Sensory Overload Time.

Well. Here I sit. In the waiting room at EVMS Internal Medicine. Pat’s doctors office. I’m the only one here. 20 chairs. All empty. TV on in corner. Lots of flourescent lights. One of those weird carpet tile floors. 2 foot squares of carpet that stick to the floor. In an alternating pattern. Typical dropped ceiling, hiding the ductwork, and wires. And the administrative services office. And I’m sitting here, overloaded.

Yeah. Totally alone, and I’m overloaded. Staring at the patterns of sunlight on the carpet, chairs, tables. Listening to the TV, the four people in the admin area talking, some on the phone, some to each other, the environmental (air conditioning?) system roar, watching the clock on the wall as the second-hand snaps from one second to the next. Magazines scattered on the table in the middle of the rom, and centerpiece of fake flowers. Several real plants scattered through the room. A water fountain stuck to one wall. Steel. Looks out-of-place. Pictures here and there. Three visible trash cans from where I sit. Big instruction signs taped to the back of computer monitors. Glass in the door and next to the door you enter the area from outside.

Damn, it’s bright in here.

Damn, it’s noisy.

See. I notice everything. No, I mean EVERYTHING. “EVMS – Your Opinion Matters!” “Accent Health” Even the typical EXIT sign over the door to the area. Even worse, the sign’s crooked. Yeah. Sucker hangs lower on the left end, by the E than it does on the right end, by the T. And look at all the ceiling panels. Gods. Some look like they’re hanging on for dear life. Some are a brighter white than others. Some aren’t quite cut cleanly on the edges. Blinds in the window. Mini-blinds. And they pull up, hiding behind a, what the hell is that? A valence? Same blue with pale orange dots as the friggin’ chairs. Hey, look. Flourescent light reflections on the screen of the TV.

I can hear myself typing on this Chromebook, you know. Oh, listen, they’re making copies of documents on the office printer in the admin area. Hey. Someone showed up. Talking with one of the check-in people. Did you know it’s not safe to leave the cabinet keys hanging from one of the locks to one of the cabinets? Yeah. That.

People from inside the offices, and patient rooms show up in the admin area every so often. The legs on one of the tables are crooked. Doesn’t look like it’ll collapse anytime soon, but it’s irritating to see it. This is where I do silly things. Like count the ceiling panels. 12 by 5. 60 panels. Roughly. I’ll settle for that now. Like all ceiling panels, they had to chop some up into wacky shapes to get them to fit the available space. Really distracting that the lights are shorter than the panels. They had to stick these inserts around the lights, and they’re not like the panels. Hey, look! There’s a seam on one of the walls. Bad drywall work.

Two people here now. Waiting. “They’ll call you back shortly.” What the heck is that constant background noise? Sounds like a big fan, blowing into a tiny duct. Breathe, Marcus. Breathe. And relax.

Yeah. Relax. That’s easier if I plug in the MP3 player, which I didn’t bring. So, instead of hearing must my music, I’m hearing 80 billion things. Dang, that’s a loud door. And that sounded like a toilet being flushed, whatever it was.

People being people. Talking to each other. Talking on the phone. And in comes one of the nurses, The door opens with loud clacking sounds, and she belts out, “Ray!”

I wonder. Do other people see all the things I see? Hear all the things I hear? Do they have built-in filters that cut out all the background information. God, those are ugly shoes. Pink laces, pink soles, on gray and white. Athletic shoes. I never will understand marketing. And more voices. Two more people checking in. Beeping from someone dialing a phone. Keys rattling. So many noises. So many things to see.

Of course, it’s chaos. Isn’t everything? But somehow, there’s order in there somewhere. I like how people seem oblivious to the chaos. I sometimes wish I was. Another door. And the second person in the waiting room got called back. The two that were at the check-in counter are now gone. Have no idea where they went, or why they were here.

Did I mention there are times I wish I was invisible. So no one could see me. No one could know I was here. No one would look in my direction, and verify I’m behaving. At least, that’s what it feels like. “Aieee! I’m being watched!” I wonder. Am I on a video camera somewhere?

And the water cooler cooling system just kicked in. Heard the click when it turned on, hearing the fan run now. Watching the admin people talk to each other. And everything seems to settle into a routine. The water cooler system turned off. Yeah. With another click. And now I can hear that air duct noise again.

I should probably get a system with a Solid State Drive in the future. They’re more resistant to vibration, and the Chromebook is enduring a lot of that now. My knees are bouncing. Wheee. Welcome to stimming. I’ve mentioned that before. I wonder. Do other people see everyone that walks through the are. Everyone that walks through their field of vision. There’s people on the other side of the admin area. Someone moves through every so often.

Did you ever notice how the outline around doors isn’t perfect. You know. That seam between the door and the frame. It’s not perfect. The top is more open that either of the sides. And one side is usually wider than the other. And the bottom’s so big light gets through, and shines in under the door. And you can see the shadow of the door on the floor. And why the heck are all the door knobs different? What’s up with that?

Reflections are so distracting. I always try to figure out what’s being reflected. And from where. Yeah. It never ends. One of the office staff came in to the water fountain. She’s cute. And I’m old. Holy smokies, look at those shoes! Those are hard to miss! Lots of pink, with what looks like blue. At least they look comfy.

Time to glance through the mini-blinds, and watch the parking lots, and roads outside. Yeah. I see that. Cars, humans on the sidewalks. It’s quiet out there today. I’m sitting here. Quietly. ‘Cause that’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it. Sit. Quietly. And not bother anyone. While I wait for her.

