The Overload is Real

Until recent years, I never heard anything about people acknowledging being overwhelmed or overloaded, especially not in reference to emotions or sensory processing. I think the first time I heard of sensory overload was in reference to an autistic child. I know those who are autistic probably have a completely different level of sensory overload compared to those of us who are not autistic, but we all process sensory information differently and therefore it affects us differently. Sensory overload isn’t something that only affects our autistic population, it is something that can affect anybody.

Ever since first hearing about sensory overload, I opened my mind to learning more. I learned that not only can people be overloaded with sensory information, but we can also be overloaded from everyday emotions and environments. Some people never get overloaded and others easily do. Empaths are people who tend to be affected by sensory and emotion overload. For me, yes, my emotions absolutely get overloaded, but my sensory overload comes in the form of being overstimulated by entirely way too much going on around me for long periods of time.

I think it is important to point out that sensory and emotion overload does not outwardly look like what you see in movies or TV shows. While there may be some truth to what is conveyed, that is not typical for everybody. For instance, I do not have outbursts when I’m overloaded. I get stressed. My perfectionistic tendencies become more forefront to how I go about my tasks or activities. My need for being on time (read: no less than 10 minutes early) is exaggerated. I get short and snippy. I need shit put away in their damn places and why the hell is it still sitting on the f*ing counter after two days?! Then it might get to the point that I just break down crying. While this is my typical escalation path, each and every other person most likely has some other reaction to overload.

There is not one singular way for every single person to overcome sensory or emotion overload. The method that works for one will not work for others. The method that works this minute in this situation will potentially not work in the next moment in the next situation. For me, quiet time by myself helps. Sometimes all I can get it an extended trip to the bathroom or a longer than usual shower, but it is worth it. Most times, if I can take a couple of hours by myself, I recharge quite well. Driving by myself is extremely helpful, so I might volunteer to go to the store for something or go on a coffee run. When I hit my highest limits of overload, I need a few days to myself. To help with my day-to-day maintenance, I need one to two hours of quiet time in the morning by myself.

I have finally gotten to where I will take care of myself enough to request and even demand these situations so I can reduce and remove the overload from my life. I still battle with feeling guilty about it, especially when we have family over or when we are visiting family. This is something that I will be working on overcoming for quite some time. The point is that I finally do it for me and put myself first.

I didn’t go through therapy or any official diagnosis to get to this point. Some people need that assistance, some do not. I do not feel that my overload is to the point that I need medication for professional intervention. I learned tips and processes to overcome the overload the same way I learned that there was a perfectly normal explanation for these feelings I couldn’t explain: through research and personal growth. It has worked for me, but it might not be enough for you. Please, if you are unable to find relief through any process you try, seek out help from someone else, including a therapist. There is no reason any of us should suffer in silence. Being overloaded shouldn’t be an accepted normal living state. Find peace and methods to help you return to that peace. It is worth diving into the unknown and messy arena.

Do I Belong?

Empaths tend to have a difficult time feeling as though they fit in. To make it even worse, we also tend to isolate ourselves. Together, these two things keep us in this constant feeling of being lost. At least that is how I interpret the feeling.

For about 99 percent of my life I have tried to fit in. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to have a group of friends like everyone else did. I wanted to share clothes with my friends. I wanted sleepovers like the movies portrayed. I wanted a really close extended family. I constantly morphed myself to fit in. It was almost like that was the only thing I was focused on; as if once I fit in I would finally be happy.

I still struggle with wanting to fit in, with wanting all of these feelings, but now I realize that my life is my life and I can have some or all of that without necessarily fitting in. Yes, I still feel as though I don’t fit in with specific groups or people, but that is okay. We, I, don’t have to fit in with absolutely everybody we, I, interact with or share DNA with.

With learning that I don’t have to fit in to have what I want out of relationships, I’ve also learned that it is absolutely fine if I really don’t want to do that thing or go to that party. If I want to stay home alone and have more me time, who cares. As a child I really enjoyed doing my own thing. I would play by myself outside or read by myself inside. As an teenager and adult I pushed myself to always be available and to always do everything that could possibly come up.

