I’m not a music lover. The pulsating rhythm of most concerts leaves my ears feeling like they are bleeding, not an experience I desire or seek. In general, I hate sound much more than I find it pleasurable or interesting. I remind myself frequently that I should be grateful for the fact that I can hear unaided, and should find joy in the beautiful noises in my life such as birds chirping or squirrels chattering. But more moments than not, “be quiet” is on my mind. In today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be exploring my experience with sound in the context of struggling with PTSD.
I do not recall a time where I used my ability to hear in a way that enhanced my life. I grew up with many siblings in an old house with poor insulation. Every noise made by a family member echoed and reverberated through the wooden structure. After puberty, a sudden shift took hold, mainly around the dinner table and while driving in a crowded van. The sounds of others eating or my siblings inventing little melodies absolutely enraged me. Researchers still puzzle about the scientific validity, but having lived for decades with it, I am convinced misophonia, which is the hatred of certain sounds such as “mouth noises,” is a real condition. Noise that cannot be blocked because it causes physical vibrations as well as sound waves (such as bass music) sends me into a full-blown hysteria every time.
Difficulties with sound processing have been linked to conditions such as PTSD. In addition to misophonia, some individuals suffer from hyperacusis, which means they experience certain noises to be louder than they actually are. Phonophobia involves anxiety in reaction to loud noises and may be related to misophonia. A central feature of most of these problems is that certain sounds become connected to negative emotional events; the noise itself can then provoke the emotion.
When I am finally in an extremely quiet environment, the buzzing starts. I have tinnitus in both ears. It is as if my brain is never satisfied with quiet, and the expectation of disrupted peace evokes the appearance of it. I did have an ill-fated attempt several years ago at wearing earplugs overnight after showering, resulting in severe outer ear infections, so I did myself no favors there.
As I write this, I realize how little effort I’ve put into seeking professional assistance in combating my hearing problems. When I have gone to audiologists, they’ve offered no help beyond testing my hearing; they have generally disregarded my experience of difficulties with sound processing. After my latest visit, I was diagnosed with abnormal auditory perception, which means, in addition to my intense reactions to normal sounds, my brain also has difficulty putting together the sounds it is receiving. This explains the problems I have at times understanding others when they are speaking to me, and why I frequently ask them to repeat what they’ve said.
I’ve spent many hours online alternating between researching cabins on 10 acres in the woods and camper RVs so that I can escape at a moment’s notice. I know that neither of these possibilities offers any guarantee of silence. As I sit with my experience, I find it odd that silence represents something different from “peace” and “relaxation” to me, instead, it signifies the absence of suffering. I equate being able to hear other humans and the noises they generate with suffering and with pain. Certainly anyone who’s been trapped in at a child’s birthday party for too long can attest to the realness of desiring some time without shrieks to think, but my experience is such that I spend a good part of my time every day dreading potential sounds as well as clinging by a thread to my sanity when the music gets going or the gum chewing begins. This awareness is leading me to see that I need to more fully pursue interventions to reduce my suffering that allow me to live in greater, rather than less, peace with noise.
Goddess spirituality and Pagan practice are filled with sounds. Dancing, chanting, drumming and the like send up bursts of energy to Goddess in worship and adoration. I vacillate in my ability to access the well of spiritual blessings these noises contain depending upon my emotional state and general level of hyper-vigilance. Given the power and potency of sounds to ward off and call in and name and release, I now desire to have a greater ability to both disregard noises that are irrelevant to my experience and to tune in to and celebrate those that enrich my life. In doing so, I hope to learn from others about what has worked and not worked for them. What is your experience with sound? How does it affect you both positively and negatively? If there are noises that you dislike, what have you found helps you to ignore them? What allows you to enjoy the sounds you prefer?