Bill Chapter 7

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.

It is important to look at my deficits because I think it will help others not to feel so alone if they struggle with similar issues.  It will also help me to process different areas where I have weaknesses and recognize this is part of my injury.  Instead of feeling bad about myself, maybe it will help me to see these struggles as separate from me. 

Flooding is one of those areas I feel bad about because I can’t control when or where it happens.  I can only try to recognize an environment which might trigger it and avoid those places, but because of my limited awareness, it is rare for me to see it beforehand. I have to rely on people around me, like my wife or kids to point out an environment might be overstimulating to me.  I know autistic kids do this and I think my experience is similar. There are some commonalities among people with brains which are not neurotypical. When I flood, I shut down wherever I am.  

An example is when Michelle and I went to a wedding.  We were at the reception enjoying ourselves when all of a sudden, I felt the need to leave. It felt urgent, like I needed to get out immediately. The only issue was my wife wasn’t ready to go.  I tried to tell her by kicking her under the table, but she didn’t understand it was more than my usual can-we-leave-yet excuse. A few minutes later, when she saw me walking out in the vineyard, she  realized what was happening.  She walked out to get me and steered me clear of the reception because she knew we had to leave right then with no more stimuli.

Thinking back on it,  I have almost blanked it out because now it is hard to remember how I felt at the time. I remember feeling overwhelmed.  I remember walking into the vineyard so as not to make a scene. I don’t remember much after that.  I had a bad feeling that I couldn’t describe…like something was wrong with me and my thinking.  I felt injured or maybe damaged in some way. I had a tangible feeling something was wrong with me. Not really panicking, but on the edge of it. I had a  blurred ability to process thoughts.  

I knew Michelle wanted to stay because she loves weddings. It seems I am always taking her away from things she likes. It makes me feel selfish but I cannot control it.  Most of the time she sees it before it happens, and makes adjustments so my overload moment is circumvented by getting me out of the situation. I had no idea she had been doing that kind of redirecting for years, until we talked about things for this chapter of the book.  I am just now seeing how she takes in a room when we walk into it.  She picks the quieter tables in restaurants. She makes sure I am rested if we have a big event to go to.  She guides us to where it is most comfortable and least stimulating for me.  If we want to talk, really talk to someone, she picks a place that is quieter or invites them to our house so I don’t have to deal with the stimuli around us. That way I can focus on the conversation and not be flooded. Evaluating a situation is second nature for her now, and it makes me sad she has to do all of that for me. 

Flooding causes either shut down mode or melt down mode.  I get either tired or agitated.  Sometimes it takes me days of recovery with lots of sleep after any flooding episode because it leads to cognitive fatigue.  I am zapped and cannot think clearly for a while.  In my mind, it has seemed like a character flaw because I leave my wife to deal with things on her 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 her, not the other way around.  For so much of our marriage my wife has 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 want to be.  I am not being responsible with the gift I have been given.  

There are people in my world, family, or co-workers, who trigger my ability to handle flooding when it happens.  When my brain is exhausted and tired, and my filters are not working well, I shift to anger more quickly. My buttons are easily pushed and because my brain isn’t working right, I lose control to push back my feelings, so they come to the surface.  At first, right after the accident, this happened all the time.  Over the years, I have adapted or gained some control over it, but it still happens more than I want to admit. The sad part is that my family members are mostly likely the ones I lash out at during a flooding episode.

Another time it can happen is in traffic. There are so many cars on the road, and so much to be aware of that my brain has to work extremely hard to gather all the information I need to drive safely.  When someone cuts me off or does something I deem insensitive, I get mad.  Then, I obsess.  Drivers are reckless and don’t even care how what they are doing affects others.  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 and I fuss and fume, 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 I haven’t been willing to look at for thirty years, but now that my wife and I are working on this book and I have seen my issues are not just ADHD, but are brain injury related.  I have a lot to think about and new ways to think about things. I am adjusting my own self-coping to recognize elements of flooding. I want to start to be able to tell ahead of time when fatigue is near. I want to process and identify factors in my life that are triggers, so I can predict ahead of time. What does and does not add to the overload.

The doctor said my processing is slowing down now, therefore flooding is on the increase.  I look at the latest scans and reports, I read my brain function is decreasing in processing speed as I age. My mind is so fertile. In my head I think millions of random thoughts, and ideas are always generating.  I can actually flood myself with my own thoughts!  Now, that takes talent! When that happens, my processing is slowed so much I cannot process all I am thinking.  My thinking is fast, my processing is slow. It’s like my brain train is not moving.  I am filled with distraction but I am in no hurry to put ideas out of my head because I like thinking them. They keep my mind occupied. It becomes a point of stress for me when those thoughts have to turn into actions and processes. Then, it is overwhelming and I freeze up.

When I am flooding myself with thinking it is not a lot of outside noise, it is internal.  My emotional levels can even be excited and happy because of all I see and think, but I don’t have an outlet and I feel so full of ideas I need to get them out.   It’s hard for me in those moments because I don’t know what to do with that excitement.  I am pacing and agitated. I talk 100 miles per hour.  People around me see the hyperactivity of my conversation about all these ideas and they are put off by it, or annoyed. It’s like I am dumping it all on them so I can release the thoughts.  When I am happy, I feel enormous exploding Grand-Canyon-sized hope, as well as gifting, desire, and passion.  It is bigger than anything I can think of to compare it to.  

Then the fear I might actually have to do something with these thoughts freezes me. Right beside all that hopeful stuff in my head is hope deferred because I cannot get past the thinking to the action. It is my own private torture, to have vision but no way to make it come to pass.  I feel chained to the wall I see and then someone says, ‘You are going around the world!’ Yet, I am chained in a cell with no way to get to the glorious adventure. The problem isn’t my thinking; it’s the processing ability has slowed. The term flood says it well…too much for the capacity of my brain.  I cannot receive any information because of a flood of thoughts or stimuli.  When it happens I cannot even make sense of my thoughts.    

 I can also flood others with my questions and thoughts.  Sometimes they come so fast I cut people off before they have finished what I asked them about.  More thoughts than I can process myself.  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 on a person. I overwhelm them with my questions because I am trying to get them all out of my brain.

Flooding also blocks my auditory channels.  I can hear, but I cannot understand. It is why sometimes I have to ask my wife to repeat the same things over and over. I cannot grasp what she is saying in the moment. 

One time my son was talking to me on the phone, asking me what I wanted to order for him to bring home to eat. I could not understand anything he was saying. He repeated it over and over and I couldn’t understand. It was almost like he was speaking another language. When he got off the phone and Michelle asked him what I wanted he said, “I don’t know. He was doing that thing where he doesn’t understand English.” It was one of the indicators that led to the doctor’s appointment to find out what was going on. 

When it happens, everything is overwhelming and I lose my senses as well as my ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Flooding is the opposite of my mind going blank, instead of no words, there are too many and I can’t pick just one.  There are many triggers for this type of episode, and my wife knows them all. To have a word and a definition for something I have been living with for so long, somehow it makes it easier to see and accept.

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