Sunday, 30 October 2016

Sensory hypersensitivity

We often like to think that each of us experiences this world in the same way. That everyone sees the same colours, hears the same sounds, and experiences each of these sensory experiences the same way. In reality these experiences couldn't be more different. From colour-blindness, reduced sense of smell due to disease or smoking, to conditions which has one for example experiencing sounds as colours, the ways in which people experience the world around them is legion.

For myself the most distinguishing feature is that I do not experience sound as sound, or smell as smell. Touch isn't touch either. Instead everything is an image, since all sensory input gets integrated into a single, coherent image. This makes it really easy to perceive the world around oneself as a coherent whole, but also means that unless I focus on, for example, a spoken conversation, I will not remember any of it because it never got visualised.

The other 'feature' which distinguishes me is sensory hypersensitivity. This translates itself into an extremely sensitive sense of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. I will feel pain where others merely perceive a firm grasp. I will feel as if my eyes are being burned out of my skull by the sun on a regular summer's day and absolutely need sunglasses when the sun is shining, even during winter days.

I avoid many types of food because they taste too strong or certain aspects of it are overbearing. The primary reason why I cannot drink alcohol is because I taste the ethanol so strongly that it drowns out any other flavour of the drink. This peculiar sense of taste is also why I do not drink coffee and (alcohol-free) beer.

My sense of smell is so sensitive that it has contributed massively to my intense dislike of strong irritants such as cigarette smoke and the smell of coffee and alcohol. This even when it's at concentrations nobody else in the room notices besides me. It's not something which I can ignore at that point either. I can try to live with it for a short while, or leave the room.

Basically the same thing is true for my sense of hearing. In this area it's not just about general sensitivity, but mostly about not being able to ignore any sounds, no matter how repetitive. Sounds like those of someone breathing will frustrate me. A single cough will alert me once. Repeated coughing will alert me every time until I feel like I'm going mad. Ditto for similar sounds such as the ticking heating system at my current apartment, or merely a ticking clock.

Not surprisingly, I have the same issue with repetitive movement in my field of view. Someone swinging their leg constantly, flickering shadows from people moving around, or something similar will keep alerting me, over and over. It's really quite maddening.

The feeling is that of having all of my senses turned up to 200% every time of the day. Sometimes I feel so overburdened by sensory information that it feels as if my brain wants to shut down to protect itself. At such moments I find that closing my eyes helps to reduce the sensory load significantly. Doing so in a quiet place helps infinitely more.

What I have found over the years is that the only way to really deal with sensory hypersensitivity and this inability to shut out sensory information is to simply find a place where such sensory information is largely absent. While it's possible to deal with the full barrage of information society throws at one for a limited period of time. Having this 'quiet place' is essential for survival.

I honestly cannot wait until I am freed out of this prison of noise that is my current apartment, and move into a house. Somewhere quiet. Somewhere without people. Somewhere where I control how much sensory information I receive at any point, instead of being at the mercy of my environment.

In many ways the farm where I grew up as a child was perfect for someone with this hypersensitivity condition: if there was something we did not lack there it were places where you could just stand or sit for hours and hear nothing but the wind and an occasional bird or land-bound critter.

The true bliss of silence.


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