I’m sound sensitive. I have been all my life, which made growing up in a household with 3 younger siblings challenging. I often retreated to my room (I am grateful I had my own room from the age of 8), closed the door, and read. I think I also learned to ignore household noises, and I wouldn’t hear my mom calling for me if I was reading, the sounds simply wouldn’t register at a conscious level. My room was under the kitchen, and Mom learned to stomp on the floor if she wanted me. That I would hear.
Like many people of an introverted nature, I generally prefer a quiet environment. It is easier to “hear myself think” under such circumstances. That doesn’t mean I don’t like music. I love it, particularly classical. But, I’m not a “multitasker”. If I’m listening, I’m listening and it’s hard for me to put the sound to background. I can, like most people, tune out environmental sounds, once my brain knows what they are. For 6 of the years I lived in Chicago, I was a block away from the emergency room entrance of the University of Chicago Hospitals. Chicago fire department ambulances clanked and rattled down the street all the time, and they became background.
When I moved back to Colorado, I rented a condo in the small town in which I live. There was a supermarket just the other side of my unit. My first night there, I was startled awake by a bang and crashing sound. I was up and out of bed in a flash, headed to the kitchen for a knife. Then I realized that the supermarket’s loading dock was just outside my bedroom window. I wasn’t bothered by the truck traffic after that, although it did take a while to get back to sleep that night.
While I can tune out “background noises,” I am also aware that they take quite a toll on my nervous system. When flying, the plane noise is exhausting. Several years ago, I purchased a pair of noise-reducing earbuds (Bose, they’re expensive, and worth it). I routinely wear them when I fly, and it makes a huge difference in how I function after a flight. Using them, I’ve just spent a few hours traveling, and I’m quite functional, good to go. Without them, I’m exhausted, jittery, irritable and not pleasant for anyone, including me, to be around.
Around 10 years ago, I got my third concussion. With that came an increase in my sensitivity to both sound and light. I spent months wearing sunglasses and a ball cap to shield my eyes, and avoiding places where I might encounter a lot of noise, like a basketball game. I’ve recovered reasonably well from the concussion overall. I can concentrate normally, I once again can exercise without getting a headache, and my light tolerance is pretty good. However, my sound sensitivity is largely unchanged. I’m still more sensitive than I used to be, and if my reserves are low, for whatever reason, sound can literally be painful, almost feeling like a sunburn. I cringe, and involuntarily recoil, the sound feels assaultive.
A little over 3 weeks ago was the mass shooting at the Boulder King Soopers. As mentioned previously, I have a lot of connections to that particular store, and the shooting was a big shock to my nervous system. Since then, I’ve noticed an increased sound sensitivity, and a recoil to any percussive sort of sound, from a sneeze or someone starting a sentence with emphasis. It’s been uncomfortable and exhausting, and has added to the challenge of going forward in a healthy fashion. I’ve improved somewhat since the event, and I’m not back to my normal.
Neurologically, each of us has senses that give us input about our environment, and our “lead” senses vary. For me, I both get a lot information from sound, and my tolerance for sound input is limited. It’s an interesting and challenging balance to live with. I’ve recognized for me, that my sound sensitivity is a truth teller, a good indicator of my general reserves. I am more sensitive than is comfortable, and like most such sensitivities, it can be an ally for good self-care, even as it may wreak havoc with my plans and desires. Sometimes, quiet is music to my ears.