{ In this this post I describe my experience of a sensory overload induced meltdown. It may be triggering for some people. }

everything is suddenly louder. it was loud before but now it’s like there is an extra megaphone inside my head and it hurts when a sound flows through it. hurts in my whole body. right to my core. and ricocheting back out again to my skin.

the sound is slower somehow, but piercing. the words are clear but I can’t sort them out, so I can’t answer. the only words I can find are “I need a minute” but they aren’t true. I actually need you to not talk to me at all for the next hour or more. I don’t really know how long it will be until I can think in words again, but it isn’t now.

you are trying to help because you care and you can tell something is wrong. I know you think you know what is wrong, and you are right that what you saw happen was part of it, but in truth it is a small part. that is just what happened outside my body. the real challenge is getting through what is happening in here that no one else can see or hear or feel and that I can’t explain.

I don’t want to cry where everyone can see me. but stopping myself from letting tears fall makes me feel worse. I know I’m trying to hold back the tide, but I try. defiantly ignoring my needs until they cannot be stopped.

my skin feels wrong. it feels electric. it tingles and burns and hurts. the air on me is too much. my clothes are heavy and hot. my head is a boulder and floating at the same time. my ears and eyes and limbs and pores are full to overflowing with everything and nothing and more.

my body feels wrong. my arms are awkward and uncomfortable. my legs ache and want to keep moving. my hips stiff. my neck sore and tight. everything poised wanting to run somewhere. anywhere else.

my thoughts feel wrong. jumbled. foggy. frightened even though I know there is no real danger. overwhelmed. racing without words and with no direction. fast and wild. out of control.

I’m trying to find something to ground myself. I’m trying to think of what I need. I have some words but they wont come out my mouth, and if they did they wouldn’t be enough to help you know what I need and I would feel shame at my inability to articulate what is happening for me.

I need to be home now. but home is far away and I can’t get there on my own. I know my reactions are mechanical, automatic, but not flowing. I have to stop. there is no option because I can’t think anymore. I take myself somewhere away from everyone and everything to try to stop the assault of sensory information hurtling at me. away from sounds, voices, questions. away from help. I hide.

I am screaming. I can feel it in my throat and hear the sound fill the air around me.
I am crying. I can feel my lungs expel then inhale great gulps of air. I can feel my shoulders heave and my whole body shudder. I am shaking, but not in my hands or shoulders or legs, but inside all of me, trembling and twitching from the inside even though I look still. I can hear my voice telling me I am ok. I don’t quite believe me.

exhausted but still not safe. the ground is solid I know, but it is not the anchor I need. I need the release of nothing. of quiet solitude in my own safe space. the calming pressure of blankets over my body. the welcome of closed eyes. the soothing release of sleep.

it feels like forever. the clock says it is twenty minutes.

black and white tree silhouette under a cloudy sky


my head is spinning. my vision is dark. I need to slow my breath down. exhale. find something to hold in my hand and squeeze hard on. I need to move, to sway, to rock but I know I have no balance just now. sit. exhale. inhale. one. breath. at. a .time.

slowly. gradually. calming. breathing. in. out.

I feel tired. sleepy. still foggy. but not panicked. my thoughts try to return. I feel outside myself. observing. soothing. reassuring. my eyes still wet with tears. my face swollen.
my everything raw and vulnerable.

slowly. gradually. calming. breathing. in. out.

tree silhouette under pale coloured cloudy sky

if you know me and I trust you to see me exposed, you can sit with me now, still and without touching or demanding, and I can being to relax. if I trust you, your presence begins to calm the storm in my body and mind. sometimes, most times, just your presence is enough. being there for me when I am at my most vulnerable and allowing me to sense your calm is a gift. I feel your calm move through the space between us and I can hold it as my own until I can re-centre myself and stand alone again.

if you come to me now with quiet simple words I can hear you and find a response. I still can’t explain well but I might be able to tell you what I experienced, and I might be able to decide what I need to feel better.

with more time I can air my anxieties and fears.  your acknowledgement of them as valid gives me peace to walk with them when I can’t fight them off, your ability to hear them without mirroring my panic takes away their strength, your steady presence gives me strength to face them as my own panic recedes.

your acceptance of me in my weakness helps me to accept myself. your willingness to be with me when I feel unlovable allows me to see myself as important.

your confidence to just be with me, without trying to fix anything, reassures me that you believe I am capable, even when I am overwhelmed and don’t feel it myself.

tree silhouette under bright purple and pink coloured cloudy sky


To read how to help someone who is experiencing a meltdown, click through to my article
5 ways to support someone through a meltdown

4 thoughts on “meltdown

  1. So powerfully portraying the unspeakable internal reality of Meltdown. Michelle your openness is a communion of such intimacy that only the unspoken word can convey.

    thank you for sharing and also for mentioning the power of the “calm” the ” calming” another can provide by/in silence …. allowing self to recentre.. reassurancing ability and self worth…. this is also my experience expressed beautifully …

    Calm/calming acceptance ! such a rare response from another .. possibly only once in my life.

    Clarifying so much in this connection.


  2. Very well explained.

    I especially appreciate the parts talking about the external person wanting to help but not understanding, our not being able to explain and trying to hold back the meltdown.

    I rarely have sensory induced meltdowns, mine are social and largely a result of a fight/flight response when I feel trapped by a situation or if highly anxious – so add to my experience of a meltdown the impulse to lash out, I can control this impulse but sometimes it comes out as a self-harming behavior such as punching a wall (or on one occasion when someone tried to physically restrain me during meltdown, I very regretfully bit them hard in the shoulder).

    Add to my experience an itch at the base of my skull, like when you’ve an itch you can’t scratch and it feels intense to the point of painful, like that electric feeling to your skin. Also the pain of crying for hours plus potential for dehydration or pain from headaches/eye swelling for days. Plus how easy it is for a meltdown to restart just as the calm is setting in, and cascade risk: after a meltdown senses are much more sensitive, thus it’s easier to slip into yet another meltdown and it snowballs into meltdown followed by meltdown followed by meltdown.

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