Sensory Overload

Sensory overload is a frustrating phenomenon which affects many people with MS.  It can take on many different forms, such as, but not limited to sights, sounds, people, movement, etc.  Other examples are listed here:

  • Environmental (e.g., crowds, shopping, dining out, acoustics, driving, etc.)
  • Social (e.g., meetings/parties, multiple or even one-on-one conversations, phone calls, dates)
  • Work, home, school (multi-tasking, chores, family, planning, studying, creating & writing letters, documents, email/texts, etc.)

Some people can recognize the signs when they are vulnerable to a sensory overload situation and they can take appropriate measures to prevent it from escalating into a bigger problem.  For others, it’s unpredictable, comes on without warning, and can even lead into full blown panic attacks.  I’ve experienced this from time to time and it’s a scary, terrible feeling.

I’ve recently had a revelation of sorts regarding the way sensory overload affects me, specifically with thought processing and cog fog.  It’s a strange, multi-faceted issue which seems to mainly involve focus, fatigue, and a little perfectionistic personality OCD.  Also, it seems my creative side of the brain battles the logical/business side, especially when I’m writing or attempting to submit anything that contains MY words or ideas to other people, or when working on any project I am passionate about.   I have trouble being able to transfer the words/thoughts inside my head directly, easily, or in a timely manner onto paper.  It’s like I’m multi-tasking in my head, therefore focus, word finding, energy, and emotional changes take over and settle in. My thoughts can’t keep up with the ongoing chatter and ever changing ideas in my head.

Basically, I am very creative person with numerous ideas of projects or things to write about filed in my head.  When an idea comes along I tend to write it down on a “to do” list.  I always start writing using a notebook and pencil and never concern myself with proofreading or editing during the “write it out” process.  I typically edit or re-write when I put my work into a computer document when there is a submission deadline I intend to keep, or when I’m simply ready to finalize something and put it away.  When I’m typing my work, my thoughts…my words into the computer, EVERYTHING CHANGES and time stands still.  As I enter my work, I edit and then edit some more.  Soon, I’m re-writing something that was just fine to begin with.  A great word or sentence will pop into my head, but the moment I start to type it in, POOF!  It’s already left my brain and so I sit, staring blankly at the computer screen as if the lost words will magically return.  My cramping fingers are hovered over the keyboard in anticipation of nothing.  Hours go by (without me realizing) and I will “wake up” to notice I’ve been stuck on the same paragraph.  I’ve had this same issue when typing out an email or test or even a post on Facebook!  I don’t recognize it when it’s coming on and I don’t realize it when it’s happening – it’s as if I’m in a trance or on autopilot, yet I’m going nowhere.

When I do come out of this bizarre tunnel vision, I feel the damage done.  I’ve hit that wall, crashed and burned, can barely speak, yet my brain will keep ruminating…and it takes a while to realize it’s time for me to rest, sleep, re-boot, and try again later – I’ve come to accept this is the way I am.


Author: Mary

ABOUT MARY ~ I am a "late-blooming" writer from Texas who specializes in creative writing/poetry. I have a background in music, the performing arts, and enjoyed 14 years in sales/marketing & as a special events planner in the private club industry. I am a 1990 graduate from The University of North Texas who started off as a music major (voice), but I wasn't "feeling" it was the right fit. So, I took a break, changed directions & graduated with a B.S. in Hotel/Restaurant Management. I was an athletic, healthy young woman who also displayed an unfortunate pattern in the men I chose in life (life lessons indeed!). After a brief marriage in the early 1990's, I decided to focus on my career, yet 5 years later I met hubby #2. So, with more maturity & high hopes for success, I married again & became a full time stepmother of two. Along with several rewarding events & fond memories came more challenges, yet I maintained a fun, successful career in the food and beverage industry until 2001. I knew it changed when I received the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Looking back, I must have been in denial or a state of confused shock as to how dramatically my life would actually change. I attempted to work a few more years after diagnosis, but I was becoming more unpredictable, forgetful, & lost - my job performance was never quite right anymore. You see, this disease affects everyone different. I went through relapses & other issues, but my mobility was intact - then. Unless you REALLY know me, I was then & continue to be labeled an "invisible symptom" case. My MS enjoys messing with my brain, & many other body functions. Anxiety, mood changes, nerve pain, heat & fatigue are debilitating - quite an uphill battle especially when stress is involved. A few more "in denial" years went by & I dealt with this vile invasion of my "internal room-mate". My husband couldn't understand, nor could he handle my ever increasing health issues - he hated every part of it (I don't really blame him for that). But, he avoided being around me when I was suffering - he {didn't sign on for this & I sure didn't look sick}. He was embarrassed as to how my MS affected his lifestyle. So, divorce and other challenges came into play in 2009. Those were painful, rough days. I know now I was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Not yet had I thought to seek the help of a professional therapist to help me cope or to help purge the noisy voices & chaos inside my head, so I began to purge through writing. WRITING saved me! I attempted to compose little songs & dove into playing piano again - I even taught myself a little acoustic guitar & it felt good...soothing. I had found a form of therapy which enabled me to breathe again; a healing tool that didn't require a prescription. This journey to reinvent myself actually seemed plausible via my artsy background & new creative outlets. I've become a student again & the benefits of turning off our "auto pilot switch" & instead focusing on learning new, foreign things & activities is priceless. This "rewiring" of the brain is called Neuroplasticity. Writing (primarily poetry) & music has filled me with a POWERFUL passion, purpose, & endless possibility. This may sound odd, but I'm grateful for the tough times! There's this gift called "resilience" - my MS & other life struggles have gifted this to me. A gift which forced me to find "me" & to focus on the important things in laugh, live selflessly with compassion & passion. Find me on: 🔸Twitter: @pettigrew66, @MSpals, @MSpalsPoets 🔸Facebook: MaryPettigrew48 🔸LinkedIn: 🔸Instagram: 🔸 Acknowledgments and Press ~ • Two of my early poems were published in the U.K. in book compilations of poetry: ~The Summer of Sport: Forward Poetry 2012 ~ Poetry Rivals Collection 2013 • Featured in 2 articles in The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 'Momentum Magazine' ~ 2013 = art therapy & MS ~ 2015 = connecting via social media • My work has been featured/published in various book compilations, blogs, websites, as well as other multimedia platforms including: www.MS&MeRadio/TBI Network Something On Our Minds (SOOM): funds The Accelerated Cure Project "Twitter Q&A" - A Writers Experience (details forthcoming) • Creator & Co-founder of MSpals: a global organization (2014)

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