0910 hours. 2 hours and I’ll be rushing to get ready for work. Yeah. That. Same thing happens every day she has off, and I work. I end up rushed to get ready, ‘cause I try to spend time with her. We’re supposed to eat something after she’s done here.

There’s that loud clack, and the noise of the door opening again.

Realistically, fast food would work. But, she’s not much on fast food. She’s more of a sit down service person. So, I probably won’t get home until 1030 or 1100. And I’m scheduled to start work at 1200.

Did I mention I hate stress? Yeah. I do. And it’s everywhere. In everything. My left knee hurts. It’s a ligament damage thing. I do better when I get more exercise, more walking. Keeps the muscle strength around the bad ligaments up. And that helps keep the knee functional, and reduces the aches I feel from it.

Yeah. And you’d never know it was hurting to watch me walk.

The heat coming off the windows feels good. Too bad the aluminum frames around the windows are cold. I like it when those frames heat up in the sun. I can thaw my fingers on them.

She’s here today, ‘cause of the lab work last Thursday. When they stuck her to draw the blood for the blood work, they stabbed her in a nerve cluster. And her right hand and arm light up, so to speak, when she moves them certain ways. So, she’s having that checked out this morning. I’m expecting that to take longer than she thinks. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a pick up fast food on the way home to get me ready for work kind of morning.

If I close my eyes, that helps, but only so much. I end up hearing even more things when I close my eyes. I keep my eyes open, and I hear less, but see more, obviously. I’ve tried to explain to people how I see everything. How I hear everything. I process it all. And figure out what I’m supposed to hear. What’s normal sound. Once I class something as normal, it’s not that I can ignore it, or filter it out. I still hear it. I still see it. But it’s normal, so I don’t worry about processing it. But that takes a bit of time.

As I sit here, I’m doing that very thing. figuring out what I’m supposed to hear. What the “background” is in this waiting room. And deciding what to process, and what to ignore. I think, maybe, this is what people do, without realizing they’re doing it. I know they hear everything, but it’s like they don’t.

Of course, I pull out details. I can decide to process everything, and then describe what I’m processing. I’m not sure that’s normal. I think that’s a part of autism. A part of being on the spectrum. I like to think people can stop what they’re doing, and decide to listen, and hear everything, like I can.

But I’m not sure that’s true. And I have no way to really check on that.

I’m calmer now. Been here long enough to make a few decisions on what’s normal, and not worry about processing it. Yeah. Maybe this takes others a few seconds. Takes me minutes. Maybe a lot of minutes.

God, those lights are bright, aren’t they?

0930 hours. Yeah. 90 minutes, and I’ll be getting ready for work. 120 minutes and I’ll be on the way to work. And somewhere in there, I’m supposed to stuff a meal, a shower, and getting dressed. And it’s at least 20 minutes, probably 30, to the house.

The things I put myself through to support her.

I’d do this every time. Because, I’ll stand beside her. It’s what I do. It’s how I am. It’s what I believe. It’s what I want. If I have to rush to get to work, so what? I’ll be here when she comes out. And I’ll be able to talk with her, and hug her, and spend time with her, and help her deal with whatever comes of all this.

It’s what I want to do.

And now. I wait. Because. And that’s all I need to understand.

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3 thoughts on “Sensory Overload Time.

  1. NT’s do register many of those things, but there is no processing, it just passes us, and we don’t have to filter it, sort of washes over us. If we stop and listen/look we can hear/see all you can. I read in a waiting room, flick through a magazine, to distract me from sitting there observing it all, particularly people. I will observe and listen to people, and think about them and who they might be, in a waiting room situation. Environment does just disappear though, althoug I have counted ceiling tiles and ofter register their condition.

    But I am sitting here with the TV on and two children, both on 3DS’, both on different games, so the noise of the games, plus the endless stream of noise coming out of their mouths. Their noise bothers me more than any of the other sounds. And I notice the light reflecting on the dorma window on the house opposite, the sun has caught the white of it and it is glowing, behind it there are grey and stormy clouds that magnify it. So I register some things, but I observe them without them bothering me.

    Thanks for sharing though, as it helps me understand better.

  2. It is so refreshing to read someone elses take on the world, for, like you, I notice just about everything. I also have the advantage of being invisible, so no-one ever notices my scrutiny. Thanks for sharing. and please don’t stop…

  3. I understand sensory overload…I try to only shop between 9 – 10am, as after that I get irritated and rushed and overwhelmed. When I need to be in town after these times with the kids, they tend to be wary and watch me…hurrying me away when they see signs of overload.

    I see and hear everything, I wish I didn’t. I used to move white and pale-spined books from my parents bookshelf behind the television because they were all I could focus on. I need to move flecks of dust, anything bright, shiny or distracting from my field of view when I need to concentrate or watch TV. Putting up glittery birthday/Christmas cards can be a nightmare, and it’s a family joke that after someone places things around the room, I’ll move them. I can live in disorder, but it has to be MY disorder!

    My stim is an acorn cup, I have many, they go everywhere with me. I hoard them like a squirrel. When I’m out and anxiety hits, my thumb polishes the inside of the acorn cup in my pocket. I can’t be without them. I used to nod my head during overload/anxiety, the acorn cups have cured that. They’re unseen, and that suits my wish to be invisible too!

    Thanks for posting, Mark, you make me feel more normal. It helps to see others and know that I’m okay.

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