Sunday, June 24, 2012

What a (sensory based) meltdown feels like.

I wrote this a while ago and need to revise it, but I figured I'd share it again because it's still true today.

(This is simply written to give someone else a visual of what a sensory based meltdown feels like to me. This is a sensory meltdown, however, I also get emotional meltdowns which I explained in depth here: )

Close your eyes for a minute, and let your ears do the seeing for you. Now, focus in on every little sound in the background. Do you hear it? The baby’s cry somewhere behind you, the high pitched beep from the bus, and the sound of air releasing from the door being opened. That low pitched buzz or hum from electronics. All the people around you talking, laughing, whining or complaining. All of it whipping around in a mangled mess of sound. Now, imagine all of those sounds coming at you 10 times louder than they actually are. Every little sound throws your attention off, and makes your head spin and pound as if you had just come off a roller coaster. What are you to do? What are you able to do? Nothing... Nothing but try and make do with what you have. Nothing but a backpack and a pad of paper to let your frustrations and cries out on. You can't physically cry now.. No. People are watching, laughing and talking. They assume you're just tired, but in reality you're already on the verge of a melt down from sounds alone. Your skin starts to feel like it's being stabbed with needles repeatedly. Your neck, your wrists... Your shirt is too tight; the tag you forgot to rip out is burning. Your jeans don't fit right, and the seam is riding up and itching your legs and ankles. Yet everyone around you looks at you as if you're crazy...

This is your daily life. The lightest bump against your skin makes it crawl and makes you cringe. Yet you hide this from others in fear of being “weird” again. Bright lights in a room cause you big pain, yet you’re too shy to ask for them to be dimmed or turned off; too scared to ask for help. Many a shirt have been ripped and ruined in the midst of a meltdown, when frantically you have to tear off the tags and any loose strings because your skin feels as if it’s on fire. Alone, sitting in your room; clothes ripped off and a fan blowing at you to an angle- you’re on overload right now. All lights are out except for a little bit of sunlight (or moonlight as it often is) as you cling to your favorite blanket and try to calm down- but the texture of the carpet makes you feel like crying or yelling out even more- especially if it brushes your feet. What are you supposed to do, when the simplest things make life tougher than it should be?

'I toughed it out at Disney, despite all the very loud sounds, bright flashing lights, and horrible smells. I toughed it out when I went down Splash Mountain and got splashed in the face with water- I HAD to wipe my face directly after, but I couldn’t let go of the seat in fear I’d fall out of the ride. The only comforting part of the day was the few breaks we got to take, when I bought an ice cream to help soothe me. I nearly cried when the train’s brakes squealed and emitted a very high pitched squeal. 4 times during the day did I hear that- maybe even more. I wanted to scream, but for the sake of my friends I held it back. Why do I feel like this? Why can’t I be NORMAL?'

You give an audible sigh and exhale, slinking down in your room and closing your tired eyes. You’re calming down now, after a tough day of school. Even though college is filled with more adults than children, it’s still hard to bear through the blinding fluorescent lights, the professor droning on and on about things you don’t even care about, and the myriad of other annoyances. Not to mention the bus ride home is just as worse, if not more, than the bus ride to school in the first place. Walking inside the door, you shy your head away from the television because as much as you want to watch something, the buzzing from the electricity and the static just make your headache even worse.

You toughed it out at middle and high school, too. Sensory hell conveniently squeezed in a tight compact building full of kids. Lunch time and in between periods was the worst of it all. There must’ve been hundreds of kids running, climbing, pushing themselves through a small hallway all going different directions. If you even tried to walk through there was no doubt you’d get bumped by a stranger- which would send you into a weird feeling for the rest of the day. Rubbing the spot where you brushed against someone else furiously, you can’t seem to shake the feeling that something is wrong- but how to fix it?

When the smell of food cooking makes you nauseous… how is one supposed to eat? Or cook? You can only plug your nose for so long before you have to breathe normally again… and if you plug your nose physically in front of the person, you insult them/their cooking, when that isn’t the case. Waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs in the morning is enough to make any normal person excited, but for you it made you crawl under the 4 comforters on your bed and hide your face under them, no matter how hot it was. You did not want to wake up and “smell the coffee”- rather, you wanted to hide from it and not smell it at all.

'What’s a person supposed to do when the daily things everyone has to go through makes you want to break down and cry? You wonder, I crave hugs and cuddles but if someone touches me too lightly I jump, cringe, or whimper. I search for answers, but all I could come up with was OCD… but I have no compulsive thoughts or even obsessions… so what is the answer? What am I supposed to do...? '


  1. You poor thing. I'm so sorry:( I always wondered what it was truly like. Now I guess I know.

    I remember when my daughter was two and a half. She had been having night terrors. And she was pretty much non verbal at the time. But, I knew she must have been in agony when she looked up at her father and begged, "Help me" I cried all night thinking about the Hell she was going through.

    I wish I could take it away for both of you.

  2. I reread that....I sort of know verbalized it. Obviously, I couldnt feel it. But, you definately opened my eyes a bit more.

    1. I'm glad I helped if even a bit! I'm sorry it took a while to reply back, I got really distracted and forgot my blog existed. I tend to do that on accident, oops.

      Lately I've been shutting down more often than melting down. Not sure which is better, but for now shut downs are less painful so I'll just be glad to have those instead!

      I have some things I need to update on my blog, hopefully I'll get around to it this month. I want to include a description of a shut down vs a physical meltdown, and the difference between sensory and emotional meltdowns too.

      Wishing the best for you and your daughter, too. :)