As told by Bill Gunnin
Flooding- the inability of the brain to filter, leading all stimuli coming into the brain at one time with equal intensity which causes the inability to process each piece of information individually. The brain overloads, and either shuts down or gets agitated in its frustration.
I feel bad about flooding when it happens. On one level, it seems selfish to me, because I want to count others as more important than myself. When I flood I shut down, wherever I am. I remember we went to a wedding, and were enjoying ourselves, but all of a sudden, I felt the need to leave. You were not ready to go, but you saw me walking out in the vineyard and realized what was happening, so we left. It is hard to remember. I remember feeling overwhelmed. I remember walking into the vineyard. Don’t remember much after that. A bad feeling that I cannot describe…like something was wrong with me and my thinking. I felt bad about that, because I knew you wanted to stay. It seems to always take you away from things you like, and it makes me feel selfish, but I cannot control it. Most of the time I don’t even recognize it at all. You see it before it happens, and you make adjustments so that it is circumvented by getting me out of the situation. I had no idea you were doing that and have been doing it for years! I am just now seeing it.
Flooding can also be shut down mode or melt down mode. Agitated or tired. Sometimes it takes me days of recovery after any flooding because it leads to mental fatigue. I am zapped and cannot think clearly for a while. It’s like my brain needs sleep or quiet to recover. In my mind, it has seemed like a character flaw because I leave you to deal with things on your own. I can’t help. The ideal me, my image of what I am supposed to be as a good husband, is to take care of you. For so much of our marriage you have felt alone, unprotected, uncared for, and unguarded. I am much more of a failure than I want to see. I am not being true to what I feel I am supposed to be. I am not being responsible with what I have been given. When I flood, I have to step back and that leaves you alone. I hate that and it makes me feel bad.
Sometimes there are certain people in my world that trigger my ability to handle flooding when it happens. When my brain is exhausted and tired, and my filters are not working well, I can shift to anger more quickly. People push my buttons easily because my brain isn’t working right. I lose my control to push back my feelings, so they come to the surface. Like in traffic…I get mad…I obsess. Drivers are reckless and don’t even care how what they are doing affects me. I feel resentment, because I try to be aware of others when I drive. How dare they do something I wouldn’t do! It offends me and I take it personally. It manifests in traffic, but I don’t really think it’s about traffic at all. It is flooding, and anger is a cover for the fact I cannot process why people act like they do, plus all the stimuli on the road, plus how to drive safely, all at the same time. It is difficult.
It’s embarrassing to say, these symptoms are things that I haven’t been willing to look at for thirty years, now that I am willing to accept them, I have a lot to think about and new ways to think about things. Now I am thinking about my own self-coping. I am recognizing elements, so I might can start to tell ahead of time when fatigue is near. I want to process and identify factors in my life that add up to flooding so I can predict ahead of time. What does and does not add to the overload. I am talking to you right now, and I cannot answer questions with music with words playing in the background.
The doctor said my processing is slowing down, so flooding is on the increase. It makes so much sense to me now where it never did before. Somehow, I look at that report and I read my brain function is decreasing in processing speed and it makes sense. That is why I have trouble with ideas that feel fast, but are also slow. My mind is so fertile, I know in my head I think so many thoughts. My ideas are always generating, so I can flood myself with my own thoughts. Processing is slowed so much, I cannot process all that I am thinking. Thinking fast, processing slow…so it’s like the train is not moving. Distraction. I am in no hurry to put ideas out of my head. They keep my mind occupied. It’s a point of stress for me…it is overwhelming. My brain has trouble processing all I think.
There is not a lot of outside noise, it is internal noise. Emotional levels are excited and happy…but I don’t have an outlet. It’s hard for me in those moments. I don’t know what to do with that. I am pacing and agitated. I need release. When I am happy, I feel enormous exploding Grand-Canyon-sized hope, as well as gifting, desire, and passion. Huge. Bigger than I can compare it to. With fear I think, I might be supposed to be doing big things, and that’s the part that scares me. It feels so real…but then I wonder if I am making it up. Now I wonder if it is a processing difficulty; with good things. That leads to a roller coaster. Yet, right beside all that hopeful stuff is the hope deferred. It’s a catch 22. My own private torture. To have vision and no way to make it real. I feel chained in a cell…someone says you are going around the world…but I am chained in a cell no way to get there. It is an impossible situation with no answer. The problem is my thinking isn’t reduced, but my processing ability has slowed.
I think flooding is a good word for it. It’s like I cannot receive any information when it is happening. I am having thoughts, but when I am in flooding mode I cannot even tell you what my thoughts are. You know how you are frustrated, when there is TV, radio, talking, dogs barking…lots of noise? That is what it feels like in my mind when I flood. I have different levels of stimuli and thoughts. I am interested in talking to people. On my own or with others I over think, asking tons of questions before the next sentence. More thoughts than I can process myself. A lot of the time I do it verbally to other people. I flood them. New ideas and discussions are always more interesting than old. New ideas excite me and motivate me, so when I am talking to others I ask tons of questions and focus in on a person.
I desire to center in on the communication but, then suddenly I am getting so many lines of communications from my environment. I want to focus on each noise individually. It’s like white noise. When you listen to it, there are tons of signals, but nothing distinct. I cannot focus in on one thought or idea, because there are too many at one time. It is an auditory thing. I can hear, but I cannot understand. It is why sometimes I ask you to repeat the same things over and over. I cannot grasp what you are saying in the moment. It is the same way with my thoughts. All coming at once. I cannot pull everything away and focus on one thing. As I say all of this it reminds me of a challenge I have with word retrieval. You know, ‘What’s that word?’ I cannot find it. It’s like my mind goes blank. Flooding is the opposite of that, there are too many words and I can’t pick just one. It doesn’t take much for me to flood, lyrics in music can cause it or background conversations. It is much worse when I am tired, and most of the time I don’t even realize I am doing it. You know it, but I don’t and that makes me feel terrible. I can say it’s nice to have a word for it and a definition. Somehow it makes it easier to see and accept.
12 thoughts on “Flooding (Guest blog)”
What a great description of a phenomenon that we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Too much. Stimuli flowing too fast for the allotted time.
Thanks for taking the time to help us understand what you often feel, Bill. This is good insight.
Bill and Michelle – First, I continue to admire your bravery in sharing the hard places
in your lives transparently. I can only believe that it will bring understanding to others and more understanding to you as well. I think I understand a bit of the frustration you feel Bill, as I deal with this on a very small level – I have CFS and with it very low physical energy as well as cognitive impairment. It is so frustrating to want to do something, but you are unable to; and I often get overwhelmed mentally with too much stimulus, and I also have that “word” thing – I often use the wrong word for something or can’t think of the word at all. And this is on a small level – I can’t imagine how frustrating flooding must be (to both of you). Please keep telling your story. It’s one people need to hear.
Thanks Terry! I know you can relate to flooding if you have CFS. Lots of similarities when the brain is involved. Thanks for your encouragement!
Thank you again for the teaching, Bill. You and Michelle are helping many people with these courageous essays on your experiences. And thank you for this window into your world.
Sweet. Thanks Mary. It is hard to write it, but at the same time it is freeing to put it out there. I think Bill is seeing more because he is telling his story.
I love you guys.
We love you too. 🙂
This is great! As another wife of a brain injury survivor, I really appreciate these essays. Thank you so much for being brave and putting it out there! And that is so great that Bill is recognizing more of what is going on by writing about it and processing it.
It has really helped for him to be able to see some of the limitations he is dealing with.
Bill – thanks for your courage in sharing.
Thanks Rick for reading.
ALL the feels, you guys!