Growing up with noise

It’s weird but I’ve only discovered recently, in the past two years, that my wiring for sound differs from most people. Looking back, it explains a lot.

Hearing has always been my strongest sense. It’s wired to always be on. It was always weird to me how others can put on loud TV or radio or music on as a background noise, then not hear it at all, tuning it out, while doing something else like reading or having a conversation. That does not exist to me.

When there is background noise, or anything I hear, I hear it. I can’t tune out sounds. Which is why I’m so glad noise canceling headphones have been invented and are pretty common. Some of the very difficult places for this sound issue include places with a lot of noise, a lot of people talking, and loud places with reflective surfaces so the overall sounds are loud yet it’s difficult to try to focus on the persons who you want to listen. Also visiting my stepsister is pure ear torture: she and her boyfriend love having loud talk shows, folk music, radio shows, or movies on the “background”, then insist on trying to have a conversation (read: a monologue, where each person is supposed to talk about their own stuff in turn, without much focus on anything). I can’t handle it. If there’s a movie, I want to hear that. If you want to talk, switch off the tv and maybe put some mild, relaxing ambient music and a candle on the background. But they don’t work that way. She does not seem to tolerate silence, so there are always things making noise on in her house.

It was a bit similar growing up with my parents. They had on a tv, sometimes two tvs on the background, next to each other. Each parent would follow their own show, and manage somehow to ignore the sound of the other show. That drove me on the walls. Or, as the apartment had really crappy walls, I could hear their TV louder in my room, so as a result I spent so much more time in the public library than home trying to do homework. When I moved away, I didn’t have a tv, and not even a radio for the first year. Silence is bliss.

My home as a kid was also loud for colors and patterns. But that usually bothered me if my prescriptions for glasses was functional. So much easier when you don’t see the offending details. And it’s so much easier to work around “eye noise” than offending sounds. I can always keep my eyes closed, or the lights off, problem solved. But for turning out sounds, I can use at best headphones or noise canceling headphones, and that will still leave noise beyond my control.

I still can’t turn off hearing or focus on specific sounds tuning out others. I do like my own sound environment, so that means headphones with a lot of audiobooks, movies and music, sometimes just plain white noise. I try to keep safe by not having too strong a noise canceling feature on so I can still hear what happens around me (relevant when hearing also compensates for eyes). I also need sensory downtime, so if I listen for a few days books at fast speeds for 10 hours, I’ll have a day when silence is preferred, otherwise it’ll feel like a drained battery and lead to sensory overload.

There are of course noises that are really unpleasant, but so has probably everyone, not just the same kind of noises. Some of the noises I can’t stand include babies and small children screaming, crying, shreaking, or making any kind of loud noises, teenagers making any kind of loud noises, women screaming or making any loud, high pitched noises. My natural reaction to loud small child noises is to go out of the reach of the sound. Of course, growing up, every female with maternal instinct was trying to invalidate my sensory issues and convince me it’ll be different “when it’s your own”. I still have not noticed any ovary-induced “biological clock” ticking, nor any desire to produce offspring with my genetic traits. The sounds of cats are different; a small puppy or kitty making sounds I can tolerate and will enjoy too, especially if he or she is my own. Other unpleasant voices that don’t seem to bother everyone include people without an indoor voice. I find it very unpleasant that some people shout indoors. Learn to use an appropriate volume, not everyone around you is deaf (and if they are, learn some sign so you can speak silently). Many public building indoors can also be unpleasant, especially if there are large spaces with a lot of glass, metal, and other sound-reflecting materials, making it impossible to find anything by the sound.

Pleasant sounds (with possibly other sensoty pleasantness) that I like anytime include oceans, winds, the sound of snow falling, the sound of fog (it is very soft), cats purring, fire, fireplaces, candles, any happy animals (excluding loud birds), sizzling of cast iron plates, humming of planes, rain. Some languages and voices sound pleasant, while others sound really ear grating. Speech impediments like stutter aren’t usually on the negative sound, as it just makes it easier to recognize someone from their voice.

How do you function for sound? What are your favorites or dislikes of sound?

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6 thoughts on “Growing up with noise”

  1. Very interesting. Thank you for explaining so well.

    My favorite sounds are nature, soundscapes. Indoors and at night for sleeping I like New Age music. Otherwise our home is very quiet.
    I rest by wearing a sleep mask to remove vision from the equation. I do not like visual clutter, and our home is decorated but not cluttered.

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    1. interestingly enough most people i grew up with were more sound cluttered and iʻve never know others using sleeep masks. i tried a few years ago but didnʻt like them, now enforcing full darkness to also keep eyes closed seems natural

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I really like this post 😊

    Surprisingly, I can relate to so much of what you said. The “surprisingly” part is because I’m mild-to-moderately (depending on the frequency in question) hearing impaired. And yet, I can’t tune noise out either! I imagine I hear a lot less noise than most, but what gets through, gets through with a vengeance. It’s an assault. My fragile nervous system can’t handle it.

    Not so long ago, when I was diagnosed with my “permanent, progressive” hearing loss, I was bummed, to say the least. I cried a few times.

    Last year, I discovered that I’m an Aspie/autistic, and as I began to learn, also began putting pieces together. Pieces like my “extreme” reactions to certain sounds or frequencies.

    And I started to actually appreciate my hearing loss as sort of a neurological break from the world. Like nature said, “here you go; we’re going to give you some reprieve”. My disability became a sort of relief.

    But lots of sound still gets through. I still do have to leave the apartment when my partner starts banging around in the kitchen. I still can’t handle alarms or car horns or other stuff. And once the stimulus gets in, my brain flinches – hard. My system feels assaulted.

    I don’t know if our experiences are similar or not; I just thought it was neat/interesting that I had something in common hearing-wise with someone with good hearing.

    My heart goes out to you; I know that this world is obnoxiously loud to me; I can’t imagine what it must be like for you 😘💐💐💐💖

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    1. It’s curious. So many aspies have sight or hearing problems (or both!), seems much more than general population.

      And the noise… some hearing aids apparently make it very difficult to tune out anything, or to pinpoint the location or source of sounds. Then there are those fancy modern ones like Links 2 resound, where you can use iphone to change to different kind of settings (bar, outdoors, home, quiet, white noise etc). If hearing aids were less expensive and easier to get for supporting features, like in this case, tuning out sounds, that’d be so great.
      I’ve had tinnitus since at least being a teenager. I guess loud things (mum also worked in loud environments until the day I was born so there’s that too), stupid metal fillings in teeth, loud music, ear infections (my body didn’t get the memo it’s too old for those). I could probably do a map of the frequencies but never properly had my hearing tested either. Except when i was like 10, in school. Press the button when you hear a sound… i cheated quite a bit on my right side and just about passed. I’m kind of curious what my hearing map would be like, just always been scared of pretty much all doctors. Maybe one of these years I’ll have the balls to book an audiologist, until then… headphones. With stronger noise cancel so I can avoid noise.

      It’s kind of curious but with aspieness any sensory loss can be a bonus. So instead of seeing two negative things, you can suddenly combine them and “because i x, i can also y better as a result.”
      So for hearing issues, that would probably be a more obvious benefit if it was easier to tune out all sounds or not hear them, but still. Not obsessing over a tone of voice like typical-hearing NTs sounds like one of those win examples to me 🙂

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  3. My strongest sense has always been hearing too. I hear everything within a close proximity. Even when people are having conversations, I hear what they are talking about, even though I don’t want to or have no control in it. It dawned on my a half a decade ago but I thought I was the only one. It’s reassuring to know I’m not haha

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