Physics Professor

Since at least my teens (I am now in my 40s) I have had PTSD-like episodes where I become non-functional for a couple of days after a meltdown, sometimes fairly public unfortunately.

The meltdown takes the form of covering my ears and running away to a quiet place, which can be socially difficult. Sometimes I end up curled up in a ball on the ground for a while, also difficult as an adult to experience. The frequency of these episodes has been about once every 2-4 weeks. I am otherwise a high functioning person with children, a good job, relationships, friends, etc.

As an academic I've been able to work from home enough to accommodate my condition. I always knew I was "hypersensitive" to sound, light, touch, smell, etc. For example, a noisy restaurant or bright sunshine are very difficult for me, to the point where I carry earplugs and dark glasses at all times. As a scientist I have spent a lot of time observing and tracking my condition.

A couple of years ago I came across SPD. Symptoms seem to match mine pretty closely. As I've come to understand my condition I've felt less "crazy" and able to function much better. I know what the triggers are for my episodes. I don't try to take my children to amusement parks, for example, which for me are really hellish.

Other observations:
1. Alcohol damps the effect (I am not an alcoholic or a heavy drinker, just takes one drink).

2. I have limited cognition during episodes. For example,

I exhibit verbal dyslexia and confusion. My thinking feels very fuzzy.

3. I get synesthesia during an episode. It is especially difficult to see.

4. Emotional control is affected as well. I can have verbal outbursts. Sometimes I also cry.

5. I am overall an extrovert who enjoys people, but during episodes I cannot stand to interact socially.

6. Even mildly bad smells become intolerable during episodes.

7. 1-2 days bedrest ends the episode.

8. I do not have severe childhood trauma or anything else which could account for the level of my symptoms.

9. My senses otherwise function very well. I see well in the dark, I don't need glasses, I play a number of musical instruments, and I have an excellent sense of smell.

I would love if there was a well-researched pharamaceutical solution. For the moment I self-medicate with alcohol occasionally and otherwise am lucky enough to have a life I can arrange to support recovery time.

When I am on bedrest during an episode, I arrange for a simple environment -- no bright colors in my room, quiet, no bright lights, neutral smells, loose clothing. This seems to help reduce my recovery time.

Since people in public are overall clueless about SPD, and when an episode occurs I am not coherent enough to explain anything, I usually tell them I have PTSD. There is invariably a positive and supportive response, as there is a national consciousness for PTSD.

Any comments on my case would be very welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read this!

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Jul 24, 2019
Sleep to recover
by: AJ

I actually think it's really common to sleep after a meltdown. It's not that last thing that caused that meltdown it's a whole chain of thing and its stress /anxiety that builds and builds.

Your body is flooded with chemicals like adrenaline so you are on full alert, no wonder you are knackered. That final meltdown is like a massive storm in your brain not dissimilar to an epileptic fit and takes so much out of you.

My meltdowns are not as frequent as yours but I lose it in a hugely destructive way I can throw and break things. I'm verbally swearing but like you say it's more out of frustration as I fail to recall the words I need and instead swear words come out and I think I probably make no sense.
I think I manage to hold it together well ie for a long time under pressure but after a meltdown it's not unusual for me to sleep for 72 hours straight but in everyday life my sleep is poor.

I always feel so much better when I wake up after a meltdown I suspect I dont understand that there is anything wrong or what is wrong while in the middle of it because post meltdown I ask myself questions like why did I not take myself out that situation as it was only ever going to end in a meltdown.

I got an asd diagnosis aged 35 in 2015 and I thought problems receiving so much and processing so much was an autistic thing but today I read you can have SPD without ASD or the other way round.

How does it work with a diagnosis because ASD is actually a MH diagnosis though different to every other mh condition which is an unbalance of chemicals ASD is brain structure since SPD is not a formal diagnosis with an ICD or DSM code do people end up with other diagnosis be it a personality disorder (others claiming you act like that for attention) ar autism?

Aug 24, 2017
Issue Resolved: Migraine Aura
by: Physics Professor

I really appreciate the helpful feedback from this community. I saw a neurologist, got tested for both complex partial seizure and migraine aura, and my condition turns out to be a fairly rare form of the latter.

It is chronic and not fully treatable but I am able to reduce the frequency of incidents by about 50% with simple supplements like magnesium and vitamin B2, and the severity of episodes is also greatly reduced if I take rizatriptan.

It is a total relief to understand my condition, what is treatable, and what is not. Thank you.

Jun 17, 2016
Can so relate to what you express here
by: new horizon

Hello ~ I just wish to say that I can so relate to what you've written here. I am an adult in my late 40's who's suffered from PTSD for over a decade. However in the past 5 years it has been come increasingly obvious that sensory processing issues are greatly impacting on my quality of life. If it wasn't for a friend who is and O.T (Occupational Therapist) who recognized my symptoms and came out the with the terms Sensory Processing Disorder and Sensory Integration. I would never have known about it.