Until recently. I have started saying no to events or things that I simply do not want to do. I have started spending more and more time alone. Eddie went to help his cousin bring back furniture from his parents over a long weekend and I took that entire weekend to myself. I have a vacation coming up that has lost all of it’s original plans and I now plan to spend most of that week primarily by myself.

For some people isolation is hell, they simply don’t know what to do with themselves without people around. I am not one of those people. I am so much more inspired and energetic when I am on my own time and my own schedule. Isolation is generally pure bliss to me.

It’s odd how two of the qualities of being an empath are so different. With feeling as though we don’t fit in, the feeling is about being with other people. With needing or enjoying isolation, the feeling is about being alone. In my experience, this is an internal fight that we each battle, sometimes on a daily basis. We really want to go to that BBQ, but we really want to stay home and read this book…alone. We Sometimes really want to go do something with a few people or a big crowd, but then need to isolate after to decompress. It’s a battle we fight and an internal battle that will never be conquered for life. This battle can only be won or lost in each individual situation.

We empaths can both want to fit in and want to isolate. Regardless of where we are today, we belong in that place. Whether we are fitting in or we are isolating, that is where we belong at that moment.

I Have Got to Recharge

I am one who needs to recharge frequently. Whether it be simply from working five days a week or because I’ve been around a lot of people, I need time to get my mind right. Now, let me tell you what ‘getting my mind right’ really means for me.

It means a couple of things. First, for me it means releasing all of the thoughts and focus I’ve exerted. This usually comes after a week or few of work, or after a conference. I end up mentally exhausted and need time to clear my mind and do things that refresh me. Sometimes it is nothing but reading or watching TV. Sometimes it is mowing the lawn or reorganizing something, and boy have I been doing a lot of reorganizing lately. Sometimes I need to walk outside or be in nature.

The second thing ‘getting my mind right’ means for me is that I need to decompress from so many stimulants. When I’m around a lot of people for a any period of time, I get drained. Just traveling for work drains me, but the flights to and from are recharging for me. I know, that’s weird. If we have big groups of our local family and friends for a good day of barbecuing, I need time to recharge. Even our annual trip back to New Mexico for Christmas over-stimulates me and I need time to recharge. Those first few hours on the road back while Eddie is sleeping, yeah those are peaceful and wonderful. Even when driving in snow.

Why don’t I just avoid what over-stimulates me? Because I don’t want to. Life, for me, isn’t about avoiding what over-stimulates me. Life is about balance. Even though I might be over-stimulated, I still am most likely enjoying myself. I can be over-stimulated and happy at the same time. I can be over-stimulated and having a great fucking time. Being over-stimulated doesn’t always mean something isn’t good for you. Except drugs, those stimulants are always bad for you.

Needing to recharge is something that every person should balance with everyday life. Life comes at us fast and doesn’t always make sense (uh hello, we are living through a pandemic right now). Living life today means working, sometimes really long hours, taking care of not only ourselves, but also family members of all ages and pets, and possibly trying to enjoy some hobbies. Hobbies can be recharging. Work can be recharging. Family can be recharging. But for some, these can all be truly amazing things that just drain the energy from a person.

I am that person. I enjoy my work, spending time with family and friends, and all of my little hobbies. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes, and quite frequently, I need time to decompress and recharge. There is nothing wrong with needing to recharge. In fact, if you say you are taking care of yourself first but you don’t give yourself time to recharge, you truly are not taking care of yourself. You know, in my opinion. Recharging doesn’t have to be a week off of work. It doesn’t have to be leaving the kids behind for a weekend or more while you go off on some retreat. I mean, it could, but recharging doesn’t have to be some grand event.

