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Chasing Silence: Can You Hear Me Now?

Chasing Silence: Can You Hear Me Now?
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Do you love music as much as I do? I bet you do! If I added up all the money I spent on cassettes, 8-track tapes, 45s, albums, CDs and live concerts over the last few decades, I probably could have owned a home and beach house had I decided to go a different route with my spending.

But music is a huge passion of mine, and I have no regrets about those investments. They brought me great joy over the years and still do.

Do you know what’s not so joyful anymore? Walking into a restaurant or store and hearing the music being played at deafening volumes! When did this phenomenon begin? The other day in a popular retail store and in a moment of despair, I turned to a complete stranger and asked her, “Is it me, or is this music really loud?”

For a moment, I thought I had walked into a club by mistake and forgotten to pay the cover charge. And then I realized, I was in a store and was now the old person complaining about loud music! Wow, talk about a depressing revelation! Especially for someone like me who has spent (and still spends) so much of her free time going to hear live music.

It’s no secret that hearing loss has reached epidemic proportions. According to the World Health Organization (“WHO” – ironically the same name as a rock band), it is estimated that more than 1 billion young people (ages 12 to 35) are at risk of hearing loss due to recreational exposure to loud sounds.

While I’m no longer in that demographic, I find I am one of the few baby boomers wearing earplugs when I go to hear live music. It always amazes me at these shows that no one else seems to be as concerned about protecting their hearing as I am, even at our age.

For those of us who live and work in NYC, it’s no surprise that ‘the city that never sleeps’ is truly overstimulating us with noise 24/7. From the jackhammers on every other block to the sirens tearing down the city streets, we sometimes wonder where we can retreat for some peace and quiet. I find that the older I get, the more I am seeking out those quiet moments.

That peaceful oasis used to be my apartment, till that gradually changed over the years. I’ve dealt with tenants thinking pulsating ‘surround sound’ was appropriate in a building where you share a common wall with your neighbors. And I’m sure my fellow apartment dwellers have also experienced the sounds of clicking high heels on the wooden floors above them late at night.

Does anyone else sleep with a white noise machine and foam earplugs?

But what really tested my patience was a Sunday night a few months ago. My neighbor decided to rearrange the clothing in her closet (all on wire hangers) for THREE HOURS STRAIGHT! The rattling noise came right through my wall and really made me crazy.  I thought it would never stop.

That evening, I was reminded of a similar incident from a few years ago. I was dining out with a former colleague of mine, when I heard the sound of salt shakers continuously being banged on the counter behind me. That annoying repetition made my head spin around faster than Linda Blair’s did in The Exorcist (minus the pea soup of course). My colleague, not missing a beat, said to me “My sister has the same thing you do”.  She told me her sister can’t stand the sound of certain noises either.

On the subject of certain noises, did you ever experience this at a movie theater? You find the perfect seat, excited to see a movie everyone is raving about, when that familiar noise starts. Someone a few rows behind you is unwrapping a piece of candy and the process seems to be taking an eternity. Or you hear that squeaking sound of someone’s straw going up and down in the lid of their “big gulp” sized cup of soda (And does anyone really need to drink that much soda in one sitting anyway?).

It was only after I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times – “Please Stop Making That Noise”  by Barron Lerner, MD (an internist from NYU), that all of this made sense to me.  After reading his article and also listening to people relate their experiences to me, the more I realized that others share this same ‘condition’ as I do.

Misophonia, literally translated to mean “hatred of sound”, is a common disorder whereby there is a disconnect between the auditory and limbic systems. In layman’s terms, the nerves and networks in the brain interpret certain sounds differently for those suffering from misophonia, also known as “selective sound sensitivity syndrome”.

The research is still relatively new regarding this disorder. At the very least, It brings me great comfort knowing that I am not alone and that others like me, also experience this noise sensitivity from time-to-time.

I think as we get older and the list of our ‘pet peeves’ grows longer, many of us realize that noise seems to be at the top of the list. How do you personally handle those scenarios when noise seems to creep into your peaceful environment? Are you noticing that there are certain sounds that drive you bonkers? You are not alone and we welcome ‘hearing’ (but please, not too loudly) your stories, so please share them with us.


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