ADHD and hypersensitivity – The main symptoms

My ADHD brain seems to intensify everything, all the input, all the things that happen around me seem to become too much in my brain. Not only do I lack filters to manage the input to my brain, my ADHD brain also seems to experience things much stronger than a neurotypical brain. I am hypersensitive, both physical and emotional, and there are many cases in which this hypersensitivity actually creates the list of ADHD symptoms. The low frustration tolerance for example, it is not that I actually have a low tolerance, I might even have more tolerance compared to other people, but my input is exaggerated. If I get frustrated with something it’s usually not this one thing I get frustrated about, usually there has been an annoying sound or movement around me, someone has been eating next to me, someone entered my space or I have been absorbing emotions from other people. My tolerance is not low, I just have many more frustrations that other people, many more receptors and stimuli and some broken filters.

Auditory sensitivity

My ears seem very selective, or actually my ADHD brain is very selective when it comes to my auditory input. I can listen to music the whole day, even the same song for 10 hours a day, every day will not bother me. Whatever sound I make myself will never bother me, my brain seems to filter my own sounds. I can listen to music, while watching a movie and play duolingo, 3 different sounds combined, but also ok. But besides these self – caused sounds, there is almost nothing I can tolerate, nothing I can filter.

My grandma’s two clocks, not ticking at the same time, conversations that happen around me, playing children, the sound that jeans make when someone is leg wiggling, the clicks my colleagues make with there mouses, cars passing by, the notifications on my phone (even the buzzing ones), dripping water, footsteps, people laughing, eating, whispering, moving and kissing. Everything, even things that make just a tiny bit of sound will enter my brain and explode in there. Going out for lunch or dinner is extremely hard for me, I will listen to all the conversations around me, I will hear the plates, pans and tools jingling in the kitchen, I will hear the clinging of cups and glasses at the bar, I will hear the door opening and closing, and the worst thing is people scraping there plates, this can make me instantly nauseous. And sudden hard noises, they scare me to death. Luckily I have a good pair of headphones that filter out most of the noises around me, without them I would be extremely tired and frustrated within an hour after leaving my house.

Olfactory sensitivity

I remember this boy in high school, he was sitting next to me in physics and biology and he was using a disgusting spray deodorant. Every time I spend an hour next to him I got nauseous, before the end of class I had to run outside, get some fresh air. I have this with more smells, mostly chemical, they overwhelm me, they make me sick and unable to breath. I never dare to wash my hands with soap in a public toilet because often the smell of the soap can make me sick for the rest of the day. If I have to spend even 1 night in a hotel I’ll bring my own shampoo and shower cream because the one time I did not, I thought someone was following me the entire day, I did not recognize myself. And if I go to a bar, I try to spend most of the time outside because the smell of the people around me makes me sick.

On the plus side I have some scents I absolutely love and enjoy, like the smell of rain after drought, a sunny morning, fresh laundry, my rabbit or my boyfriend. And even the slightest sense of these good scents can make me remember and enjoy the good things

Physical sensitivity

At my current job, there has been only one time I could not control my emotions, one time that my hypersensitivity caused me to get angry at a colleague and I wasn’t able to control it. I was working at my desk, and without me noticing a colleague was standing behind me and started shaking my chair, left to right, really hard. He just wanted my attention I think, since I was hyperfocussed on my work, but this caused an overload on my senses and I jelled at him, went outside and had to sit there for 20 minutes before I was in control of my emotions again. I have this bubble around me, and when someone enters this without permission it causes extreme overstimulation. Hugging, touching, bumping, patting, it is all way too much. The worst places are crowded ones or lines, where people accidentally bump into me all the time, where people I don’t know are entering my bubble uninvited. I even experience this sensitivity with my boyfriend, if he unexpectedly kisses me or touches me, I get scared, even a little frustrated, off course I love it when he shows affection, but I have to be prepared, otherwise even the nicest things end up being frustrating.

