I woke up with such a bad headache (this has been happening a lot lately) that I didn’t think I should go to church, but it dulled as the morning went on – and really, I would rather go than not, even when I don’t feel like it.
When we get to church, we often say “hello” to a few people, get our sermon notes, and go to our seats. While my husband might stop to visit, that part of the church at that time very quickly puts me in sensory overload.
- The fan running above me.
- The doors opening and closing.
- People all around me.
- Open spaces.
- Lots of voices.
- Children running around.
- Sights, smells, sounds… it is all just too much.
And when I have to stand in there – which is true of any such space (I hate being in warehouse stores for these reasons even more) – I quickly start going into meltdown mode.
Mostly my husband recognizes this and gives me an ‘out.’ He might stay, but I am able to comfortably excuse myself and go.
Perhaps on this occasion it slipped his mind how hard this was for me. Maybe he thought he would only talk for a moment, and it would be okay. Possibly it was because on this Sunday there were fewer people in the foyer when we got there.
Whatever his reason, I found myself ‘trapped’ there in that foyer with no polite way I could find to excuse myself. We stopped to say “hello” to one couple, and he ended up staying to tell a long story about how his jaw was broken. To include me, I suppose, they kept looking at me while he told the story, and I couldn’t get away.
It wasn’t about his story, or about the couple we were talking to (or he was, anyway.) In that type of situation I am being bombarded by all sorts of sensory stimuli, and I can’t block it out. It was all I could do to try and hide how irritated I was getting.
Finally the story was over, and we started to walk away. I thought I might be okay, though I was still struggling. We only took a few steps, however, before he stopped to talk to someone we didn’t know.
She had just moved to town a few months ago, and was new to the church. My husband was trying to make her feel welcome. I know we are supposed to do that, and I saw the value in it as he was speaking, but… I was already doing pretty bad, and wasn’t able to handle any more.
I know that I didn’t do as good a job of hiding my irritation – and again, it wasn’t about what my husband was saying, or about the person he was talking to. I was feeling trapped and overwhelmed, and could find no polite way to escape.
So the irritation, I am sure, showed loud and clear. I was crossing my arms and hugging myself as I do when I feel that way. I was looking away, trying to block things out, shifting from one foot to another… I am sure it didn’t help her to feel welcome, but it certainly wasn’t my intention to come across that way.
Really, it was all I could do not to go into full meltdown, crying and running away, right then and there. Of course, she wouldn’t have known that. She wouldn’t have ‘known me from Adam,’ as they say (or should it be Eve???) and certainly wasn’t aware that I am Autistic. It isn’t like I have a neon sign on my forehead announcing that.
So instead of seeing that I was in sensory overload, and needed to get out of there, I am pretty sure that in her eyes, I just seemed rude.
Finally that conversation was over, and we went in to our seats – but I was crashing hard! My husband tried to talk to me about other things. He tried to hand me my sermon notes to read over. He tried. But I couldn’t. I was done. Like I said, it was all I could do not to cry and run away, and I was having such a hard time… I guess ‘regulating’ myself might be the right term.
Then the worship music came began, and the calm washed over me, and I was okay.
But I wish they understood how hard such things are for me and would always give me that ‘out’ I so need in these situations.