Recharging looks different to everyone and for me, it looks different every week. Some weeks recharging is simply taking some time to walk the dogs after dinner each night. Sometimes it is reading some fiction fantasy book. Sometimes it is having the house to myself for hours or days at a time. My body and my soul usually tells me what I need. If I listen, I feel so much better. If I don’t listen, I get more and more overwhelmed and over-stimulated until I listen.

Recharging isn’t a bad thing. Being an empath and needing to recharge doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. You do you and take care of yourself first. I am.

Sensitive to Sounds and Smells

Another item on the list explaining the traits of an empath is the sensitivity to sounds, smells, or sensations. I don’t see myself as being sensitive to sensations, but I sure am sensitive to sounds and smells.

For me, my sensitivity to smells is primarily that I can smell things much more intensely, much faster, or that I smell them when nobody else does. I don’t know if anybody else is this way, but last week when I was walking through the grocery store, I walked within 10 feet of the peaches and through my mask, the smell of perfectly ripe peaches hit me. It was like a glorious slap in the face. I tend not to buy fruit because of the high natural sugar content, but I most definitely had to buy a couple peaches that day.

Now sounds. Oh sounds are my nemesis. Especially the sounds of someone tapping or banging intensely on their keyboard. My husband taps all of the damn time. If he isn’t tapping, his foot or knee is shaking. Somehow he is always doing something that creates a consistent tapping or swishing sound. It drives me absolutely batty. Dogs cleaning themselves loudly, yeah that is just obnoxious. The air compressor is filling, I’m leaving the area.

There are so many sounds that trigger an almost immediate reaction to make the person or thing stop. Then there are the sounds that I crave. Birds chirping, a creek rushing, or crickets singing their song. Those are sounds that I could go everyday hearing consistently. When I am listening to any of these sounds, especially when I’m in nature and they aren’t just some white noise I’m playing, I must restrain myself for telling people to shut up so I can hear them.

Sensitivity to sounds, smells, or sensations doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Yes, I have sensitivities that drive me insane, but I also have sensitivities that bring my soul to life. The thing about being sensitive to anything is that you are the only person being affected and if it is bad, then you decide that it is bad, and if it is good, you decide that. Nobody gets to tell any of us that our sensitivity is bad or good. We get to make that decision for ourselves.

I Care About Everything

Literally EVERYTHING.

I have always cared about everything. It has always weighed me down. Caring about everything is an extension of feeling everything that others feel. It is something that I didn’t realize that I did until just a few years ago.

I couldn’t understand why I was always stressed. I couldn’t understand why this person’s troubles caused me so much heartache. I couldn’t understand why that news story bothered me so much. I couldn’t understand why I was so happy for this person. I couldn’t understand why I felt the burning need to fix everything for everybody. I had no idea what was causing all of my turmoil.

It wasn’t until Eddie pointed out what was going on from his point of view that it clicked. I was caring about everything and by caring about everything, it was all weighing me down. My subconscious absorbed everything that I saw or heard and took it on as something that affects me.

Caring about others is an excellent quality to have. Caring about absolutely everything that goes on around me is not the same thing.

Just as crowds exhaust me, caring about everything drains me. I take it all on and then don’t understand how some people just don’t care about everything. Now that I can identify it, I also more quickly identify when I expect other people to care about the same things and they don’t. This in itself has been difficult for me to work through.

I share this with you today as another characteristic of an empath. I share it with you to tell you that if you are just like me, I don’t have the answers on how to overcome caring too much. I share it with you to tell you that by being able to identify when you are caring too much about something that truly does not impact your life, you can start to begin the process to keep moving without absorbing the feeling. I have not found an easy solution or trick or step-by-step process to care just a little less. What I have found is that by being able to identify it, I have made leaps and bounds to making sure my health and my emotions are impacted just a little less by how deeply I care about everything. Writing it out helps. Talking about it with someone who can comprehend what you are saying helps. Working through when you feel like it is taking over your life helps. I just don’t know how to prevent it completely. Start with identifying and talking about it. Maybe you’ll find how to prevent yourself from caring so much that you carry burdens that aren’t yours to carry.

