Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

I’ll start by telling you a quick story. So it was mid-2016, about seven and a half years after my accident, and I really wanted to buy a hat. I was on the hunt for a nice soft, wide brim hat and I thought I knew the exact place to buy it too. I knew exactly what I wanted, so I thought, and exactly where to buy it, so I thought. Where else would I go but the Queen Victoria Market in my hometown, Melbourne? 

It was a nice day so my girlfriend, Jasmine, and I went off to see what we could find. I’ve been to this market many times before, but I wasn’t expecting what was about to happen to me, nor did I even know what it was at the time.

If you’ve never walked through the Queen Victoria market before, let me paint the picture for you. As soon as you enter, the chaos begins. In fact, this is basically the same as every other market in the world. There’s sounds coming from every angle, flashing lights, spinning things, people going crazy, kids running around, bands playing, smells from goodness knows what and people hustling and bustling with stuff for sale right in your face. Walking through the market, looking for the stall that has my hat, it’s every man for himself. 

I was leading the way with no regard for the other party following right behind me. “Scott, slow down”, “Scott keep to the left”, “OMG Scott, you’re killing me here”, “Ok, you’re on your own Scott”. 

I finally found the store that I was looking for and I realized that I didn’t know which hat I was after at all. There was so many to choose from. With an injured brain, choices are hard at the best of times, but now add in all the chaos and I had no chance. In the half an hour I was there, I picked up the same hat about five times and asked for Jasmine’s opinion. “Scott, you’ve tried that hat on five times now, I’m done, I’ll be sitting over there if you want me”, “But, Jasmine, what about this hat”? 

This started World War III so we left the market in a foul mood, with no hat and no idea WTF just happened. 

That week, this problem came up with my neuropsychologist, Jill. I explained to her what had happened and she straightaway told me what was going on without batting an eyelid. The way that she explained it made perfect sense. She told me that I was experiencing a sensory overload, or brain flooding, which is very common after a head injury. The way that a health brain works is like a filter. When information enters a healthy brain through the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – it acts like a filter and disregards all the information that it doesn’t need. This means that we can pick and choose all of the information that we need. 

With a damaged brain we have a damaged filter so picking and choosing what information we take on is a bit of a challenge. Our senses get bombarded with information causing sensory overload. Our brain takes on all the information at once, causing a biological meltdown. I was never aware of this and I have been experiencing this problem for many, many years. This only came to light because of the situation I was in and if I had have been on my own, I may never have realized. Because I was with Jasmine, who was also battling with my injured brain, we discovered this together. 

Now that I had both the cause and the effect of this common debacle, I was now after a solution. Jill and I discussed this at length and we mainly spoke about the cause of it. It’s all about knowing what is going to trigger this overload and thus preventing the plant from growing into a monster. For obvious reason, I can’t kick people out of the market when my brain is going cray-cray so it’s about kicking myself out of the situation. 

As I mentioned, I don’t even see when this is happening to me. I don’t always see it happening because my mind is too busy fighting demons but I do know that the feeling I get in these situations is very stressful. 

The insightful words from Jill were music to our ears because we now had something solid to work with. Unfortunately, there’s no magical pill to fix my injured brain so it’s now about recognizing the signs and the symptoms. Jasmine can see them a mile away. When this problem pops its funny looking head up, she will grab my hand and tell me to concentrate on the feeling. That little technique is all about focusing my mind, something I have much more control over since I started meditation (last week’s blog). It may only be for a couple of minutes, but this makes a world of difference. 

This problem is a funny one because I can be attending a really busy festival on the other side of the world, way out of my comfort zone and feel nothing yet I can be in my local town buying a hat at a market and I can totally lose my shit. There could be a multiple factors contributing to this but as Jill explained to me, rest can be my best friend. If I feel it coming on, going to a quiet environment will help. Of course, meditation is up there as one of the biggest assisting tools there is.

At a later date, I made it back to the Queen Victoria Market. I was wandering through the stalls on my way to get one of those mouth-watering hot jam doughnuts from the hot-jam-doughnut-man-in-a-van, guy, when I struck gold. I wasn’t even searching for it, but I stumbled upon a hat shop. This hat shop had only three hats to choose from. This was heaven for my injured brain because we all know how hard it is to make a decision with an injured brain. Instead of all these choices between shapes and colors and fabrics and more shape of hundreds of hats, all I had to choose was black, brown or grey. How good is that? I am now the proud owner of a nice black hat.