My injury impacted my ability to tolerate, and understand, sensory input. Too much noise, light, visual stimulation, physical stimulation, and I become overwhelmed and don’t function well.
Going shopping: I must look odd. I wear a floppy “coolibar” hat and sunglasses. And have a death grip on the grocery cart. These are coping strategies to reduce and manage sensory input. Visually, I focus at the end of the cart and shop by grocery list. I still have to use these coping strategies today to function in a store well. I do better at the Safeway. It’s smaller and more familiar, as I shopped there before the injury.
About a month after my accident, Carol took me to WalMart to grocery shop. The noise, light, and visual input was insane. I grabbed onto the cart and focused on one step at a time: one item at a time. Carol was next to me, guiding the cart, and making selections for both of us. At one point, she left me alone with the cart rather than maneuver down a crowded aisle. I was frozen. I can’t really describe what happened. Nothing made sense. It was a kaleidoscope of sensation and senses. I couldn’t make sense of where I was, what I was doing, seeing, feeling. I saw clearly, yet experienced it blurry. The only thing that helped was focusing on one thing… the grocery cart. All I felt at the time was fear. I was lost, just standing in a store I had shopped in the past. I literally could not figure out where I would go if I wanted to leave. Carol returned and we continued the trip. I struggled to continue to walk. We went to her house and I slept for over an hour.
I still have difficulties in sensory rich environments.
I go to Physical Therapy for both my head injury and my shoulder several days a week. The PT office is located in the YMCA. Although they have individual offices, walking to them is challenging. In order to get to one office, we walk through a hallway, by the pool, up a ramp. The office is located next to a gym. I get lost. As I walk, my only focus is the next step, and following the physical therapist. Today, I could talk a little about what I was experiencing as we walked together, but I was still swaying on my feet, and felt terribly lost and confused. And it was almost impossible to find words to just say it was too much. Needless to say, I get rides to and from PT. I’ll talk more about physical Torture (I mean Therapy) for my head injury later. The process is interesting.
In familiar locations, I have fewer problems. My home is quiet and relatively non-stimulating. I feel good at home and feel like I function almost normally. There are times I do better out in public; if it’s quieter or I’m well rested. And I’ve noticed I can manage the sensory overload easier. I try to focus on one sense and one activity or task. I usually end up totally drained physically, mentally, and emotionally if I’m out too much. It takes a lot of concentration and effort to function. I end up sick and usually get a headache or migraine. And, then I sleep.
I still sleep at least an hour or so in the afternoon and about 10 or so hours at night.