Feel the Silence

“You’re really weird about sound,” my brother concluded in a way only a big brother can.

And if “weird” means sensitive, he’s right.

You probably wouldn’t notice it unless you spend a lot of time with me.  Since my brother was in town last weekend, he had that (cough cough) privilege.

Now that I’ve shared, please allow me to give you a few examples of things that bother me.  It’s a wide spectrum from minor annoyances to things that make me want to hide under my couch.  Here we go…

  • Extremely loud sounds.  A fire engine, for example, can cause anxiety and pain.  This applies even if I see it coming.  Another example?  Screaming or squealing children.
  • Competing sounds.  This is one of the most frequent offenders.  For example, the TV is on and you want to have a conversation.  My brain must process all the inputs at once, and I don’t feel like I can dedicate myself to a conversation.
  • Sounds that are out-of-place.  If you need help finding that mysterious rattle in your car, I’m your detective.  Unfortunately I might identify a troubling tap in your engine too.  Dripping faucets, nail clippers, TVs turned on in other rooms – I’m on top of it.  When I lived in an apartment, I often wanted to ask my neighbors to turn off their alarm clock or answer their phone.

There are several ways I work around this sensitivity, though.  For example, I love the mute and pause buttons on the TV remote control.  Sometimes I’ll browse the web and mute the TV; just because I want the silence.  When I watch TV with Seth, I’ll pause the program if we want to talk about something.  (He’s so good to put up with me!)  I’m also constantly turning down the radio volume in the car.

Work has, at times, been challenging because of all the noises.  I often wonder how much more productive I could be or perhaps have higher quality output if I could work in an environment that is best for me.  It’s so distracting.  Every time I hear a new conversation, a part of my brain identifies it, determines its importance, and then decides whether or not to continue listening for detail.  Even if the noise is determined to be of no use, it is still an ongoing distraction.

There are some advantages to having “bat ears,” though.  In a room with 4 different conversations, I can sort through them and tune-in to the one most applicable or interesting.  (Oddly enough I have trouble doing this and participating at the same time.)  I also like to think of myself as a good listener.  Sometimes it’s not what someone says, but how they say it, that holds the meaning.  And finally, hearing so much detail helps me enjoy the music I love.  (I even wonder if my musical training at a very young age influenced this sort of aural development.)

So now you know my kryptonite: Sound.  But I have earplugs and mute buttons to protect me!  And if all else fails, and the world refuses to shush, I can retreat to my house where only the ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump of a hopping bunny can be heard.

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