors every time you have a bit of pain, and it is often good to let things resolve themselves on their own, but even if leaving something will not cause any harm and it does fix itself, I am still left with the question – am I feeling pain as a result of stress, or is there something else wrong?

The pain induced by stress can come in all forms, and sometimes last for days so at what point do I say there might be something else going on? When you add to that my high pain threshold, and the way I tend to get used to feeling a certain way it’s hard to find that point. When I talk about getting used to feelings what I mean is (and this might apply to other autistic people) I mean that I find myself getting used to feeling a certain way very quickly. This has often led to things going unnoticed for a long time in the past. I have talked in blogs before about the infection I got in my foot at one point. When I first began to feel the pain I brought it up, but then within days I was just used to feeling pain in that toe, to wincing every time it touched my bed covers, or I had to put my shoes on. As strange as it might sound I did not think about the pain in-between those moments; I was aware of it and aware that it had not always been that way, but it was weeks or perhaps even a month after first bringing it up that I thought to tell anyone that it was still causing me a lot of pain. Now of course that was nothing to do with stress, and I did not think for one moment at the time that it was. But you can see how it might lead to issues at some point; a pain starts and I put it down to stress, it stays for a few days but stress pains can do that so I leave it, and it would be easy for me to just adapt and not think too much about it from that point. I do know that this might not make any sense at all to some of you, but perhaps some other autistic people might understand what I am talking about.

I have no idea when I start to feel pain if I have hurt myself some how, if there is something else going on, or if it’s due to stress. So I have a day or two of relaxing to try and de-stress and the pain goes away, but who knows, perhaps that is just coincidence? Anyone could feel stress-related pains from time to time, but when you are autistic they happen – at least in my case – quite a lot, and to make things more complicated they do not always feel the same. Sometimes it’s feeling sick, sometimes it’s headaches, and sometimes it’s feeling dizzy or faint, and much more. In the worst case scenario this could lead to me putting something down to stress that is in fact a symptom of something physical. But even if that never happens it is still very irritating to never know the source of any pain that I might feel, to have to make a guess and hope that it is right.

Does anyone else find this hard? Do you know when something is down to stress, and when it’s physical?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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Autism and the Heatwave: Why I find the hot weather so hard.

As I am sure you are aware the UK has been in experiencing a heat wave for the past few weeks, as has most of Europe and North America. Temperatures have gone in to the early 30s in the UK on some days, and while it has been a bit cooler the last few days the temperature is set to rise again for the coming week. Some people have been enjoying the heat and some have been putting up with it without much complaint, but it has driven home to me just how hard I find the hot weather. At times when the heat is too much I find it hard to do even the most basic of things. Let me explain why the heat impacts me so much.

I talked in a blog a while ago about how a cold for me is worse than pain a lot of the time. A cold brings with it a whole host of sensory issues, and sensory issues more than pain make it hard for me to do things, and lead to overload. The heat is the same; I sweat, my clothes feel uncomfortable on me, my skin is hot and overall my body feels different to how it feels for most of the year. These feeling might not mean much if you are not autistic, but when you do have sensory issues having your whole body react and feel different to the way you are used to can have a big impact. It’s not just that I am overheated and sweaty, it’s that those feelings – the feeling of sweat on my skin, the heat of the sun, and so on – feel wrong. There is no basic state you can go back to when sensory impact becomes too much. On a normal day I might go outside and find things too noisy or overwhelming, and come home. After a few hours of rest on my own, controlling my own sensory input, I would be able to get back to my basic level. There would not be any unwelcome sensory input, and that would help me avoid overload.

But when it’s too hot I find I can not do that. How can I go back to a basic day to day normal level of sensory input when I am sweating just sitting at my desk, when even just doing nothing is causing a high level of sensory input I would not normally have? And it’s not just that: it’s the smell of sun-cream, the constant noise outside (playing, cutting grass) and all the sounds, smells etc. of people trying to make the most of the sun. It might not sound like a lot, but a large part of it is the fact that for nine months of the year there is none of that, and then it is all day, every day, and that sudden change makes it harder even though you know it’s coming. This year it has also been the sheer unrelenting nature of the heatwave.

