Hair-trigger Sensory Hell

Hair-trigger Sensory Hell

I’m sat here writing this and my focus is everywhere, darting around the room like a frantic animal seeking escape. I’m twitching, every little sound makes me jump.

So many sounds. There’s no escape. All outside my door here. All threatening. I’m terrified. I hear a bang (something dropped?) and scream! I’m alternating between holding my head in my hands and sobbing, and the rapid breathing of a panic attack.

My headphones don’t help. They don’t cancel everything. And even if they did I still feel the vibrations.

Literally. Every. Sound. I’m a receiver with the gain turned up way past maximum. There is no escape. No way out. I’m flapping my hands, I’m repeating, over and over and over and over and over and over, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”

And it doesn’t stop. I know how this ends. I’ve been here before. This is overload. Population one. My needle is pushed against the stop and every tiny increment is testing the strength of the fuse. It will blow.

I don’t know when. Maybe not even today, but at some point it will go. And I will be in meltdown. I feel it: some elements are leaking past my barriers. I’m trying to suppress it because I have to keep functioning. I have to keep going at any cost.

And I know that’s foolish. I know that the longer I strain to delay the inevitable the bigger the crash. And I still do it.

I’ve reached a lull. A brief spell where I can let the tension I hadn’t even realised was in my body dissipate. When I can breathe slowly and deeply. When I can rebuild my strength ready for the next assault.

Sensory overload is not something you get to switch off when it’s inconvenient. It usually comes on with a vengeance at times of stress. Talk about kicking you when you’re down!

This one has been building for a long time. Over months. The stress is why I’ve referred myself for counselling. I can’t write about it, not now, not yet. I’m not able to face those demons today. But one day, hopefully, I will.

The Clarity of Pain

The Clarity of Pain

ASSAULT!

Loud. Bright. Voice. Touch.
Stress. Retreat. Stim.

People stare.
Eye pressure.

“STOP THAT!”

“ACT NORMAL!”

Loud. Bright. Voice. Touch.
All too much. Overload.

Wanting to scream,
But no sound comes.

Confusion. Ravenous fear. Feeding
On the mind’s elemental chaos.

One hope. One chance to escape.
One solution to calm the storm.

The clarity of pain washes through
Like a tsunami. Silent wreckage
In its wake. Peace has a price.

Decompression and Recovery

Decompression and Recovery

It’s amazing how much difference a couple of days can make. On Sunday I was in such a dark place; my mind was in turmoil and I was suffering such fear that I could barely function.

I responded to a kind offer from friends to visit for a while, to get away – run away – to somewhere I could feel free of the pressure that was causing me such distress. By Monday evening I was over 100 miles away and beginning the process of recovery.

Unusually for me I wanted to talk, to share how I had been feeling: having an understanding audience is vital. And it can be cathartic to simply speak about your troubles. To put them into words, give them shape and gain a fresh perspective.

In this case talking about how I’d been feeling served to organize my feelings, put my thoughts into an order that allowed me to deal with them, to start to release the pain and fear. To take the first steps towards recovery.

My surroundings have been very conducive to that end: my friends have a comfortable house right near the coast in a quiet part of Dorset: peaceful, lovely scenery, plenty of fresh air and not many people around me. It has been as close to perfect as I could have wished for.

A number of people have contacted me, through email, SMS and social networks, to offer their support. It has been a revelation that I have so many people who care about me: I don’t have a lot of self-esteem and it can be hard to believe that anyone else would think much of me.

The friends I stayed with made me so welcome and didn’t put me under any pressure to explain what had happened or how I was feeling: they gave me the space I needed. I felt safe and was able to relax, and as I did so I started to talk. They listened and understood. They didn’t judge, didn’t tell me what I should do.

I left this morning feeling calm, and also a little embarrassed that I’m not able to thank them nearly enough for being there for me when I needed their support. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such kindness: I was close to tears — of happiness — as I drove away, and again now as I write this.

