Danger?! Run Away?!
The world is such a loud place. I am not sure that I ever realized or noticed that before. And I mean that I didn’t know how much noise affects me, my ability to think, to speak, and feel safe. Over the last year, I have learned that being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is connected to my noise sensitivity.
During gatherings, the volume of noise felt so overwhelming that I was fighting against the desire to run away. I am not kidding either. I sat there in the midst of an extraordinarily loud (to me) gathering, and I did not want to be there. I envisioned myself getting up and walking away. No, I imagined myself getting up, running to my car, hopping in, and driving away.
I didn’t get up and run away. I wanted to do that so badly. Instead, I sat with that panic and tried to understand. I knew that my need to run away was coming from somewhere for some reason. It is not easy to do that, be amid a need to run away, and not do that. And then to stare that need in the face and ask me why.
Missing My Crutch
That evening was one of the times that I miss alcohol. Alcohol would decrease the volume, like a liquid mute button. With alcohol, I could handle the noise and the general chaos. I am learning how to be present in the world without my crutch. I no longer think of alcohol as a coping mechanism because it isn’t. It is a crutch, and like using crutches when you have a broken leg, you heal, and then the crutch is thrown away.
I had two things that I was fighting against that evening. One was the overwhelming need to drink away the loudness. The second was the need to run away. Now, I suppose I felt the desire to run in part because I lacked the alcohol that would dim the noise. So, the noise was deafening to me, and that survival instinct kicked in, which for me, at that moment, was to flee.
As I sit here and write this, I have that feeling all over again, the annoyance, anger, and frustration. No one else seems to realize how loud and chaotic it is. How exhausting it is to be present in moments like that. Fighting against the need to run away and knowing that I will draw attention to myself if I do. Which then makes the anxiety worse. I am not able to move in the midst of all of those conflicting emotions.
Noise Shuts My Brain Down
The loudness that affects me goes well beyond the general overwhelmingness of the noise level. When the volume is overwhelming, my brain shuts down. Which, when I think about it, makes sense. My fight or flight kicks in, which the brain knows to shut down non-essential functions, like higher thinking that we use when in conversation.
It then becomes hard for me to comprehend words. That inability to understand makes it hard for me to want to engage in any conversation. Even though I want to join in the discussion, I can’t think with all that noise. And I don’t want to talk louder than everyone else to be heard above the noise because then I am adding to that noise.
Even more profound than that, I don’t like talking loudly. I grew up making myself small to go unnoticed. Attention was a terrible thing for me as a child. Talking loudly, talking over other people to be heard, was met with swift retribution from my parents. It was not appropriate. And so, I learned to be quiet. I don’t believe in much of what my parents taught me, but being respectful of others in a conversation is one I agree with.
Science! PTSD & Noise Sensitivity
Several years ago, researchers at the University of Birmingham and Amsterdam tested the brain’s response to sound changes by randomly increasing a tone from 1000 Hz to 1200 Hz. What they found was that it appeared that the brains of people with PTSD over-processed auditory tones changes.1
What that tells me is that my brain, because of PTSD, is noise-sensitive. I am not crazy that I feel like the world is the loudest place ever. And that noisy world is very anxiety-inducing because it is for me. Being sensitive to noise means that my body goes into fight or flight mode because of the sensitivity.
People diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to startle or be surprised by loud noises, sudden movement, etc.; those are some of the criteria for PTSD. The one that is maybe less obvious is noise because we are pretty much surrounded by noise all of the time, whether that is TV, traffic, other people, etc. But it is a real situation that noises that are not that loud to others are deafening to us with PTSD.
From my experience, the world is what it is. I am not saying that we can’t change or make some effective change, but there is only so much a person can accomplish. Even those who love us and are closest to us have difficulty adjusting to help us through our challenges. My husband was used to me getting angry quickly when I can’t find something. I don’t do that now. He is so used to my previous behaviors that he still prepares himself for that burst of anger.
I was worried when my husband came back from deployment. I had modified my medication; therapy helped me immensely so that I couldn’t use alcohol as a crutch. My biggest concern was that the person he would be coming home to would be different than the person he left. I felt different. The funny thing is, he didn’t see me as another person because a lot of the changes I made were within my mind and my mindset.
One of those changes is the coping skills that I have learned to not turn to alcohol as a crutch. Learning coping mechanisms does not mean that I am going to start drinking again; I am not. Not only do I not need to, but I also don’t want to. That was a huge mindset change, going from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I don’t want.’ In addition to that mindset change, my current mantra is, ‘the world is a loud place. That is okay. I am okay. I am safe.’
- University of Birmingham (2017, November 30). People With PTSD React Differently to Certain Sounds. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://neurosciencenews.com/sound-ptsd-8069/