I have always been as blind as a bat and now it seems I have supersonic hearing like they do. The door knocker on our front door not only makes me jump, but is incredibly loud. It can take me a while to get over the shock and noise (which leave me unable to move) in order to get up and shuffle to the door.
People’s voices can be uncomfortably loud, even when they are speaking at a ‘normal’ volume level. I feel awful for repeatedly asking my family to speak a bit quieter but the noise actually makes me ill. It unsettles my brain in a way I cannot control. Again, it is not a case of pulling oneself together to get over it. My brain, body and I seem to be three separate things since being ill. I have very little control over them.
I have the volume on our tv on about ‘8’ while it would usually be on a number much higher. My dad often has it on a number in the late twenties. It is overwhelming to have the volume too high. My brain is already struggling to process the moving images on the television. To have too much noise at the same time isn’t good and is more than my brain can cope with.
I can no longer multitask. I used to be able to juggle a hundred things at once. My brain now shuts down in protest at being told to deal with more information than it can cope with. If I am watching the television, I usually can’t manage to send a text message, or join in a conversation, or use my laptop at the same time. My brain focuses solely on the tv and blocks out everything else.
Since being ill I have been to one house party. Social situations alone can be overwhelming and overstimulating for us sufferers as there is so much to take in and cope with, but this was even harder. It was incredibly loud for a person who finds the rustling of a newspaper too much at times. On the journey home I can feeling very sick and remember shaking at the over exertion of it all.
As well as volume, the tone of a persons voice can bring about difficulties too. If something is said in a confrontational way my brain seems to immediately shut down. I don’t know why. These days I am able to avoid a panic attack and stay calm but still I am left speechless. It is as if my brain cannot process things at all.
Listening in itself can be exhausting. It requires more concentration than you would think. Your brain has to focus enough to follow the conversation, process the information, think up the appropriate response and then speak it out loud. When I am ‘Zombie Anna’ some people like to talk at me to include me in conversation, for example. This is usually the last thing I need. Just carry on around me and I’ll rejoin the conversation when my brain has calmed down.
When I am well enough to listen to it, music has been my saviour. It is a wonderful tool. I don’t often listen to music these days but I have made progress in the two years of illness and can now cope with it on some days. I have discovered Ludovico Einaudi and he is perfect for the days when I’m not feeling too clever! I have fallen in love with Mumford and Sons all of a sudden and it’s very hard to sit still when listening to them. I have recovered enough that I can now sometimes tap my feet in time with music for a couple of seconds. Yay! I cannot wait for the day when I can dance again. I am too slow to move in time with the music and my energy supply won’t let me try to boogie for more than a few seconds. I’m sure it would be very entertaining to watch. Probably a bit like Dad-dancing, but worse. One day I hope to throw some serious shapes on the dance floor again. (I was always one of the first up dancing and didn’t even care if I was all alone with the dance floor to myself.)
Outside noise is largely out of our control. In the summer many of us have to keep the windows shut despite the sweltering heat because it makes us too ill to hear the noise of children playing, wind chimes, lawn mowers or traffic. As I am writing this there is a man with a leaf blower outside about 50 metres away. My windows are closed but it still seems incredibly loud. It is actually hurting my brain. It makes me clutch my head to try to shield my brain. It’s a bit like when the dentist cleans your teeth with that horrible high pitched electric thingy and the noise goes straight through you. That’s what it’s like. Our tolerance for noise is apparently non existent. Still, everyday life goes on. It can’t stop just because it makes me ill.