Why Are There So Many People

I hate crowds. HATE crowds. In any situation. For many different reasons. Crowds stress me out and ruin my mood. It doesn’t matter if the crowd is the crowds at the mall, in the mountains, or large family gatherings. Crowds are not for me.

I used to think this was just a factor of being introverted. I believe, and I haven’t researched this, that many introverts are also empaths. I am both. I am an introvert and an am empath. I believe both prefer to avoid crowds.

Crowds drain me. It’s like they suck all of my energy out of me without me being able to control it. After being in or near crowds, I need to be alone. It makes life difficult around holidays or when camping in busy times. Going shopping, grocery or for “fun”, is difficult too. Hiking is miserable when other people are on the trail. Conferences are two-fold for me.

I cannot define how many people determines a crowd to me as it varies based on the day. Sometimes a crowd is as simple as just a few people hanging out. Most of the time, it is anything that most people would say is a small group. All of the time, it is mass quantities of people in one location.

No matter the occasion, as the volume of the group goes up, my energy and ability to function in the group goes down. I think that there is a part of this that has nothing to do with being an empath or being introverted. I can hear everything and I am always tuned in to everything going on around me. When there are a lot of conversations or a lot of people doing things, my senses and my brain absorb all of it. No matter how much I try, I cannot figure out how to shut this off. Hell, meditation in my nerd nook in my office can be difficult depending on the dogs moving around, people staying with us, or merely the sounds coming from the windows at 5:30 am.

When I know I’m going to be around large crowds, or crowds in general, I’ve learned to try to plan time to desensitize and recharge. I haven’t mastered it around holidays when we are visiting family because I am also contending with my need to make sure I’m not being too rude by taking time to be by myself, but I do plan around the trip. I have learned that for almost any vacation, I need to take time to recharge once we get home before jumping back into work. I always plan BBQs on Friday or Saturday, or on Sunday when it is a holiday three-day weekend. I used to do this to make sure I had a recovery day from drinking, but now I continue so I can recharge after having people over.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our family and friends. I love hosting for people to come over. I love seeing our nieces and nephews. But I also get physically and emotionally drained by it. The key for me, whether I’m an empath or an introvert, or just me, is to plan around crowds. If I plan for time to recharge after being around a crowd of any size, then I can handle crowds more often. If I don’t plan, my over-stimulation takes over and my emotions and reactions become a damn mess. Just another reason I plan pretty much everything about my life.

Nature is Where My Soul is Happiest

One characteristic of an empath is that we take comfort in nature. This describes me more than some people will ever realize. I can go into nature by myself and not need anything. I could wander for hours simply taking in the nature around me. I love stepping out of a vehicle into the forest or hiking up to a waterfall. I could drive through the mountains for days and be happy listening to the birds and other sounds. Not only does me time recharge me, but time in nature does as well.

Nature is a place where life is typically abundant. There is much more than what meets the eye. If there was a way to simply and comfortably lay on the ground for hours and listen to everything, I would do it. But, for me, it is much more work to be comfortable laying around in nature. That work is one thousand percent worth it.

Every time we go offroading in the mountains or take the trailer out to the remote areas of the mountains, I am recharged, even if I get annoyed about things not being setup right or asshats leaving ash all around the fire pit.

For me, nature takes many forms of recharging me. Simply pulling weeds in my grass or tending to my flower gardens is nature enough for some days. But my happiest place in nature is in the mountains with the fewest mosquitoes and some kind of creek or water nearby. When people talk doomsday and what they would do, my mind always goes to the most remote parts of the mountains.

If taking comfort in nature is something that describes an empath, then I absolutely resonate with that and have no quarrels about it.

My Intuition Has Served Me Well So Far

Intuition is defined as the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. In more simple terms and how most of us refer to intuition, it is a thing that one knows or consider likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning. Some people simply refer to intuition as their gut feeling.

