Cognitive Overload

My brain overwhelmed
By crashing noise bright light
Slow, slower, thoughts gone.


Cognitive overload is a problem many with brain injuries struggle to overcome. I describe it as being tossed in the ocean’s waves, being dragged out to sea in the undertow. It is a frightening experience, feeling my thoughts slow and it becoming more difficult to think. The simplest transactions become painfully difficult, of not impossible.

Yesterday, a friend asked me to pick up a few things from Safeway for her Super Bowl party. Unfortunately, it was not only the day before the big game, it was also the day after payday. The store was jam packed. Several times, I froze, clapping my hands to my ears as the announcement to blare over the loudspeakers, people moving quickly from all directions, the bright lights. Even with sunglasses, my eyes hurt. Finally, I locate the last item on the list; green onions. Standing in line, people are crowding up behind, trapped. My anxiety skyrockets. The idiot behind makes a comment about my service dog and starts to pet him. Nice. (Scout is being retired because he is too easily distracted). I feel the migraine slamming into my brain. Free! It’s over! I drop the things over to my friend’s and chew her out for sending me into the hell of a crowded store. Then, I fall apart in tears. Stupid. This is cognitive overload.

I stayed throughout the first half of the game at my friend’s gathering. Then, the noise and loud volume of the TV and children sends me home, overloaded. At least the Seahawks won!


I slowly learned how to manage overload to a degree. Unfortunately, the only true “cure” is to leave the stimulation. At home, I keep the lights dim and the volume of the TV low. I look,away from flashing lights on any TV shows. It is much harder in public, since I can’t control the sensory input. I wear sunglasses to reduce the brightness of lights and try to shop when it is quiet. I wear brimmed hats. Sound is harder. I don’t like the sensation of ear plugs. They change how I perceive sound and feel irritating in my ears. I use them only as a last resort.

There are time I feel that my TBI defines who I have become. I live my life around migraines, balance issues, and sensory overload. There are activities I no longer attempt.

I look “normal.” My problems are invisible to others. Not every health problem can be seen.


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