The more sensory input the more overloaded I become, and the harder it becomes to do anything.

Along similar lines I find it impossible to get comfortable in the heat. I tend to like to wear the same things all year round, but even when I do make concessions to the heat and wear a T-shirt without a top over it I find even that sticks to me. If I want to go outside or I have something I have to go to it’s even worse as I have to put sun-cream on, and there is not much I hate more sensory-wise; the feel, the smell and the way you can feel it on your skin for days. Too hot, too sweaty, clothes too uncomfortable, and extra sensory input from all sides – it’s pretty hard to feel comfy or relaxed. Even taking a shower will not always help. I find that if it is too hot I start to sweat when I get out of the shower, and I always feel the need to be fully dry before I put any of my clothes back on so this can make it quite hard. I feel the benefit later in the day, but when I get out of the shower and start getting dry, and find myself unable to fully dry off due to sweat it can make me feel even worse!

There is also the fact that it becomes harder to stick to a routine. Partly because of the heat and partly because of other peoples reactions to it. I might have a plan for the week only to find that it is far too hot to do something I was planning to do. This might be saying that I will clean the house before lunch only for it to be 30 degrees. I start thinking “Well if I do that cleaning in this heat I am going to need a shower, I don’t have the energy to do all that now”. Little things like this can add up, and make it hard for me to know what to do and when. Things that are not normally hard to do become hard because of how badly I cope in the heat which means it takes longer to build up to them, which can throw my whole plan for the day off course.

Add to that the fact that other people might change the plans, “Do you really want to do that on a nice day like today?” “Would it not be better to do something outside?” As soon as the summer heat comes you will find people wanting to change their plans and routines, which in turn can mess up your plans and routines.

Of course it’s not only autistic people who do not enjoy the heat, and not all autistic people dislike hot weather, but speaking for myself I hate it. I do like the way things look: clear bright blue skies, bees buzzing around, and sunlight shining in through windows, but other than that there is nothing fun or nice about the heat for me. It always knocks me back somewhat, and it takes me a while to readjust to it, and be able to get back some kind of work routine, but this year has been much worse than normal. Partly due to the fact that I have been having a hard time making and sticking to a routine anyway (hence the lack of blogs) and partly due to the fact that it has been so much hotter than normal this year. I was hardly able to do anything for about two weeks with the heat. I have been able to do a lot more over the past week due to working out a new routine that works for me and sticking to it, but for a while there the heatwave pretty much stopped me from functioning. It looks as if summers like this are here to stay though due to climate change, so in the years to come I might have to work out more ways of dealing with the heat.

How does the heat affect you? And if you are autistic and find the heat hard what do you do to help yourself deal with it?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

The sensory impact of a cold.

I have talked in the past about how in the days before coming down with some kind of illness I can be prone to meltdowns, almost as if I am reacting to the illness before I even know I am ill. When I say illness this can apply to anything, even a simple cold like the one I woke up with this morning. But I have not had any meltdowns for some time now, and I felt fine in the days leading up to this, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this blog. As I say I don’t always have a meltdown before I come down with something, but having a meltdown or being stressed-out/ grumpy with those around me can be a sign I am coming down with something. But what I noticed this time that I have not thought too much about in the past, is how much worse my sensory issues tend to get when I have a cold.

I find it so much harder to be around others (I have spent most of today in my room) and I think this has quite a bit to do with the sensory impact of a cold. Most colds don’t come with any pain (if you are unlucky you might get a headache) but they do hit your senses. Take the one I have today – no pain at all to speak of, but a blocked nose, a fuzzy feeling in my ears, and a constant strange taste in my mouth. At times I find myself getting hot and starting to sweat, and at other times my eyes start to water. I have noticed today more than ever before how stressful those things can be. It feels as if I can only spend a few minutes around other people before I have had enough, and I start to snap at them, or just have to go and be on my own again. That’s not because of how bad I feel, as I say it is only a cold, in fact if I were in pain I know that I would cope much better. I have a high pain threshold and can keep quite calm when in pain. But I think the key thing about a cold is how it hits all your senses.

