One of the first symptoms I consciously noticed was the way I was reacting to noise. At the time, I didn’t understand why it was different, but all of a sudden, it was.
I became easily startled by loud noises. I couldn’t hold a conversation when music was playing. I went to a party where loud music was playing, and everyone was talking over it, and I had a massive panic attack within five minutes of walking in the door–the first panic attack I had ever had in public. I ran out of the house and sat in the car for over an hour before I felt sane enough to drive home. I couldn’t go back in.
Trying to hold a conversation with my husband became impossible. The minute we started talking, both kids were on us with a barrage of questions, or would start fighting and screaming in order to tear our attention away from one another. When music was in the mix, I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said and I was immediately overwhelmed. Our home became a music-free zone.
Those of you that know me in person know that that is not normal for me–music has always been a huge part of my life. We named our kids after guitars–and not because we liked the way they looked hanging on the wall. (The guitars, that is, not the kids. Although, that would be a handy way of knowing where they were at any given time.)
At home, those same kids were constantly vying for my attention. They both have some form of ADHD, and there is constant movement and noise in the house. Except for when there isn’t. I started to realize that I couldn’t stand silence, either. Parents will jokingly say that when it’s quiet is when the kids are up to no good. For me, it’s not a joke.
Typically, when they’re home and it’s quiet in the house, they are up to something. Something destructive, or dangerous. I mean, really dangerous. Once, that silence preceded a call to 911. Another time, a frantic neighborhood search. I was always alone with the kids when these things happened. There was always calm before the storm.
I found I needed to have the TV on low (something calming, like a nature documentary) when I was alone. This was weird to me. I had never needed background noise before. But all of a sudden, I couldn’t stand silence. It meant that something bad was going to happen. On the flip side, loud noises, like a scream or even a laugh, would startle me and set off a panic attack. Quiet would set off a panic attack. There was a point where I was in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, anticipating and fearing potential trauma 24 hours a day.
This was shortly before I broke down. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Once I realized what was happening, I began to take note of how my body was reacting to different types of noises. Why was it that I wouldn’t react if I was outside and a crow cawed loudly? Why did the sound of water actually soothe me? The sound of waves crashing on the beach was calming, when the randomness and change in volume logically should have freaked me out. Fireworks, phones ringing, police sirens, cars backfiring, and the occasional gun shot in the neighborhood (yes, you read that correctly) startled me into panic but the random crackling and popping of a fire calmed me down.
The only natural sounds that seemed to affect me negatively were the sounds of children. Running, playing, laughing, crying, screaming, it didn’t matter.
Realizing what has been going on and being conscious of my reactions has been incredibly helpful. When I’m startled by a loud noise, it’s much easier to breathe through it now. I’m doing better with quiet, because I actually have support and help with the kids–I’m no longer the only one taking care of them. It took about a week of waking up to a quiet house before the physical reactions I had become used to diminished somewhat. I’m curious to see how I react to extended periods of time out in nature, and if that will make a difference in my reactions when I come home.