Sensory Overstimulation

One thing that I have always classed as an idiosyncrasy is my detestation of strong smells. I don’t mean in the sense of being down in a sewer or the acrid stench of death but normal, everyday smells.

For example, I cannot go into shops like Lush or Body Shop or even specialist perfume shops as the fragrances make my head pound and I strongly dislike it. That is at the far end of the spectrum for me but items such as scented candles or josh sticks, anything that gives off a scent I find difficult to deal with.

This has clear links to my apparent autism as often people struggle with sensory stimulation – it might be when their surroundings get too loud, too many lights or too much information coming at them. It has been known to cause autistic meltdowns. These occur when the level of stimulation overpowers the person’s capacity to deal with it effectively. A neuro-typical person may feel able to vent their frustrations or to say, “I am feeling overwhelmed.” An autistic person may not fully understand their own emotional cues when it comes to this or not be able to express these feelings in a way that can be clearly understood.

Other manifestations of my dislike of scented products can be narrowed down to the field of medicinal creams. If I were prescribed something that needed to be rubbed on, shampooed in, or otherwise manipulated from tube to skin, if it had a scent then I would not be able to put it on. The smell would linger on my skin and I would be acutely aware of the cream and not feel comfortable. This has led to classic male response of ignoring issues because I don’t want the creams, ointments or anything else.

I cannot stand the feeling of sweat on my skin. Which for someone who sweats a lot due to life hating me and anxiety this is a particular concern. The feeling of sweat on my back, my legs or anywhere creeps me out and I feel incredibly aware of it and self-conscious about it. Some medications I have been put on can cause excess sweating as a side effect but it doesn’t help. My wife tells me to get to places early – though I hate being late anyway – so that I am not a “big sweaty mess.” A recruiter once asked me if it was raining outside due to the level of fluid on me. It hadn’t rained all week.

Some people with autism cannot wear shirts or certain materials due to the feeling of the material against their skin. For me, oddly, I dislike wearing socks if I do not have shoes on. I can feel the material against my toes, rub against my soles and I become uncomfortable.

It is strange how all these little oddities, these little aspects of my personality that I have disliked or not been able to excuse away have a reason and have their causes. This journey, as much as anything else, is about learning what these aspects are and learning to accept myself for them.

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