My friend Ibby posted this video on her Facebook timeline (for those triggered by loud noise, flashing lights and/or prone to seizures, do NOT watch or at least turn the volume way down and stand back)
A twitter friend, after I reposted this video, wrote that this was why he wears headphones and I tweeted back that while Emma is sensitive to some noises, for the most part she craves noise and typically turns the volume up as loud as it can physically go on both music and favorite movies, much to the horror of our various neighbors. Even though we live in New York City (a place that is, for many, a sensory overload), people get cranky when woken at 6:30AM on Saturday morning to the strains of Michael Jackson’s Beat it. Even hard-core MJ fans protest at the volume Emma prefers and at that time of day.
My twitter friend tweeted back, “I like certain noises, Avenge Sevenfold. ;D It’s noises other than the one I’m trying to focus on that are the problem.” And this is exactly the important distinction that I often forget or have trouble understanding. Unless you have sensory issues, like the ones depicted in this video, I think it’s really hard to fully understand how debilitating sensory overload can be.
A couple of months ago I went to do our weekly grocery shopping run at Whole Foods. Typically I go every Saturday in the early afternoon. This is a time that isn’t too crazy, the lines aren’t insanely long and often it’s even comparatively quiet. As I stood in front of the check-out person, the cashier next to her began loudly unfolding a paper bag. The noise was deafening, a kind of snapping sound followed by crackling. I actually felt physical pain from the noise. My cashier looked over and laughed and then another cashier did the same thing with one of her bags. In response the first guy did it back and suddenly I was in the midst of a cacophony of bags being banged opened, like a series of gun shots going off. It was horrible. I stood there stunned. I became so disoriented I could barely think and then I felt a surge of rage. How dare they make this kind of noise with those paper bags! How dare they behave this way! I looked around trying to figure out who I should direct my anger to and noticed that not only were they smiling, some were even laughing and so were the other customers.
They were having fun! I was astonished. What was so incredibly painful to me, was amusing to others. As I left the grocery store I reflected on sensory issues and how overwhelming they can be. I thought about Emma and wondered what it must be like for her. Does she feel this way when she needs sensory input and cannot get it or is told she must turn the volume down? I know there are certain noises she cannot tolerate, like the cuisinart. She hates the sound it makes and will only tolerate it if I allow her to control it and put it on “pulse”, the same goes for the electric mixer. If one of us sings along to music she’s listening to she can’t stand it and puts her hands over her ears. (I completely understand her doing this when I sing, I’m pretty much tone-deaf and it IS painful to listen to for even those with no sensory issues, but she does this to anyone who sings along.)
After watching the video I posted above, I was grateful for the ending. Not because it changed anything or showed some obvious solution, but because it was one human being taking the time to notice another human being in obvious pain without judgment or condemnation.
As an aside – I would love to hear from those who need and crave sensory input. What is that like? What does it feel like? Is there anything you’ve done that has helped you. Any advice or ways we can make your life more tolerable during those times?
Emma – 2007 – Auditory Integration Therapy