I have been reading my journal for 1986, and came across this entry about the noise phobia in November.
I had a bad time with anger yesterday. Feelings of rage kept surfacing, and I would let myself feel it, but that was painful because it just emphasizes that I am powerless to do anything about the noise, so then I would just stifle the anger which is painful in its own way. I don’t know what to do with the anger. I asked Dana but he couldn’t really help. He doesn’t have the same difficulty letting go of anger. I said something interesting, I said if it’s something real, I don’t have trouble letting go of it. I suppose what I meant by something real was a situation were I’m angry at a person who is close to me, not these impersonal situations where somebody is making noise that hurts me and I don’t know who they are. But what does it mean that I define one as real and the other as unreal. “Real” means there is something I can work on, a relationship or situation that I can confront and perhaps affect. “Unreal” means I have no power in the situation, it’s “all in my head”, so I should just stop fussing about it. What I’m doing is invalidating myself. My reaction to noise is not “all in my head”, it’s in my body too, I feel just as sick as when I’m down with candida poisoning. And I’m making it worse by being angry at myself, as though I had any control over my reaction. So I’m invalidating my own feelings, trivializing them, (you shouldn’t be angry), and angry at myself for being helpless. No wonder I feel so beaten. But I’m not being beaten by the noise so much as by my own feelings. The noise reaction is not unreal, it is a stress reaction, but I’m making it worse by being angry at myself, and by invalidating myself. I don’t know how to stop doing that, but I will at least try to become aware that that’s what I’m doing.
Reading this, my heart just breaks for myself. I didn’t have enough information, and I followed the pattern I learned growing up. That I “wanted to be miserable,” that my pain and my needs were irrelevant. No one understands what I’m going through because they don’t notice the sound. Someone even suggested that I go to the airport and find out that the people were really nice. I couldn’t even see a sign saying “airport” without my heart going off in what I now understand was a fight or flight reaction. People would say to me the same thing my mother said “Don’t be so sensitive,” as though I had a choice.
What I needed was for someone to say “What you’re dealing with is ‘hyperacusis,’ a possible consequence of PTSD. Will power won’t change it.” When I first got here to Kendal, I had trouble with a lot of the noises that I heard when I was here in this apartment. I remember being very scared briefly and then remembering that if I knew what it was I would stop reacting. Also, my reaction was nothing like the fight/flight I experienced with the airplanes. By this time I’ve stopped noticing a lot of common noises. There is a set of new noises which are catching my attention: people’s voices, both outside and in the hall. I’m pretty sure it’s people having to talk louder because of social distancing. It is distracting, but fortunately I don’t go into fight/flight.
I talked to my therapist about it this morning, and she said I had learned to talk to myself like a good parent. “Once you know what the noise is, you will stop being so bothered by it.” I started to feel wonderful.