For Those With Sound Sensitivity Problems

There are people in the world who have sound sensitivity problems. Not all are like me. You see sound is more than just an assemblage of tones.

Someone made the comment the other day that they think I’m alone too much. I believe it was because of how upset I got about the noise of cell phones, etc. I can understand why they’d think that. It is a sensible deduction.

Of course I’m not really alone. I have Charlie and Ivy. But some would still consider that being alone.

English is my 2nd language. Autism is my first,” Dani Bowman

Please don’t think I resent everyone with a cell phone.

They are a wonderful tool if used correctly. Although as with everything, many people just don’t use their common sense and manners. So I’m sorry if I offended anyone about cell phones.

One of the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome in adults is hyper- and hyposensitivity to sound. Some people consider sound sensitivity to be more of a problem for them than other difficulties common to Asperger’s, such as socializing, communicating with others, and managing work. – Assessment and Treatment of Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults

I’ve had problems with sound all of my life. As a child I found other children to be too noisy. I would rather play alone. Fireworks were a nightmare.

I also have sensitivity to things like fluorescent lights. I can’t ignore them. It’s like a sizzling noise in the background that I’m constantly aware of.

When I’m talking to a doctor and the door is open and I can hear other people talking, I can’t filter out the noise to hear the person speaking to me. I have to get up and shut the door.

It is not so much one sound as the many sounds around us all the time. It’s the not being able to filter the sounds around us.

Consider construction work going on in the street as you’re walking along the sidewalk. Couple that with the throbbing of boom-boom music in a car at a red light.

Add to that cell phones ringing and people talking and my heart is racing. I become so anxious I head for home because I can’t think straight. The tumult of everything going on at once is for me excruciating.

I literally can’t think straight. Because I’m overwhelmed. It’s like a physical pain that I can’t free myself from until I get home and close the door on the world.

The world is a loud place. There’s no way to tell the world to shut up unfortunately.

So I try not to go places when young children are out of school and liable to be in the stores. There is no way you’d see me in a shopping mall. And the thought of actually working among others in a work place is unimaginable. In fact unfathomable.

It is not just a sound. But the cacophony of sounds.

It doesn’t happen often, but under certain circumstances, I will have a meltdown. And it isn’t pretty. For instance, four days after Abi died I was in the vet’s waiting room with Charlie because he was sick.

Being at the vet’s office, which brought back everything about Abi’s death, was overwhelming enough.

The waiting room is small. It was late in the day. Noisy. People checking out, dogs barking. I was already stressed due to losing Abi.

First the facial tics begin. My left eye must look like I’m winking at someone. I can feel it happening, but I can’t stop it. My eye seemingly has a mind of its own.

Then I start pacing. An older woman working there started to come over to me and I put my hands out and shook my head. Don’t come near me.

“Please don’t talk to me,” I said to her, and she retreated, looking like she very much wanted to help but had no idea what to do. There is nothing anyone else can do, you see. And there’s no way I can stop doing what I’m doing.

I was lucky someone who works there has an adult niece with Asperger’s, for she came out and led me to a small room where they keep their records. We went in and she closed the door.

I sat in the chair with Charlie and rocked. Rocking is comforting. When my children were small sometimes I would sit in a bathtub of water in the middle of the night and rock.

Repetitive movements and behavior. The pacing, the rocking, the flapping of hands.

I’m sure it is frightening when you see someone like this and you don’t know what is happening. It doesn’t happen often because I understand the environment that is conducive for me to live and work in.

Remember when I told you about dissociative episodes and the fact that they start with a smell, a sight, a sound.

More often than not it will be a sound that brings them on. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the sound was, just that the world stopped when I heard it.

Wanting to be free. Wanting to be me. Trying to make people see. And accept the real me. – Scott Lentine

So you see the real problem, for the person who thinks I’m alone too much, is not that I’m alone. But that it is the only way I can cope.

And before anyone asks, yes, I take medication. I take antidepressants and meds for anxiety to help me cope. My whole adult life. I can’t imagine trying to cope without them.

So now I’ll move on to something more pleasant.

