I have always been irritated by people making noises. Eating, breathing, sniffing, tapping… even talking.
Now, I think at this early point, most people would say, “Oh, yes, me too!” No one wants to listen to someone loudly chomping away on a bag of chips, or constantly sniff rather than get a damn tissue.
But I need to be clear – I am practically enraged by certain sounds. I become filled with such bone-deep, skin-crawling anxiety and frustration that I cannot focus on anything else. I can’t be distracted. My brain becomes locked, clicking over and over like a scratched record. My heart beats faster, my limbs feel restless, my jaw clenches, and in particularly bad moments I even break out in a cold sweat. If it’s something like, for example, someone eating chips, I want to snatch the bag violently from them, throw it on the ground and stomp on it.
So, eating is a major one. I also can’t stand certain people’s voices (Julia Gillard is one); humming; whistling; finger-tapping; repetitive noises like dripping taps, doors being moved by draughts, or bird calls (especially if they come in a predictable pattern); the sound of muffled conversation; the sound of loud, bass music from a distance; repetitive movement like someone absently tapping their foot in the air… I mean, I could go on.
I can’t remember not being like this. I remember dreading family trips away, because not only would I be trapped in the car for hours with four other people and their noises, I would also have to sleep in the same room as some or all of them. When watching TV with my sisters, I’d constantly swat their legs because their fidgeting in my field of vision would drive me nuts.
And you know all I’ve ever been told?
“Just ignore it.”
“Everyone is annoyed by those things, you just have to learn to block them out.”
“You’re too sensitive, why can’t you just ignore it?”
I mean, for reals, guys! Don’t you think that if I could ‘just ignore’ something that was making me crazy, I would? I am not an overly-dramatic person in any aspect of my life, so why would this be any different?
I’ve cried, many times, because I can never make anyone understand how much these things affect me.
About three months ago, I found something. A word.
It is a real thing – a sensory processing disorder – that causes some people to be uncontrollably sensitive to trigger sounds. They become extremely agitated and stressed by certain noises (or movements), and can be driven to fits of rage by their triggers. Apparently, it is similar in symptom and treatment to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I almost cried again when I discovered this, but this time from relief.
There’s no ‘cure’ for it, but the mere knowledge that this is a legitimate sensory disorder has made me feel so much better. I have, for the past few years, suspected that I have some sensory issues (I also have a low tolerance for loud noises, bright lights, crowds, and touching), and though I am admittedly self-diagnosing, I at least now have an answer that is satisfactory to me.
Now, Devin… Devin is adverse to certain loud sounds, too. He hates the vacuum cleaner, blender and kitchen mixer (actually, my mum told me today that I was much the same at his age). If he does hang around while they’re on, he insists on wearing ear muffs. He uses public restrooms only after clarifying, several times, that we aren’t going to use the hand dryers.
We recently went to the airport to watch the planes arriving and departing. The aeroplanes that service our town, though certainly not quiet, are small and it’s not uncomfortable to be right next to the runway when they land and take off – but I still had to keep my hands firmly over Devin’s ears, at his behest.
This was after the plane had turned around, so the engines weren’t quite so loud, but he still only let me take one quick photo with one hand removed.
Even this evening when I was playing with him, pretending an old McDonald’s Transformers toy was an ambulance and pushing the button to activate the ‘siren’, he told me to stop it because the noise was “too loud.” (Which made me very glad that Jene and I are very against toys with automatic sounds.)
As you might imagine, having such adverse reactions to such common noises isn’t going to win me any popularity contests. I try hard to tolerate things, but there comes a point where I can’t hide my discomfort and eventually I have to admit, “Well, your humming/breathing/eating/general movement is driving me nuts.” And that’s not the kind of statement people generally take well. Especially not the people who have heard it from you before. Many times. (Hi, Jene.)
I learn to deal the best I can, and if Devin’s aversion develops into something similar to mine, at least I have the personal experience to be empathetic and considerate towards his frustrations. I’ve never had a violent outburst as a reaction, but the irritation and suppression can cause lingering bad moods, and that’s something I really need to control.
White noise and noise-cancelling headphones are my two best friends. I have an app called Relax Melodies, which can loop a huge variety of sounds including rain, waves, wind, clocks, birds, city noise, a fan, music… there’s even one called ‘womb’. When I’m on the computer, I usually have Rainy Mood open in a tab, and I find it very difficult to sleep at night without the ceiling fan on – even in winter.
So, if ever I ask you to stop breathing, please don’t take it personally. It’s just my brain being incapable of dealing with such complex, strange sounds… (According to my brain.)