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Timothy L. Vollmer, MD
Department of Neurology
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System Overload – Overstimulation

By Matt Allen G

The human body (typically) has 5 senses; vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. This all basically works via electrical signals being sent from the different parts of the body that detect these stimuli to the brain. Some people (for one reason or another) have more sensitive senses than other people. One person may pick up smells a lot better than another person who may be able to hear the most silent of sounds. Some people’s eyes are really sensitive to light, some people have sensitive skin that burns when a tiny feather touches it, and others might find things too salty or too sweet even though you think it tastes just fine. Well before I move on let’s keep two things in mind. One, all the stimuli that we can sense are sent via electrical signals across our nerves to the brain where they are interpreted as (for example) a picture of a vibrant sunset surrounded by swirling clouds of deep purples and fiery oranges containing streaks of light blues all above a slightly reflective aqua blue ocean or maybe the soft and rhythmic sound of classical music being played live in a silent theatre. Two, Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath around the body’s nerves causing passing electrical signals to be disrupted.

Common and not-so-common symptoms

So this does not just mean a sense stops working resulting in something like the numbness that is such a common symptom in MS or maybe the dulling of colors you can see. No, sometimes it seems like senses get scrambled or interpreted incorrectly. Maybe something that you know should feel cold feels hot? Or feels like electricity? When you really think about it, we are capable of sensing so much stimuli in the world and because our body is constantly detecting the immense amount of stimuli that is bombarding our bodies 24/7 there are a lot of electrical signals traveling to our brains for interpretation. And when all the “wires” in our body are chewed up and the lesions in our brains have created road blocks and detours for these electrical signals? It’s no surprise that certain signals may cross paths or get mixed up.

Do you ever feel overstimulated?

But I only brought that all up to set up the point I am really trying to make. Do you ever feel overstimulated? Like there is just too much input for you to bare? Most the people I talk to feel this way about sound much like I do. Everything sounds so loud! Someone could drop a pencil on the floor of a quiet library and I would jump like a car unexpectedly honked its horn behind me. I also (sometimes) have a really hard time differentiating the sources of sounds, by which I mean, if I am 5 feet away from you trying to have a conversation and the TV is on in the same room it all sounds like it’s coming from one source at the same volume so I will not be able to really understand what you are trying to say to me. Or it would be like setting up two radios right next to each other set at the same volume but playing two different songs. It is just overwhelming!

Like a panic attack

Another problem I have is with visual stimulation. If there is too much to look at like a packed grocery store isle or a crowded airport, my vision starts to blur, I will feel dizzy, and sometimes even develop a bit of anxiety. When I find myself in a busy crowd I will not only feel anxious but claustrophobic like there is not enough air in the room and what air there is contains a thick cloud of germs. I thank the germophobia bit on the fact that I am now slightly immunocompromised (yay MS medications/therapies). Now mix this with my sound sensitivity and what do you get? Pretty much just a fun-filled panic attack. Visual stimuli, sound, smells, the feeling of people bumping shoulders with me, and the obvious stress that comes along with all that means there are a lot of electrical signals firing around inside my brain and sometimes that overstimulation makes me feel like a very complicated computer going into system overload; everything just crashes and stops working.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by MULTIPLESCLEROSIS.NET
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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