On this Monday morning it is rather dark outside. From where I sit here, with Charlie curled up between my lower legs on the ottoman, I can see the bare tree branches beyond the buildings.

They are perfectly still, a rarity in Oklahoma, where the wind often comes sweeping down the plains.

The tree branches look rather lonely, with no leaves to adorn them. But then all that will change in just a few months time.

Until then I will sit here in the silence and keep them company.

“Life is… not about counting the losses and the lost expectations, but rather swimming, with as much grace as can be mustered, in the joy of all of it,” Leisa Hammett

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43 Comments

  1. My daughter has the same thing, and noises are unbearable for her. In another realm of noises, I developed tennitus a few years ago. High pitches give me literal physical pain. I have to put my hands over my ears and try to drown it out. So you see, not everyone is perfect. Oops, no one is!

  2. I found some comfort in knowing that one day those drivers that have the blaring music so loud, that in the spring when I have my windows down to enjoy the nice breeze that I have to close those windows, that one day those individuals are going to suffer hearing loss and that is something you can’t get back. That may be a little mean, but it is what it is.

    Carol and Molly
    xoxoxo

  3. I have a condition called misophonia. This seems to describe your symptoms, too. From the net:
    “Misophonia, or “hatred or dislike of sound,” is characterized by selective sensitivity to specific sounds accompanied by emotional distress, and even anger, as well as behavioral responses such as avoidance. Those who have misoponia might describe it as when a sound “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee. Chewing noises are probably the most common trigger, but other sounds such as slurping, crunching, mouth noises, tongue clicking, sniffling, tapping, joint cracking, nail clipping, and the infamous nails on the chalkboard are all auditory stimuli that incite misophonia.”

    1. Whistling stands the hair on the back of my neck up and I do get irritated. That is interesting.

      Carol and Molly
      xoxoxo

  4. Thank you for explaining more about Aspberger’s and how it affects you. I can relate somewhat…I’m not on the spectrum, but I am a Highly Sensitive Person and a lot what you said about noise and light is how I am, too. And it’s getting worse with age. Maybe part of that is hormones or simply because I live in a quieter house with no kids. But too much noise or bright lights overwhelm me. I can’t read unless in total silence. I can’t stand music in stores. I don’t shop in malls. Etc, etc.

  5. I think it’s the people who always have to have some kind of noise in their ear who have the problem. I find the world way too noisy. Much more than it use to be. Seems like everything has to have a loud drumbeat to it. Even the news has a drumbeat behind it at times and many of the tv shows I watch have a loud drumbeat in their background music. Why is that? I read somewhere that the movies are louder now so as to make the person watching them feel like they are part of the movie. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be part of the movie, I just want to watch it and be able to hear the conversations over the loud music. But, yes, it’s way noisier now than it use to be which makes me think there are going to be a whole lot more people with hearing problems in the future.

  6. Brenda, I have a sensitivity to noise as well. I’m not on the Aserger’s spectrum but I do have difficulty filtering noise and I can’t handle more than one person speaking at a time. As far as you spending too much time alone, I think only you can be the judge of that. I don’t see you as antisocial in anyway. You seek out company when you choose as do most people. However, you are a very creative person and creative people do need time alone to get their projects completed. Look at how you create this blog everyday and all the projects from quilts to decorating and photography you have completed and continue to create. I’ve said it once before but I think you could sell some of your photographs. So pleas just continue being you and taking care of you as only you know how to best do. Love you and your work. Reading your blog at the end of the day is a treat I save and look forward to.

  7. So well written Brenda…and other commentors as well!! I do not have it exactly like you…but we share some parts. I have not been diagnosed, but I am sure I do have it mildly…vibrations are what just drive me batty…and excessive noise like those cars who you can hear for a mile. What you shared about cell phones comes down however to just plain having good manners…OR NOT!! And at least where we live, civil behavior is leaving…I am glad to be this old. I really feel for those who are afflicted with the noise and vibration issues…it is not looking good for the future. I too would stay home more if I could. Definitely.