Some people don’t know how to differentiate their intuition (or gut feeling) from simply making a decision. But there are those of us that feel sick if we go against our intuition for a lot of decisions. These decisions can be as simple as “do I buy that new purse?” or as complicated as “is this the end of my relationship?”. There are an infinite number of reasons our intuition will tell us what to do, or what not to do.

I haven’t always listened to mine. I ignored mine for a lot of my life so I could push myself to be someone I thought would be liked by others. I ignored mine so I could be who I thought others wanted me to be. I’ll tell ya, I had some amazing times during those years. I had a lot of fun and I pushed myself socially more than I ever had. But I also had a lot of walls up and I was living by the seat of ‘when is the next party’. Instead of listening to my intuition, I made a lot of mistakes.

Over the years, my focus has changed. I no longer live for the next party. I have become more true to who I am and I have worked to accept who I am. Part of who I am is my intuition. My intuition is LOUD.

Let me take a step back for a second. Intuition and the subconscious mind are two completely different things. Some people don’t know the difference. My intuition tells me whether or not I should buy that thing (in very simple instances) or if I should accept that invitation or not. My subconscious tells me that the person who invited me will be upset with me if I don’t accept the invite. The intuition and the subconscious mind have two very distinct voices in my life and more often than not, they are contradictory.

Take for instance this past weekend. It was a holiday weekend where family and friends get together. Eddie went out of town to assist his cousin with moving some furniture so I had the entire four days to myself. As soon as this plan was made, I could NOT wait for this weekend to get here. This weekend was going to be a recharging weekend of pure me time. Then I received an invite from one of my dearest friends to hang out for the holiday. My subconscious told me I better accept that invite or that friend is going to be pissed at me. My intuition told me that I should not accept the invite because I need the me time that I have been looking forward to. I need that recharge time. Many times throughout the weekend prior to and during the holiday day, my subconscious chimed in and told me that I needed to make it work. My intuition gave me that sick gut feeling every time my subconscious brought up breaking my me time.

My subconscious and my intuition often fight like this. It is very confusing and if I don’t listen to one, I regret it in one way or another. I am still working through my emotions of regret for not accepting my friends invite because my subconscious is still telling me how horrible of a friend I am. All the while, I feel more refreshed and ready to take on my goals, my work, and be around people again.

My intuition looks out for me and makes sure that I do things to take care of myself. My intuition makes sure I am safe, I recharge, and that I don’t spend when I shouldn’t, among so much more. My intuition screamed at me for quite a while before I listened and quit drinking. Every time my subconscious jumps in to remind me how good wine tastes, my intuition reminds me about my health and my goals.

Being connected to my intuition also helps me to pull out of my emotional pits of someone else’s problems. Being an empath means that I absorb so much of the world around me. My intuition helps me to decipher those emotions.

Intuition is here to keep us safe, just as our subconscious tries to. But our intuition, in my opinion and from my experience, has a more unbiased opinion. I will keep listening to my intuition, to my gut, for as long as it continues to serve me well.

You Are Too Close

Part of who I am yearns for closeness and feeling love from others. But the rest of me yearns for solitude. It is a difficult balance that I used to ignore by drinking alcohol to be more social. Alcohol released my feeling of overwhelm or nervousness when around others, especially large groups. I used to think I was weird or had something wrong with me. I mean, there are lots of things wrong with me, but this isn’t one of them.

As I continue to grow as a person, and as I continue to research and learn more about who I am and the emotional and psychological dimensions impacting my life, I have discovered that I am easily overstimulated. Once I discovered this, I had a direction in how to adjust my life so I can recover from over-stimulation a lot easier than relying on alcohol to relax me.

One of the effects of being an empath is that we get overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much physical contact or too much time spent with others. Those who aren’t empaths and may be extroverts don’t understand this at all. They take offense to us needing to distance ourselves and take me time. My husband is one of those extroverts. He lives to have a lot of people around him and thrives off of the energy of other people and large crowds. I thrive off of alone time and no contact with other people. We are very different and once I stopped drinking and these needs became more prominent, it was a bit of a shock. We had to learn to function together with our different personalities while also learning to honor each other’s needs.

