Sensory Overload

Mid-morning weekend drives have become a new ritual for my teenage son and me lately. He's had his driver's permit for a few weeks, and since Florida doesn't require a physical driving component to their training program, he feels pretty timid on the road. My son prefers to drive with me over his other options.


His grandmother's overly-anxious energy spills over onto him, and his dad's laid-back mentality leaves him feeling vulnerable. The habit of texting and making phone calls while in the passenger seat are distractions that keep him from being that extra set of eyes on the road my son so desperately wants. He needs that additional crutch to feel a greater sense of safety.

I don't blame him.

I've been surprisingly calm as my first child embarks on this new journey of freedom. I attribute it to all the mind-body work I've been doing for the past half a decade because the old me would have been a nightmare to drive with! That old me who reared her not-so-pretty head this weekend.


We approached an intersection that would require an intimidating left turn. In retrospect, all left turns can be intimidating for new drivers--so much so that I found a way to get through my entire first year behind the wheel without ever having to make one. I created routes that would lead me to make as many rights as needed to get to my destination without any dreaded lefts.

Let's just say that the turn didn't go according to plan. My son's mind was trying to signal his body to do more things than he was capable of handling in that moment. My fear and frustration as we dangerously entered the turn expressed itself as a harsh warning.

My tone of voice was all it took for my nervous son to fear for his life.

He yelled back. Then he froze (not a good move when you're in the flow of traffic). He snapped back and started to drive erratically. We argued. He got confused. Finally, he had no choice but to pull over.

The noise of the engine--and all the other engines around us--became deafening to him.

His senses were suddenly on high alert...

like the primitive response we all have that allowed our paleolithic ancestors to fight or flee from a predator.

Heightened sensitivity to sights or sounds is a common reaction to a perceived threat.

Witnessing this cascade of effects in someone outside of me was a shining example of what was happening to my limbic system for years, nonstop. Many of us with "mystery illnesses" develop chronic hypervigilance. My sensory superpower wasn't having x-ray vision or supersonic hearing, but a canine sense of smell.


Over time, I forgot what "normal" sensory input felt like. My limbic brain was always on high alert, keeping me in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight.

Good news is you CAN retrain your brain. The fact that I'm my son's most chilled-out driving buddy (this one incident aside) is proof enough. That and the fact that I'm now healthier than I've been in a decade.

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