  8. Oh Dear One, to. Have a “meltdown” and no one is able to comfort….so heart wrenching. Thank you for extending grace to the lady who tried to comfort you at the vet, but couldn’t.
    Yet, you reach out and touch us everyday with insights, beauty, food for thought. Generous spirit you have .

    1. It is very different for me to be home where I am at peace than for me to be out in the world. I would not be able to concentrate unless I am in my quiet environment.

  9. Thank you for sharing. Our 20 year old grandson has Asperger’s and he stays with us every other week or so. Lately, he has been telling us not to talk so loud, which we don’t think we’re doing, but it’s loud to him. I didn’t know this was part of the Asperger’s, so thank you for this post. We’re still learning about it. He suffers from depression as well and is on medication for it. His younger brothers don’t understand his ways even though their mom has talked to them about it, but it must their “teen” attitudes and they can be rude and mean to him. Again, thanks for sharing today; I’ve learned from your post.

    1. Well that’s why I write them. To hopefully inform someone. He doesn’t hear the same thing you hear. No one knows exactly why this is. But it is very common with those on the spectrum to have sensitivities like the inability to tolerate noise. It isn’t just the teenagers. People are often just not compassionate about what they cannot see.

    2. I feel as though we are friends! Your strength and understanding of the things we deal with, are like a fresh drink of clean water. Thank you!

  10. You are fortunate that not only do you understand your condition but that you are able (I know that there are some circumstances in which you are unable to control your environment but you attempt to minimize your exposure to those types of situations) to give us an understanding of your condition (and others experiencing this same condition). Thank you for sharing this information.

  11. I made a typo mistake. Sorry I meant no medication at all. I need to proof read better before I hit the post comment button.

  12. Brenda you know the real you and your needs and situation. So you do what makes you comfortable.
    I suffered with depression and anxiety for many years. Then when I had a hysterectomy age 44 . I had early menopause and the depression and anxiety got worse.. I started taking Lexapro. Made me gain weight. So I switched to another med. Tapered off. And now by some miracle I need to medication at all. Many people suffer from anxiety and depression. I also worked some years as a Pysch Nurse. So I understand your situation.

  13. The younger of my 2 granddaughters is the same,she tested positive for some autism aspects,she will be 9 next month,hopefully there will be some advancements as she grows up.
    I do think living with just out furkids lessens our noise acclamation,I too have an aversion to extremely loud music,I left a movie theater because the speakers seemed to loud to me,there’s 1 restaurant chain that has numerous tv’s going on different channels and the cacophony is so bad I’ve had trouble hearing the person sitting next to me so I avoid going there.
    I would think the vet incident may have been a combination of anxiety, panic and grief…my husband will be gone 13 years this April and I still feel very anxious when I have to go to that hospital for a test or a procedure and it feels like it happened a short time ago,cannot wait to get out of there,I’m perfectly ok in their clinic building…
    You provide so much enjoyment to us with your pictures of your lovely, cozy,home and your Miss Ivys antics…I usually think we’ll at least I’m not the only crazy cat lady !
    Don’t allow someone with their keyboard to bring you down on yourself,stay positive and keep blooming where your planted:)
    Hugs,Pat

  14. Well written, as usual, Brenda. Your sensitivity is far more pronounced than mine, but I deal with it enough to have great compassion for your reactions. Often I chose to shop very early in the day just to avoid the chaos and noise. If things get too bad I just go home and deal with it another day. I may go a long time and nothing affects me but if I have been too stressed for too long or if I am reacting to certain allergies my system lets me know I better go home or at least go where it is quiet and peaceful. At these times watching television even has to be carefully selected (or none at all). The noise of loud ads or any type of conflict with raised voices can be jarring and leave me exhausted and some times in tears.
    Again, it isn’t always like this and often I can think back and pinpoint the trigger. But it is very unpleasant the say the least. What you experience is far beyond this so I applaud you for taking care of yourself. And am grateful that you know what you need and do it.

    1. I can say I’m not missing the TVs at all. I like the silence. I appreciate the sounds I do hear. The birds, a car leaving, the wind, the sound of the stove. Small things that are just part of life I don’t mind at all. It’s good that you can tell when to go home. It is about trying to configure your environment. It’s a loud world out there!