It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if my body is having such a hard time processing all this extra sensory input that I hardly have any space left for any more sensory input, such as people talking to me.

I tend to find that pain is much more easy to deal with; it might be bad but it tends to stay in one place, and it’s easier to cut off from the rest of my body. Even when I have been in the worst pain of my life I have been much more able to sit and talk with people, and process what they have to say to me than I am when I have a pretty normal cold. So it’s not just a case of me feeling sorry for myself. But when all your senses are working overtime, thrown off balance and struggling to keep up with what is going on it’s hard to have any space/ability left to cope with other day to day sensory inputs. This is something I have never thought much about before, but when I talked to my Mum about it she said that she often feels the same thing. Because I am autistic I do not process sensory input in a passive way, and therefore the more inputs I have to deal with the harder my mind has to work to process them all. Processing what someone is saying to me takes a lot more active engagement for me than it would for someone who was not autistic, and when I am thrown off balance by strange sensory input (such as feeling suddenly very hot, or having a blocked nose and the strange feelings that come with that) it seems to have very little energy left to engage with, and process anything else.

You could make the argument that if you feel ill, even if it’s only with a cold, then you are going to be more irritable and less able to focus anyway, but as I say this is something I have noticed specifically in relation to colds.

As soon as my nose starts to clear, and my ears no longer feel as fuzzy I can get on with much more normal stuff again and spend time around people, but when I am fully in the grip of a cold I can barely even be around others for a few minutes before I am overloaded, and need to get away from them. I find myself much more able to keep working through pain than I am to work with a cold, and overall colds are much more disruptive to me than just about anything else. I do think there is a link between the sensory effect of a cold on the body, and my lack of ability to deal with day to day sensory issues such as people talking to me when I have one.

I wonder if any of you have noticed the same thing? Does a common cold have more of an impact on you than feeling real pain would? And if so do you think that impact is due to the sensory impact of a cold?

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Sensory Overload – what triggers it and how it feels for me.

I am writing this at half seven in the evening of what has been a fairly productive Monday. I was unsure when I woke up just how productive I would be able to be today because once again I am coming down from an overload. This particular overload lasted two full days; two days where I was unable to do anything, hardly even watch TV. I want to use this blog to talk a bit about why I was overloaded, and how getting this overload each time I go out to try and do something outside of my routine makes me feel.

So what brought on this two day overload? As you may or may not know – depending on when this blog goes up, and how closely you follow my blog – I went to an autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings on Thursday of last week organised by the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium and the N.A.S , and that is what brought on my overload on Friday and Saturday. This blog will not go in to any of the politics of the event, nor is it in anyway trying to criticize the event itself. It was a well run event that I enjoyed, and was glad to have had an invite to. But the fact that it was an autism-friendly event and therefore much better for me than a normal hustings would have been, and yet it still left me feeling so overloaded, should serve to drive home the point of the blog.

What does an overload feel like?

If we are talking about the lasting feeling of being overloaded, not the short-term feelings I get right before a meltdown – and for the point of this blog we are – then I would say an overload feels somewhat like I imagine a frozen computer might feel like. I can`t do anything. This might sound over the top, but I can assure you it is not; I can’t think clearly, I can’t make up my mind about anything, I can’t focus on anything, I can’t enjoy anything, and I can’t even do mindless things such as watch TV to relax. I am stuck; frozen for a day or two just wishing the time away till my overload clears and I can go back to my life. In fact sometimes this frozen feeling can last for a week or more. Sometimes there will be physical pain too; my ears and head will hurt to the point where the smallest of noises can induce pain, and my body will ache and feel tired in the same way it might after a heavy work-out. I find myself stuck in a state of feeling the time pass; knowing the day is going to waste, with me doing nothing more than looking at the wall and wishing the time away, and yet being unable to bring myself to do anything. And this in turn leads only to more stress, more frustration and often to meltdowns.

What brings on an overload?

For me, and lots of other autistic people, an overload can be brought on by doing things outside of our routines, and an increase of sensory input, for example noises, sights or smells and social interaction. All these things are hard for us, and I know that for myself it only takes a small amount of one, or all of them to push me to the point of overload. If we take the autism-friendly Mayoral Hustings, and break-down what I did that day you can see how it led to an overload.

