Sensory overloads are frightening. I wouldn’t wish anyone to experience them. Even now I’m twenty I still have them. A lot of neurotypicals ask me what it’s like. A lot of them have mistaken sensory overloads for tantrums or just being naughty. It’s really annoying because I constantly have to explain to people that we are not being naughty or attention seeking. We get overwhelmed. We get stuck and sometimes we can’t always unstuck ourselves.
I remember one of my sensory overloads was when I was still at school. I was fifteen, doing my GCSE’s (and stressing over them!) and getting ready for a trip to Germany! I went with a group of students and teachers from my school (I went to a special needs school in my secondary years) to meet other special needs schools from different countries. One from Spain, one from Estonia and one from Germany. We spent five days there learning about the different cultures from each country and doing lots of team work activities. On our last day, we all went to Cologne!
When we arrived in Cologne, we visited the Cathedral. We climbed up the steps of the cathedral (533 steps to be exact!), we had a picnic just along the River Rhine and we got to travel back across the river (and over a nudist Spa!!) in cable cars! After walking past a zoo and past the cathedral once more, we arrived back at the train station and waited for our train.
Five minutes late. Fifteen minutes late. Thirty minutes late. I kept on looking at the giant clock hanging from the ceiling. It should of arrived thirty minutes ago. We should be on the train going back. I checked the timetable that all the students had been given of what we were doing. I scanned through the things that we had already done. It said on the timetable that the train would arrive at 3:30pm, But it had just gone past 4:00pm. I started to get a bit anxious. I asked my teacher what was happening. But she couldn’t say anything because she didn’t know either.
A loud voice burst out through the station. Automatically, I covered my hands over my ears to block the noise, then dropped my arms back down. It was a german women speaking through the tannoy. One of the teachers from Germany translated what she was saying. Our train was delayed for an hour and a half.
The station got busier. More and more people were on the platform. I felt uneasy. I remember closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and telling myself that everything was going to be okay. I could smell greasy food and sweat. I opened my eyes and pulled a face. I heard a german couple arguing. I heard a man using the vending machine. The coins clashing on top of each other and the man scraping them out of the money dispenser. People started getting close. The pressure in my body was rising. I got my iPod out of my pocket and put on my headphones to try and stay calm. I tried listening to music, but that just made me even more anxious. I stopped the music but kept my headphones in.
My teacher had found me a seat. I sat staring at the ground. People were standing around me. I could smell cigarettes. Someone was smoking. A baby had started to cry. A train starting breaking, the screeching from the breaks swam through the air. The headphones were no use. I covered my hands over my ears and started gentle rocking. I wanted someone to hug me tightly. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t move.
I remember someone pulling me to my feet, then pulling me into the sea of people. It was one of my teachers. My eyesight was getting blurry. My heart pounding against my chest and the pressure inside me building. We pushed through the crowd, the German women started talking through the tannoy again. I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to be in the station anymore. I then opened my eyes to see a train ahead of me.
The carriage was packed. People were leaning against me. The train started moving. It made a horrible noise and then I started to cry. I knew people were staring at me. I put my hands over my face trying to block out everything. A phone starting ringing. Everything was closing in on me. I felt someone take one of my hands, gently pulling me out of the carriage. Then everything went black.
The next thing I remember was sitting in first class!
I won’t ever forget that sensory overload. I was completely drained by it. I tried my best to use the strategies that I had learnt and tried my hardest to stay calm. Everything happened all at once. It’s difficult sometimes because you can’t always leave a challenging environment as quick as you would like to. I don’t honestly know how the teachers actually managed to get the train staff to let me sit in a luxurious carriage! I felt very out of place, but the seats were comfy and there were no people which was a bonus! The train staff were understanding, but this isn’t always so.
If you see someone getting overwhelmed, in a shop,on the street, anywhere. Please do not stare and judge them. See you soon very soon!