Visual sensitivity

Flickering lights, fluorescent lights, changes is brightness, wiggling legs, a fly buzzing around, a cupboard filled with things, my kitchen after cooking, movement of people, vehicles and things. This all has an impact on me. If I’m in a place with too much stuff I get overwhelmed, if I have to look for an object within a dozen of different things I can not recognize anything, when I’m in traffic I can not seem to navigate myself through (the reason I don’t have and probably never will have a drivers license). When I’m in a place that is not overloaded with movement or things, my mind focusses on this single thing that moves, I can not ignore it, it becomes the only thing I see, the only thing that matters and needs my attention. And then there is this thing with brightness, I can not handle brightness, a sunny day without sunglasses give me headaches, traffic lights in the dark become a blur and make me unable to see anything else, I even try to avoid cycling in the dark because this often ends in small accidents, I hit people that do not have lights or I hit things, all because light blinds me. At my evenings at home I rarely put any lights, I use candles, or just be in the dark.

Emotional sensitivity

I am emotionally sensitive in two ways. Firstly I can not completely manage my emotions, when I’m happy I will be completely happy, when I’m sad I will feel like my world is collapsing, when I’m anxious I don’t dare to leave my house. Even the emotions that start small can grow, and take over my entire mood. But secondly I am also very emotionally open, I absorb emotions from people and even things around me. I sometimes play this game on my phone called angry birds dream blast, the start screen of the game shows 3 happy birds, smiling, and when I enter the game they are sleeping, peacefully, so I feel peaceful. But then I start playing, and after a while I notice I am looking at my screen with an angry face, and every time I see a bird exploding, looking angry, I get a little more angry. Luckily I notice this in time, laugh about myself copying the feelings of these cartoon birds in this little game, and I close it before the birds can actually change my mood.

Imagine me being around other people, watching a movie, or reading a very good book. I just absorb everything! I now use movies to change my mood to whatever I want, bit more happy, watch a comedy, do I want to cry, watch a sad movie and I can cry for hours after, do I want to feel loved, watch a romantic movie. This also works with other people, my boyfriend for example is almost always in a good mood, so whenever I am with him, I feel good. But if I spend time with a depressed friend, I will get depressed myself, but this does make me able to understand and help him better, this emotional sensitivity, in contrast to the other sensitivities, actually makes me a very social person.

How I manage my sensitivities

Sunglasses and a good pair of noise canceling headphones are a big help in controlling my hypersensitivity, but unfortunately they don’t help for everything and I can not wear them all the time. For me it helped a lot to create a home in which I feel safe, where I know I will be safe, without all the stimulations I experience in the world outside of these walls. I live in a basement, with a nice big garden in the back, in a quiet street. In my home there are no noises from outside besides a couple of birds that visit the garden sometime, there is no equipment that makes noise, there are no neighbors I can hear. I can close the curtains in front of the small windows in the front of my house and then the only movement I can see is my rabbit, the birds and the TV if I wish to see something. I don’t have much stuff in the house, besides my plants there is not much to look at and I make sure the house smells like the one laundry soap I always use and love (sometime I even put a wash, just to be able to hang it and make the house smell nice). I have a safe place, and whenever things get too much I can come here and know I will be fine.

When it comes to social activities I have to plan it, if I want to go out for dinner for example, I know it will overstimulate me so I know I have to make sure that before and after this I need to be able to stay home, to prepare and recover. In my office I have told the people around me that I suffer from this problem, I have told them about my struggles and they try to respect me in this as much as possible, some of my colleagues even respect this so much that if they want my attention they will send me an email to ask me to come by, even if they are right next to me, just because they know that if they touch me, wave at me, or scream at me (I’m always wearing my noise canceling headphones in the open-office I’m working in), they can upset me, so they give me the space I need. But sometimes I do get overstimulated, I feel like all the nerves in my body are itching, like I can not breath and I get nauseous or a headache. At these moments I have thought myself to breath in for 4 seconds, hold my breath for 4 seconds, and then breath out for 4 seconds, I keep repeating this, focussing on my breath until the feeling slowly goes away and I can continue being myself.

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