It is because of these friends, and others who have contacted me in one way or another over the past couple of days that I am starting to feel good about myself again. It feels as if the crisis is behind me and I’m moving on. I’ve got the time and support now to complete the healing process.

Cutting Relapse

Cutting Relapse

Just a little cut
Just a little cut: barely visible

It hardly broke the skin. (Probably just as well: the blade I used was a little rusty.) But I was in a bad place, my head scrambled by fear and stress: I couldn’t think straight. A tortuous feeling for one so reliant on intellect. So I gave in to the desire and experienced, in that instant as the blade sliced through a couple of layers of skin, a terrible clarity. A focus that cleaved through the turmoil. That intense instant of sharp, pure, cleansing, beautiful pain as I slowly drew the blade over my wrist.

Fully intentional, in control of my actions. No wild slashing for me: a slow, deliberate motion. Experience telling me just how much pressure to exert for the necessary effect without excessive harm.

What happened to cause this? I was cornered in my safe place, overloaded but going the way of dissociation rather than meltdown. But instead of being left alone to decompress I had to endure further provocation. I ended up with confusion rather than dissociation. The one beacon of hope, the one idea that my mind was able to present to cope was to relapse and cut myself.

I did it with the first blade I had to hand, on an old “waiter’s friend” bottle opener: I’ve used it in the past. I felt that same old release. The confusion sloughed away and my mind began to function again.

This wasn’t done for pleasure. It was desperation. I couldn’t see another way to regain control, to shock my mind back into its usual rhythm — just like defibrillation. It worked, and as the photo above shows I didn’t cause myself much harm. Not that I’m recommending this as a regular course of action.

I’ve had so much going through my mind recently; my blog posts didn’t give much away but I’m struggling: starting to feel burned out. I chatted to a few friends afterwards: they’re worried about me. A lot. They’re awesome and I don’t think I deserve them.

Sidestepping Meltdown

Sidestepping Meltdown

It’s curious that the day after I wrote about violence in meltdowns I felt myself approaching one. This is how I handled it.

It was Tuesday morning and I was feeling tired after a poor night’s sleep. That in itself is never a good thing because it heightens my sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as bright light, loud or high-pitched noise and touch. It puts me on edge: I become liable to jump at the slightest disturbance, balanced on the cusp between holding it together and going into overload.

Well, I was a mess. Couldn’t concentrate on anything: the slightest disturbance grated. The noise of the air conditioning, people’s voices, vibrations in the floor as they walked by all contributed to my discomfort and I could feel that I was becoming more and more tense.

And then an alarm went off! Loud and high-pitched. I felt myself sliding into meltdown, the anger building as I began to feel the urge to lash out…

..but I was aware of all this. I realized how close I was to a meltdown and that realization slammed the mental brakes on. In recognizing my state of distress I had subconsciously triggered my learned coping strategies. My focus shifted from the external stimuli that were overloading me to instead observe my own body: I was breathing too fast, I was very tense. I began to consciously relax, the tension easing and the anger ebbing as I did so. My breathing slowed to a more normal rate as a result of the meditative technique.

And the alarm stopped. Bliss! Comparative peace at last. Until the fire alarm test sounded a few minutes later, which caught me unawares despite happening at the same time every Tuesday morning for the past six years and more. I’m laughing at the irony in hindsight: I just got over one alarm and there was another! However this one didn’t cause me nearly as much distress because I was already in my coping mindset. Yes, it was painful to the senses and I couldn’t physically do anything while it was ringing, but I had successfully reduced my stress level from the first alarm and had the reserves to avoid a full overload.

A couple of minutes later it was all over. I went for a short walk to give myself a break and help complete the process of relaxation which helped somewhat. The tiredness though; that was exacerbated by the effort of will to drag myself back from the brink of meltdown. It wasn’t a very productive day after that: I got through and made a point of not setting my alarm that night. I knew I needed to sleep and recover enough to be able to function the next day and it’s better to be late in to work and productive than turn up on time with a mind like molasses in winter.