First of all I had to go in to town which is not something I would normally do, so even the idea of the event itself started off the path to overload. There is also the fact that I don’t often go out on my own, and have hardly ever been to any kind of event with out my Mum or Dad with me. That in itself is a big change, and even though it was good to be able to go out by myself I am sure doing so for the first time still added to the stress. That day my morning routine had to change as I had to get myself ready to go out, meaning that even though I was used to the idea I had to put that idea in to practise – which, as I am sure you all know, is a whole different thing. In order to get to town I had to take a tram. Some days the trams are quiet, and some days they are noisy. The tram there was not too bad for most of the journey, but a few noisy football fans did get on around half way. This meant that before I had even got off the tram I had a lot of noise to contend with. I was early to the event as I try to be to most things, so I did not have to walk in to a busy room which was a plus. But as the room filled up it did become noisier, and it’s the build-up of noise that brings on an overload for me. A loud noise on its own might be unpleasant, but it won’t push me to be overloaded, but as the noises build-up: the talking, the moving of chairs, the scraping of shoes, coughing and such then it pushes me deeper and deeper in to an overloaded state. I was there for around two hours and there was something like seventy people in the room, so you can guess how much sensory input that was. There was also the matter of making small-talk with the people around my table. Now I did not have to do this; two of them knew me and would have been fine if I had not talked, but I wanted to. Talking and chatting might be hard for me, but I do enjoy it. I don’t want to go to events, and not have the chance to talk to people. But I am aware of the impact it has on me – as I said above social interactions play a large part in overload.

You can add to this the fact that I was meeting with and talking to political figures, and while I don’t feel intimidated by meeting people like that there was still the awareness that I was going to be on the spot talking to them, and asking them questions. It’s not a small event for anyone, but for someone with autism you can see how the day was full of things that can lead to overload, and there was no real way I was going to be able to do it without ending up with an overload.

Isn`t losing two days for one event too much of a price to pay?

This is what I found myself thinking on the Saturday. I enjoyed the event very much and loved having the chance to ask my questions, but after forty-eight hours of overload where I was unable to do anything I did begin to question if it was worth it. For one good event like that I will have two or three days where I have to do nothing, not even relax, just do nothing; drift around my house and wait for the hours to pass until I can get back to normal. It’s easy to ask myself should I go along to events like this? Should I give talks on autism as I sometimes do?, What’s the point of it all? But the question I always ask myself when I start to think like this is what would be the point of not doing it? Yes I would be avoiding the overload, but I can get overloads anyway from things I can’t get out of such as going to get my hair cut, or seeing family. I feel like if I were to give up the things that I enjoy, and that make good memories just to avoid overload I would regret it later in life. Yes it’s hard, and yes it’s not nice knowing that I won’t be able to blog about an event the day after I go to it, or have a nice relaxing day off after a day of hard work, but perhaps a better way to deal with this, than just stopping the things I enjoy, is to look at how I react to my overload.

Whenever I get an overload, and become frozen I always feel I should be doing something. “I cant just do nothing” I say. But as my Mum always says “Why not?” The idea of spending more time in bed on a day when I am overloaded never made sense to me. I get up at the same time, and sit around waiting for something to happen. But perhaps the key to all this could be something as small as training myself to do nothing; I don’t have to pick a film to watch, or a book to read if I can get myself in to a mindset where doing nothing is OK. In fact it’s needed.

I want to be a writer, and along with that a public speaker, and perhaps also a journalist and documentary film maker, and without trying to sound cocky I know I have what it takes to be all of these things. But I also know there will be a price to pay. I have to get used to the idea of paying that price, and try and work out how to lessen its impact rather than giving up on the idea of doing what I love. But on days when my overload is at its worst, thinking that way is hard to do. And I should also point out that I have cancelled a lot of stuff over the years due to overload, and I am sure I will cancel a lot more, but over all, and in answer to my own question, overload is bad, but yes it is a price worth paying for doing the things I enjoy – for me at least.

Let me know what you think in the comments, as how ever much I try, I can only really speak for myself.

You can find my book here  : http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum.html/ 

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762