I had a really hard time understanding sensory overload when each of my girls were infants. I couldn't grasp how a noisy toy, a television and me talking on the phone or to the baby would send the baby into a frenzy of hysterics. Ellie was my child who was particularly prone to sensory overload. I can block out background noises most of the time so sensory overload didn't quite make sense to me. Fast forward a few years and I think I'm starting to get it. (Ok, I'm in year 9 of parenting so it's been more than a few years.)
I've noticed over the past two years that I suffer from sensory overload. I just didn't recognize it years ago. I am all too aware of it now. I suffered from it when Ellie was an infant and I listened to her cacophonous cries mixed with Madeline's unrelenting whines, noisy toys and a television that was always on. The mix of sounds filled our living room which had cathedral ceilings and filled our small house with noise. I felt worn out all of the time and when it was quiet I swore I could still hear the noise in my head. It was enough to convince me that maybe I wasn't meant to have children and certainly I should take care not to have any more. Those early years of being a parent were organized chaos. The house was mostly organized and clean, the children were well kept, well dressed and fed, but I was living in a world where peace seemed a long way off, if not impossible.
It wasn't until we moved to our current home that I began to understand what sensory overload was and that I actually suffer from it. Maybe it's because we moved to a house with no cathedral ceilings and have more than doubled our living space. I can send my children to their rooms and I don't hear them playing as I sit in silence in the family room. If they're too loud while they play on the main level, I can send them to the basement where they can make all the noise they want and I only hear muffled sounds of playful children through a closed basement door. Peace and quiet are realities for me on an almost daily basis. Sometimes there are days when the kids want to sit on top of me, watch TV and play with noisy toys. When that happens I realize that I'm getting agitated and I either make the kids disperse or I retreat to another room for a little time so I can reset.
In the grand scheme of things, dealing with these situations is relatively easy. It's only an issue for me when I can't leave the overwhelming environment. I have found, that my parents send me into sensory overload. My mom is loud, actually, in our family we all are and it's likely due to the fact that my grandfather could scarcely hear thanks being a soldier who drove a tank in WWII. I'm loud, I freely admit it, but I'm not as loud as my mom is when she's excited to see her grandchildren. And those grandchildren are VERY loud when we have grandparents visiting. They're so excited that they shout the entire time we have company. Then add in a hyper dog who sprints around the house like a wild animal and barks and you have enough noise to drive any sane person over the edge. Then, for good measure, toss in a loud TV with either a news show featuring angry people arguing politics or an obnoxious children's show. And, if all that other noise isn't enough, toss in my dad talking in slightly hushed tones the entire time about who knows what. This is what just about every visit from my parents is like. Within twenty minutes I'm feeling overwhelmed and drained of all energy.
Today I was treated to a visit from my parents. I'm happy to see them, and I'm glad they want to come and see their grandchildren as often as they do, but I find that their visits send me over the edge. Bryan left yesterday afternoon for a business trip in Denver, CO, and my parents decided they'd do me a favor and come up for the afternoon so the kids would have a distraction to keep them from missing Bryan. It worked, but it also left me worn out.
I used to get frustrated that Ellie went into sensory overload every time we were at a family function. She couldn't handle being at parties. If we hosted a party, Ellie would either require my dad to sit in her room with her and play. Her first three birthday parties were crazy. She wanted no part of them and I pretty much had to force her to make an appearance for the key parts of the party where her presence were required. Now that I understand what she must have gone through every time we had a party I wish I had known then how awful it was for her.
So I'm thoroughly exhausted after today's events. I'm happy that the girls were entertained for the afternoon and that the dog seems to be mellow (as mellow as a Jack Russell/Pug mixed dog can be, that is). I suspect that I will sleep soundly tonight, provided the noise in my head dies down sometime soon.