It is said that a weed is a plant growing where it is unwanted. Following that model, I find noise to be unwelcome sound.
I am a sound sensitive person. Loud environments, with many sounds coming from many sources are difficult for me. Like most people, once I know what a sound is, I can often put it into “background status” and more or less ignore it. This was very helpful when I lived in inner city Chicago, just down the street from a hospital emergency room. Fire department ambulances clattered by my bedroom window all night long. It didn’t take long until I rarely noticed them and they didn’t disturb my sleep after the first few nights.
When I first moved back to Colorado, I lived in a rented condo which was adjacent to a small shopping center. My first night there, I awakened to loud crashes and bangs and was out of bed and in the kitchen going for the butcher knife in a flash (see previous paragraph about the years in the inner city). Then I realized that the loading dock for the supermarket was directly outside my bedroom window. Why they needed to stock at 3 am I don’t know, but after that first night, I rarely noticed the activities on the loading dock.
As noted above, I can block sounds so that I am not consciously aware of them. I likely honed this skill growing up an introverted child in a noisy household. If I’m reading a book or concentrating on a project, I hear very little of what’s going on around me. This used to drive my mom nuts when I wouldn’t respond to her calling my name. I genuinely didn’t hear her. This continues to this day. BA and I laugh about my tendency to say “what” many seconds after she has asked me something if I’m reading. I focus well and am not easily distracted. Great if you’re my patient or client, not so good for the casual questioner.
That said, it is also true that sound and noise exposure is very wearing on my nervous system. I find noisy environments exhausting, and much prefer quiet. I’ve noticed that this has worsened over the years, and that both my sound and light sensitivity intensified after my most recent concussion five years ago. My light sensitivity has lessened, except when I’m ill or tired (low reserves make anything worse), but the increased noise sensitivity has persisted. The good news around this is that technology provides me some relief.
I am fortunate in many ways to be able to control much of my environment as far as sound exposure. My home is quiet, and the building in which I work is also quiet. I don’t have to spend a lot of time in noisy environments. There have been casualties of course, as I attend fewer events than I once did. No more college basketball games, and I’m careful to limit the time I spend at skating events. Classical music concerts are fine, rock music, not so much. Movies are difficult because the sound volume is so high, and similar issues can occur with restaurants. It’s particularly challenging in a “sports bar” type environment where not only are a lot of TV screens showing a variety of events, in some cases the sound is on as well. In that case, count me absent.
Technology is also my friend, with the advent of noise cancelling devices. I got some headphones fifteen or so years ago, and they really made a difference with plane travel. That background roar of engine noise is markedly muted. Using them when I fly, my fatigue level is markedly reduced. The downside of headphones is that they are somewhat awkward, pressing on my head and ears, and trying to sleep with them on really doesn’t work. Enter take two. Bose now makes noise cancelling earbuds. When they first came out, they weren’t particularly good, according to the reviews. Later versions had a more favorable take.
In 2016, I got a pair, the Quiet Comfort 20 earbuds. They are wonderful, ranking highly in my best gift ever category. They are lightweight, with a variety of silicone earbuds so that one can semi-customize the fit. I find them comfortable, even on longer flights (only 6 hours thus far) and there is much greater freedom of movement than with the headphones. I use them primarily when flying, but if I worked in a noisy environment, I would wear them if I could. Before I was writing this post, I hadn’t thought much about their name, Quiet Comfort. As I reflect on it now, it’s exactly right, that is what I seek, the comfort of quiet. Ahhhhh.