Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The terror of sound

As a child I disliked having a clock in my room. The constant ticking noise from its mechanism would make it hard for me to fall asleep until I eventually grew used to it. What helped there was that at that point in my life, sound wasn't something I needed to fear or which might mean something negative.

A few years ago I slept again in a room with a ticking clock for the first time since I was a teenager. It disturbed me and made it very hard for me to fall asleep. Removing the clock from the room was the easy solution there. At this point in my life sound is something which for a large part implies threats and something to fear.

I have become very aware of this ever since I moved into my current apartment. Hearing the upstairs neighbours walking around during the day makes me feel uncomfortable, even fearful. During the night it makes me feel terrified, wanting to curl up and cry for no discernible reason. Hearing them use their toilet is both humiliating and a reminder that there is no escape from these sounds while I live in this place.

The heating system's pipes in this building expand and contract a lot, especially during colder days, causing varying levels of metallic ticking noise. All of it gets to me in some way. Usually it makes me feel distracted, terrified, unable to focus on anything else as I try not to think of how much I want to flee, run away from the noise.

None of those thoughts and reactions seem rational or logical in any sense. Neither seem the suicidal thoughts which develop when I cannot shut out such noises by using earplugs or headphones with loud music. I will use earplugs to sleep even when it hurts so much to put them in, because it is preferable over hearing the ticking, walking, talking, urinating and heavens know what other noises I would have to endure otherwise.

At what point in my life I became this sensitive to noise I cannot say exactly. The initial sensitivity to sounds, motions and other sensory inputs I had as a child, I also share with my mother, so I think there might be a genetic base or similar. As for the increase in sensitivity, I think it is connected to the traumatic experiences I went through over the past eleven years, ranging from rape, sexual, physical and psychological abuse, to not having a real home for most of that time, but merely just another place to stay for a while.

Hearing someone walk around triggers the expectation that I did something wrong, or that something bad is going to happen to me, and I will need to defend myself. This is amplified by a general distrust in other humans, based on too many years of experiences.

Most of my dreams and recurring memories during the day revolve around suffering such abuse and uncertainty. It's hard to think of any situations involving humans which do not remind me of something terrible or unpleasant. Even situations not involving other human beings will all too often remind me of such things, or my thoughts will drift off to such a horrible memory without me having to steer it in any fashion.

My dream, or rather what I fervently wish for is to at least live in a place where I have no or at most very few of such disturbing sounds. Somewhere where I can fully relax in the knowledge that at no point will I hear such sounds and thus that this part of my brain that seems to be always alert for exactly such noises can finally shut down. So that I can finally feel safe and relaxed, no matter what else happens to me.

I fear that such a place would have to be as far away from people as possible. Apartments are clearly out. Row-houses might work, as might free-standing houses, but both of these are very hard options for a single person in Germany, unless one is prepared to move far away from the nearest city and usually one's job.

My desire is to no longer have to feel afraid, or even terrified at the sounds around me. Together with everything else that is going on in my life it just drains what little energy I have to get through the day and strongly stimulates depression and thoughts of despair and suicide.

Many people do not seem to understand any of the above, or reject any level of sympathy. I will just have to get used to it, they say. It's exactly like telling a depressed person to stop being depressed and a suicidal person to stop being suicidal. It doesn't make any bloody sense.

Everyone has different preferences and tolerances. Some went through experiences which others can not even imagine, yet which changed them forever. It's horrible to dismiss the suffering of another person, even if it is through something seemingly as innocent as mere words or even sounds.

Words I learned to deal with quite okay after years of being bullied, harassed and stalked, also because I was able to get away from those by going home or skipping abusive comments online. Living in a place which seems to be designed exactly to maximise one's suffering through the application of harmful and unpleasant sounds seems in comparison almost... inhumane.



Sheila Nagig said...

I can relate. I have always been sensitive to sensory stimuli, which in every way corresponds to what you describe with sensitivity to sound. You can't tune it out, which evidently other people are able to do.

As for the living situation, there are times when things like convents looked attractive if only for the fact that they were quiet places. It's also why I really like libraries. It seems as if it shouldn't have to be so hard to find a quiet place where you can relax and hear yourself think.

AGPX said...

Since I was a chikd, I was very sensitive to some kind of noise, but in a positive way. Hearing white noise cause me a deep relax state that eventually make me fall asleep. Is the white noise disturbing you? If not, you can try to listen at it through your mp3 player when other noise disturb you. You can find many examples on YouTube, searching the "white noise" or ASMR. The white noise have the special property to cover every frequency and so any other sound. Hope this can be helpful.

Maya Posch said...

@Sheila - Yes, it's so frustrating to not just be able to tune out noise the way everyone else seems to be able to do.

I have expressed my desire to live in a log cabin in the mountains before. Just need that fast internet connection and I'd be perfectly happy. Not like I need to be around people that desperately :)

@AGPX - It's not white noise that's disturbing me. I can sleep in a room with fans humming and other highly regular noises just fine. Not clocks, though. Ticking and other periodic noises keep alerting me. It's hard to deal with those other than by wearing earplugs in bed.