This quarantine and social distancing has affected both of us very differently. In the early months, he was driving me absolutely crazy. We were following the stay-at-home orders very closely and weren’t seeing local friends or family. Eddie has been working from home consistently and had no human contact other than me. I was losing my mind. I got to the point that I told him he needed to go to someone else’s house so he can get his energy out with other people. Since he didn’t have any interaction with other people outside of Zoom calls for work, he was driving me insane. Eddie is a fun guy who likes to pester and annoy me. It’s all loving, but I had hit my capacity for handling it. We had no time away from each other, even with him now having an office in a basement room.

As for me, well I’ve been generally perfectly fine staying home and not seeing people. I struggled when we had a friend here for about a month and then my mother-in-law right after, but it wasn’t anything to do with them. My struggle was primarily around having too many people around me. I didn’t feel as though I had any separation from people. As long as this quarantine/stay-at-home/social distancing continues and as long as I can get Eddie out of the house and in contact with other people who are staying home too, I could stay home forever. Yes, I want to travel, but without other people around.

I foresee that once life starts getting back to normal and we are able to be around larger groups, I’m going to have to slowly re-integrate myself into groups. I’m going to have to be more prepared and plan for giving myself the time and space I need to recharge. I’m going to have to be able to identify my reactions that indicate I am overstimulated. I’m going to have to relearn how to stand up for myself and my need for space and quiet. It won’t be easy, but to preserve my sanity, it will be worth it.

I Have a Lot of Empathy

What is empathy and how do I know if I have it? Is it really something I can “have?”

According to Psychology Today, empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. Sympathy is the feeling of concern for another person or a desire for the other person to be happier. When a person exhibits empathy, they are feeling the grief or sadness or angst of another person. When a person is sympathetic, they are recognizing the feelings the other person is having and are wishing that person well. You can by both sympathetic and empathetic at the same time, but they are not interchangeable.

Yes, empathy is something that every person can have. Empathy is something that is generally developed as children. There are some people who do not know how to be empathetic and then there are the empaths who are so empathetic that they sometimes aren’t able to distinguish an empathetic feeling from a personal feeling. People can have a lot of empathy and still may not be true empaths.

Those of us who are empaths struggle with the feelings of others’ situations taking over our life. We may end up with anxiety or depression. For example, I am an empath who has to cautiously determine what shows or movies I watch because I take on the stress or pain of the characters. I really enjoyed watching Sons of Anarchy years ago, but my empathetic response left me feeling extremely stressed the rest of my day. I had to stop watching the show. This was the first true example of recognizing what was happening to me that I could identify as a trigger. Even still today, I started watching Outlander and had to pause and maybe even stop because of the reaction I was having to the show.

Shows are just one example. When my friend lost her father recently, I took on the pain and feelings and emotions of losing a wonderful father. It was as though I personally lost a father. Maybe it didn’t help that my dad had just overdosed and proved how far gone he is. Either way, I had a rough few days around my friend’s father’s passing.

When my friend’s are going through hell, I am right there in hell with them. When family is struggling, I am struggling too. I absorb the feelings of what other’s around me are experiencing and experience it with them. This is not something intentional that I do. In fact, I don’t know how to minimize it or even prevent it. I have not learned of any method of potential control over my empathetic response.

So, how do you tell the difference between having a lot of empathy and being an empath? It may be simple, it may not. I truly believe there are different levels of empathy and different levels of being an empath. If you are at all concerned that your level of empathy for others is causing issues in your life, I recommend speaking with a professional. As for me, right now I can generally identify when it is happening and I can work with it.

Empathy is important in our lives and in our society. I wish more people were just a bit more empathetic towards others. We might see more people caring for other’s and helping each other more.