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A Trip to the Store; Sensory Overload

By Matt Allen G

It used to be so simple; “Oh no, I am out of milk”, so a quick trip to the store and I am back home with enough time to make breakfast and eat before I have to go to work. Not anymore. Let’s not even get into the whole rushing to work thing because, well, I am currently unable to hold a job. No, I want to talk about the going to the store bit. You see, it used to just be a quick walk to whatever aisle has whatever product I need and then a quick walk to the register, but now? Now it’s a huge endeavor, a journey! I don’t know how many of you have this but for me, this causes extreme sensory overload.
First of all, I have really bad stimulus sensitive myoclonus, I take Klonopin for it and everything, which at this point helps take the edge off the stabbing shock of sudden sounds but they still suck. More recently I have developed all sorts of weird visual issues, which my doctor just refers to as Oscillopsia (“Oscillopsia is a visual disturbance in which objects in the visual field appear to oscillate. The severity of the effect may range from a mild blurring to rapid and periodic jumping. Oscillopsia is an incapacitating condition experienced by many patients with neurological disorders”) But that is sort of a broad term and what I have noticed is that it get’s really bad when there is a lot to look at like the many items on a shelf at the store. Things won’t be so bad at first but as soon as I turn down an aisle everything goes crazy. It feels like my brain wants to scan over everything really quick to find what it wants but because of my vision it has to stop and look at each object a split second longer and even though I am consciously trying to stare at just one object my brain is already subconsciously thinking about what object to look at next…. And then next after that and so on… So my eyes literally cannot keep up with what my brain wants even though I am really trying to just focus on just one item at a time. I can’t keep up!

So everything sort of spins and gets really blurry. When it’s really bad things start to sound really loud. I lose my ability to think clearly. I lose my focus. This all affects my balance (which takes a lot of concentration to maintain), which obviously affects my walking. So I imagine that to an outsider they see me walk into the store completely normal looking and then the second I turn down an aisle I immediately start walking like Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. So how I look in public bothers me a little bit but what is really frustrating is that a task that would normally take me 10 seconds (walk down the aisle, grab what I need and walk back out) now takes me 5 minutes. I have to walk down the aisle like I am balancing on a tightrope in a circus, look for what I need like I am looking for an abnormal tissue cell under a microscope, try to grab the item I need with my ataxic arms like I am trying to pick up a moving marble with two broomsticks in a spinning room and walk to the check out line which is once again only accessible via a circus tightrope because everything is still spinning.

Once I make it out of the store it’s like a breath of fresh air after holding your breath for as long as you can under water except… it’s also like I breathed in a little water in that the crazy visual side effects last for a while after I get away from what causes it. So now the parking lot makes me feel somewhat like I am still walking down that aisle in the store. I am still walking like I just polished off a bottle of rum by myself. Once I get home (and no I am not driving right now) I go straight to my room and drop into bed. The simple task of running to the store? It now leaves me feeling like I just got home from dropping the ring off at the volcano in Lord of the rings only I had to walk all the way back home, no magical eagles to turn a 3 movie long trip into a 5-minute ride home on a giant bird. I am exhausted and typically wiped out and in need of rest. A sensory deprivation chamber would be nice but since I don’t have one my bed and some headphones will have to do.

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