  15. Very well said. I have a clear vision of aspergers now. It’s a little more involved than it seems, so I’m glad to have gained knowledge about it. I share some of your issues and especially the noise and overwhelming need to escape groups of people combined with noise. And the difficulty hearing a conversation when there is noise around you. I always tell my husband that having the radio on in the car when we are talking is like having two conversations going and it’s very irritating for me. I usually can’t tolerate the radio droning on and on in the car while my husband can’t do without constant noise of some kind. It sounds to me that you manage pretty well and even when you know you can’t prevent or stop reactions to times of stress you know how to self comfort and ride it out. For people to think a person with aspergers can change is indeed like asking a dog to turn into a cat. I feel for anyone who is met with such lack of kindness, understanding and acceptance.

    1. I can see how you have difficulty with the radio and conversation. The problem is not being able to filter, and I think this differs with everyone and is just part of your brain structure. Maybe you could ask your husband to alternate. One car trip, radio. Next car trip, no radio.

  16. Yep ~ I’m along the spectrum too ~ and I know just what you mean about the noise. Just. Too. Much!
    That said, I do enjoy listening to music when I’m in my studio, but it is low.

  17. Brenda, I can empathize with you concerning the noises. Google hyperacusis. I have a mild case of this and it is so annoying. Sounds very similar to your case.

      1. Googled it. Just what I thought it was. People around you think you’re over reacting. I see it all the time. They don’t get that what they hear isn’t the same as what you hear. Then sometimes rush to judgment.

  18. Please correct above. My IPad seems to be missing letters. A “should” change to shouldn’t (be conducted in public) and neighborhoods is missing a gh. There are many concerns others have with noise so we should all be considerate and lower our voices (something I must control) and our noise devices.

  19. Brenda,

    Blogging is a funny thing because when you write every day as you do people think they know you and as with all social media you share what you like and we only know of you what you tell us. I think that the people that come here are looking for comfort and to offer it as well, I would like to think that the comments written were not being rude but perhaps offering a suggestion or trying to help you. Whatever the case, thank you for explaining your situation and your description of Aspergers. I think there are many people on the spectrum that others do not realize because they are fully functioning adults.

    I hope that you, Charlie and Ivy have a wonderful day!

    1. And if I wasn’t how I am, I probably would share their sentiments. No offense taken. Just wanted to explain. I don’t think they were being rude. Just concerned.

  20. I empathize with your sensitivities. I have depression and anxiety that make it hard for me to be around others and in situations with noise and lights. The latest assault to my senses is that the gas station I go to installed new pumps with a video player that blasts the news at you when you start pumping gas. Scared the hell out of me. They finally marked a “mute” button you can push but I think I will go elsewhere. What next??

    1. Now why on earth do they want to inject unnecessary and jarring noise to the experience of simply getting gas.? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s next, but it’s apt to be noisy.

      1. If people can be constantly bombarded with noise, ads, etc., they cannot think for themselves and process all the horrific events going on around them. There is no dead air for anyone to think. Sad. Even those who do not have serious issues with noise, etc., need time to think. This is extremely harmful to our children, who have been indoctrinated to have constant noise in their every waking , and even sleeping, hour.

  21. I think the real issue here is consideration of others. The young man was rude in holding up others when he chose to carry on cell conversations. Anything other than a brief exchange on a cell should be conducted in public since others don’t want to be uninvited third parties. The same is true of horn honkers and radio blasters in neiborhoods with sleeping babies and the ill. Where is impulse control?

  22. I am exactly the same as you, with the same condition. I am grateful to you for describing it so well. I love the life of a hermit, people tell me, but it is the only way that I can live at all.

  23. Thank you for a heartfelt and thorough explanation of Asperger’s. Far more people are on the spectrum than anyone realizes.

    I have a neighbor with Asperger’s. Sadly his family keeps hoping he will change just by berating him for his behavior. Of course that escalates the situation and he doesn’t want to be around his family.

    1. I guess they don’t care that they’re making matters worse. I feel for him. Thinking he will be able to change is like saying a dog can turn into a cat.