I so relate to so many of the symptoms and although Visual Stress was diagnosed a couple of years ago, I can relate to so much on this webpage. Sensory overload is unbearable for me where ever I go. Even in the University library, I have to sit in a room with no other people or distractions, and no background noise. Everything is like an assault or onslaught to my senses. I go into meltdown just being on a public bus and break down in tears due to the stimulation and the bell ringing.There is a degree of disassociation when my PST is overwhelming ~ and flashbacks do exist ~ though it's the intensity and magnification of any sensory stimuli, and being unable to "filter" sounds or retain, or focus on incoming conversation, if more than one person talking, often going to my bed for a whole 24 hrs after as so drained from trying to process all the different stimuli on senses.

There are very few places that I can venture to in the public because of this. Nature and botanic Gardens ~ as long as no background noise there, is where i find my calm time. Otherwise always on tense hyper alert and sensory overload. Following an injury 16 years ago, and taking toxic medication at the time ~ I often wonder if the side effects of the medication simply intensified the symptoms that were already within. Even though I do have Post Traumatic Stress ~ avoidance or any triggers, reminders, hyper-vigilance, hypersensitivity, arousal, startle response, it is much wider than that. And thankfully these webpages have helped me to understand that. It is so easy to have a label and it stick with you. Yet other things can be there underneath that need treated.

Not ever having a diagnosis, looking back now, i can tell through my early years, schooling, how I coped in education that was very obvious from early years things simply hadn't been picked up. Thankfully my own OT when I said i wanted a sensory assessment carried out ~ she responded that she had been thinking down the same lines for the past few months ~ based on how I'v adapted and mainly become more and more of a recluse and simply avoid going to many places, the majority of the time.

I'm so glad I found this web page ~ particularly as so much information is available on children/adolescence with Sensory Processing Disorder or S.I.

Apr 09, 2015
Reply to English Teacher
by: Physics Professor

Thanks so much for your input. It's very generous of you to take the time to write your thoughts. You are certainly inspiring me to discuss this with my doctor. I do not have any mental health problems so far as I know. I thought of SPD because it seems to be mainly in my extended nervous system and a sort of overload I go through. It is pretty severe, I agree. I read up on partial seizures and epilepsy, it's an interesting idea. I do not get migraines or ocular headaches. It seems like simple partial seizures are usually very local in the brain. It is true that stress and exhaustion are correlated with my episodes. However, that is true for a lot of things. My episodes affect most of my exterior senses as well as speech and emotions. They would thus not appear to be localized in the brain. I definitely don't have grand mal or petit mal seizures. My thinking is fuzzy but I am still there, so to speak, and can remember the entire episode.

What you think is that my recovery time is inconsistent with SPD, as well as the verbal component, is that right?

In my 20s I did get visual, temporal, and proprioceptive effects but associated them with intensive meditation I was doing at the time, as it was strongly correlated (often literally happening while meditating). I have not had such effects in a long time, which I had attributed simply to meditating less. But now I am thinking going over my whole history of oddities with my doctor and/or a specialist would be useful. I have two children who depend on me very much, and I'd hate for me to have a shorter lifespan just because I didn't bother to discuss it with a professional.

Apr 08, 2015
Not just SPD
by: English Teacher

Physics Professor, I am a parent of a tween who has had pretty significant SPD since birth. I also have had moderate SPD since birth, with much improvement as I get older. I am a teacher as well as a member of a family with lots of people with SPD.

You may very well have SPD, but please do not assume that that is all that is going on. You describe cognitive, verbal, physical, and emotional episodes that are involuntary and severely impaired. What you describe sounds like an aura effect. If it were only SPD, removing yourself from a noisy or crowded place should help you feel better fairly quickly, but it seems like your episodes are not that easily relieved.

Since you don't mention intense headaches, it doesn't sound like a migraine (auras are common with them). Having said that, you could be having silent migraines.

I strongly suspect you could be having partial seizures. The regularity of these episodes should concern you. Please see your doctor get checked for seizures! Not all seizures are grand mal. Do a search on simple partial seizures and you will see your symptoms described almost exactly.

To be clear, it could very well be that you have both SPD (day-to-day sensory sensitivity, something that is not uncommon in gifted and Aspergers-type folks) as well as seizures or silent migraines. It's just that, in my admittedly limited experience, I've never heard of a grown-up with SPD having meltdowns or overloads to the extent you describe. Children up to age 9 or 10 with SPD certainly have more massive meltdowns more often, but by adulthood, most people with SPD who are generally high-functioning do not have sudden breakdowns affecting so many systems of the body. The only exception in adults might be those with a concurrent condition like autism or severe mental health problems.

Please seek a medical assessment asap!

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