Listening to music is one of my go-to coping mechanisms for sensory overload.
During my school years I very often used to hide headphones in amongst my hair so the teachers would be unaware I was listening to my MP3. In my school listening to music during lessons was banned as they believed it was a distraction and would decrease the standard of students work. But, for me it was the only way I could drown out the noises, concentrate and complete the work.
In a classroom I could hear the buzzing of the lights, the conversations my fellow classmates were holding in whispered tones, the teacher’s nails hitting the keyboard as they typed, the traffic on the road outside and the noise of other students wandering the corridors. By putting my headphones in I was able to drown out all the distracting noise and focus on my school work. As listening to music was banned in my classes I received warnings when caught with my headphones in during lessons. I did not receive my diagnosis until I had finished my academic studies this meant I had no, ‘valid’ explanation for my teachers as to why I was listening to music. I very often fell behind in those classes where I had been, ‘caught’ and informed under no circumstances was listening to music an option; resulting in me taking work home to be completed.
In my current job I work in an office with three other colleagues. Sometimes the office can become noisy and this will distract me from my work. I have informed my work of my diagnosis. I count myself lucky at how accommodating they have been. I have been given permission by my employers to listen to music through my headphones during work hours. They have seen evidence that listening to music does not distract me; it allows me to focus and complete any tasks to a very high standard. If I had been diagnosed earlier my school may have allowed the same.
My headphones and music are an essential to me. I always make sure my MP3 is with me, with a spare pair of headphones and a portable charger. If these items are with me during all outings I am always prepared to deal with a noise instigated sensory overload. I can drown out the noise when I feel the overload developing: walking down a street, on public transport or even just sat at home.
The term, ‘sensory overload’ should not be confused with specifically the inability to cope with the level of volume. In certain situations, for me, the louder the volume can be what turns a situation from unbearable to bearable.
*I would like to point out, I am only speaking from my own experiences, this will vary for each person on the spectrum.*
For example, I can cope with going to a music concert. In fact, it is one of my favourite experiences and I try to go to multiple shows each year. Before the show begins the noise is not pleasant: the build-up music playing through the speakers, the thousands of conversations taking place, the electricity causing a high-pitched squeal to bounce from corner to corner. Once the act is on stage and they begin to perform their music is so loud that everything else becomes drowned out… I would describe it as, ‘quiet’. It is much like having your headphones in; the volume of the concert drowns out the rest of the world.
Music does not always have a positive effect. If I were to go on a night out with my friends music can sometimes be the factor which makes the night very hard for me to enjoy. If we are in a bar and a friend is talking to me but, a song I know is playing over the sound system I would have to use all my mental capacity to concentrate on hearing what the friend is saying – my brain would otherwise be pre-occupied singing along to the song.
If we were to then go on to a club and music I dislike is playing, my head will begin to – as I describe it – spin. The flashing lights, the banging music, the clinking of glasses, the amount of people and the noises they are making becomes too much and I will often have to end my night out and get myself home to bed.
This isn’t to say I never enjoy a night out. I have some lovely, caring and understanding friends who are always there to comfort me when the night out becomes too much. We tend to stick to drinking at someone’s home where it is a more enjoyable atmosphere for me. We will then go onto a club which plays the type of music I love! If the club accommodates to my music taste I can then enjoy the night as it is similar to being at a concert – I can focus on the rhythm and the music and my surroundings become dulled.
Also, songs are predictable. A song will not change overnight. It will always remain the same, with the same guitar solo for you to air-guitar till your heart’s content! The predictability of songs can calm me down during an overload.
If it wasn’t for music I would live my life exhausted, caused by the noise I have to filter through day in, day out. Music can drown out the painful noise of life and allow me the time to recuperate and carry on. Music saves me daily.