When I was little I could only wear my socks inside out because I couldn’t stand the feeling of the seam rubbing on my toes. We tried buying “seamless” socks, but let me warn you, they still have seams, they’re just really, really thin. I would fuss and cry and refuse to put on tennis shoes because the feeling of that seam rubbing on my foot caused me extreme discomfort, if not true pain. Back then, my family thought I was just a crazy kid who hated socks and couldn’t have any bumps in her hair for a ponytail, but none of us had a clue what was really going on.
You may wonder why the heck it matters that I hated socks as a child, but I’m getting to that. “Overstimulation” is a term that most people don’t often think of in reference to adults, but its something that greatly affects me in my every day life. No, I don’t have ADHD and I don’t have autism, but my Dysautonomia functions in the same area of the brain as ADHD and Autism and can affect the same nerves in my frontal lobes that would be affected if I did have ADHD or Autism.
Because I have both Dysautonomia (dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system) AND chronic migraines, plus both chronic joint pain and fibromyalgia, my sensitivities have just kept growing and growing. It started with socks and small sounds that I just could not get over—people chewing loudly, my window fan making the smallest clicking or rattling noises that no one else could pick out, or birds waking me up by cheeping outside of my window, giving me headaches and starting my day out in a funk on beautiful spring mornings. Now, I hear everything, and it echoes in my head making not only my migraine worse, but causing me pain throughout my whole body.
I’ve had headaches for as long as I can remember; in 5th grade I was complaining to my parents and my doctors about painful, daily headaches, but since I was around the time of hitting puberty they figured my hormones were starting to change and it was due to that. It wouldn’t be until about 5 years later that I saw my first neurologist and finally started making some progress towards figuring out exactly why sounds and lights and touch could be so hard for me.
I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia/POTS and chronic migraines. They called me their guinea pig because I was their youngest patient to date and they just couldn’t figure out all of the pieces, but my neurologist helped get me on a good migraine medication that helped minimize symptoms for awhile, until I started building up tolerances and developing new symptoms. It only took about a year to be sent to new specialists at a different hospital, and eventually higher level specialists in a new state, and then even higher level doctors in a specialty clinic over 7 hours away.
Six years later and my migraines are still not managed and my sensitivities to sound, noise, touch, and even smell are more sensitive than ever. When you hear someone say, “migraines are more than just a headache,” it’s no joke. Just my family members eating cereal or soup and having spoons hitting bowls repeatedly is enough to send me into full body pain. Having the TV on and conversations going overwhelms me so much that I end up fully zoning out and having no clue what the person is saying to me. I can’t be in the same room with my own family when there are certain noises or activities and that is extremely upsetting both for me and for them. It’s taken time for them to realize it’s a real, explained symptom for me and it is still hard for me to grip without feeling a lot of guilt and sadness.
Today, my nerve pain and sensitivity keeps me from wearing jewelry on my wrists or neck. On bad days, I can’t stand to have my hair touching my neck or the cord of my heating pad rubbing against my leg in bed. On worse days, I don’t want to be touched or even touch my own skin because my body feels like one giant bruise. I can’t put lotion on, get dressed, take a shower, or do any daily self-care tasks without being in pain on these days.
I carry earplugs and have a noise machine to try to block out the sounds that cause me distress or pain. I hate these sensitivities because they steal so many moments, so many memories from me. They cause my family anxiety and stress and they cause me frustration, pain, guilt.
Overstimulation and hypersensitivity aren’t anything to take lightly or shrug off if someone opens up to you about their struggles with either/both, try to listen and understand and if there’s something you can do to help make that person comfortable, try to do it. Changing something small like how loud your music is or whether you eat with a metal spoon or a plastic spoon doesn’t matter in the big picture, but being able to share that extra moment with a loved one or a friend because of that small effort can mean so much more than you may realize.