Dopamine vs Sensory Overload - AuDHD battles

Dopamine enables me to do some silly things, but Autistic sensory overload seems to win all the time. What does that all mean?

Dopamine vs Sensory Overload - AuDHD battles

Sensory overload vs dopamine rush. Who wins?

In a few weeks, it will be jellyfish season. Now, I’m not one to overthink or catastrophise about the future, but if I were I might be starting to worry. Last year was a challenge swimming in the lake with the harmless moon jellies. I was constantly on edge, anxious and pretty terrified. There was no point where I overcame that fear to realise there was nothing to be afraid of. In a few weeks I’ll have to deal with that fear once more. Not that I’m catastrophising

Over the past few months of ADHD medication titration, I’ve experienced euphoria and proper dopamine hits. These moments have caused flashbacks to previous naturally occurring dopamine hits such as skinny dipping or going on an adventure hike in torrential rain. With the upcoming jelly terror season I’ve been trying to work out why I’m not getting the dopamine hit, only fear.

Research suggests that cold water swimming can give you a 250% boost of dopamine and is a great way to start the day. A fascinating experience, one that wakes you up and makes you feel connected to your body and the environment. Having experienced medically induced dopamine hits, the feeling I get from cold water swimming isn’t as strong. There have been a few times when it has been. That time when I ran into the bay water wearing nothing more than a thong, or times when I’ve skinny dipped. Those are certainly times when I’ve come out feeling alive and buzzing with energy similar to the effects of ADHD medication.

Unfortunately, by summer time we’ve lost the benefits of cold water swimming and are just swimming, but with jellyfish. That rush and sharpness of the cold water that gets your heart racing has gone. Floating about in nice warm water, and watching the clouds pass by is a lovely thing to do. I feel better for it, but I don’t feel alive in a way that makes me want to rip a telephone book in half and attack the day with positive vibes. So maybe during summer, I find it harder to face my fears because I’m lacking in dopamine and nothing is triggering a boost?

It is also possible that my autistic side takes over a bit more with the lack of dopamine. I may be more easily affected by sensory overload from the feeling of the harmless jellyfish. Every single bump is as if the jellyfish really are stinging me and I desperately have to get out. It’s hard to overcome that. Autistic sensory overload isn’t just everyday anxiety. If I’m on edge then everything is against me. Water splashing on my face, the sound of people passing by or traffic, and the brightness of the sun all contribute to being overloaded. Finding myself on the other side of the lake surrounded by harmless jellyfish with a 10-minute swim to endure, panic. Absolute panic. Autistic overload completely takes over.

I’ve discussed this fight between Autism and ADHD before in this newsletter. The AuDHD lived experience is a constant internal battleground. I wish it wasn’t some days. How can I run into the water in a thong in front of over 100 people without being afraid, and then have a panic attack from bumping into a harmless jellyfish? Is it a fight between dopamine and sensory issues?

Intellectually, this is all quite fascinating. To think that as someone with social anxiety issues, I would feel happier in a thong in front of people than touching a jellyfish. In my 20s I had to give up going to my local Blockbuster Video store because I had a conversation with a staff member there. My social anxiety was so bad I could never go back. What would I say to them? What if I said the wrong thing? It was too much, and yet today… thong me up. It is fascinating.

There’s a part of me that wonders if I’m not listening to my body. Maybe the lesson here isn’t that I should work out how to overcome my issues of swimming with jellyfish and sensory overload, but rather that I should be looking for those dopamine-triggering moments that make me come alive. Over the years I’ve been noticing that there are things I can do that others can’t. For that reason, I should lean into them and see where they go. Maybe I need to wear a thong while swimming with jellies, or maybe nothing? Maybe I need to run around the lake, past the Burger King naked (insert joke about Whopper and some buns here) to get that dopamine surging through my body so I can swim? Maybe swimming with jellies just isn’t for me and I should accept that rather than fight it.

Oddly though, combining my ability to run around in a swimming thong and having done a few life drawing sessions, I think I would feel less anxious about sketched naked than I would swimming with jellyfish. Maybe going as far as to even be photographed that way. That’s how weird this is.

I never asked to be this person. Unlike video game characters I couldn’t choose my abilities when I was created. Instead we humans have to explore who we are, to be the best we can be. Exploring what triggers anxiety, sensory issues and dopamine helps me find my path through life. What would it mean if I was happier naked in front of creative people than swimming with jellyfish? Is that the lesson I’m meant to learn, or am I meant to overcome my fear of the water? I’m not sure the takeaway is to run into a very public lake naked during jelly season.

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