Silence is Golden – and I am NOT Making Up the Word ‘Misophonia’

The last day of school seems like a good time to publish something I wrote on the first day of school, right? I mean, you can’t be surprised by that … when you already know the name of my blog is “Okayest.”

Silence is golden. But so is noise. 

Silence is unnerving. But so is noise. 

I’m in an empty, silent house. It’s the first day of school – the first time all of my kids have been in school since the pandemic started a year and a half ago. It’s wonderful and awful.

When did I get so weird about noise? When I was pregnant with the twins, my senses got messed up. Wires crossed. I thought it was because I was just constantly overstimulated by *being* three people in one body. However, it continued after their birth, probably because I had three babies in diapers simultaneously and someone was always crying. My nerves were raw.

As they got older, my nerves didn’t get un-raw. I think it’s just part of me now. Someone is always talking. It’s like that Star Wars meme that says “Once I became a parent, I finally understood the scene where Yoda gets so tired of answering Luke’s questions that he just dies.”

I don’t know why I’m so weird about noises. I used to be a kindergarten teacher, for heaven’s sake. I could handle a too-small un-air-conditioned classroom with 28 five-year-olds, and still not have anxiety. So what gives? I mean, I *like* noise, so what’s my problem? Maybe it started before the twin pregnancy. When I was on IVF meds, the sound of my husband’s chewing almost made me literally stab him with a fork. To this day, I have to leave the room if he chews ice. I mean, he’s got the best manners you ever saw. Never chews with his mouth open. And I mean never. SO WHY IS IT SO LOUD?! It’s like he uses pit-bull-level jaw force to crack the ice. No, alligator jaw force. More force than is necessary. It carries to the next room. Sometimes to the next floor. 

I learned the word “misophonia”. At least there’s a word for this. I’m not making this up. I swear.

When I was growing up, my guitarist dad always had music playing. Always. And it.was.loud. (“Keep the lullaby to 100 decibels, dear” is something my mom even put in my baby book.) I liked it. Loved it. Like reallllly love love love it. Loud music can even be soothing, because it drowns out the thoughts. Music that’s too quiet feels like a shower with terrible water pressure. It just kind of drips on you and feels creepy, weak, and annoying, like drool. If I put quiet – or even normal-level – music on in the car, the kids talk over it and it just adds to the chaos. BUT (and get out your brain-post-it notes, cuz this is a good mom tip for ya), if you play the music VERY LOUD, the kids stop talking over it and just listen to it. There’s glorious silence found in the amplification. (Beware of going too loud on mediocre speakers, though, as that can lead to “ear fatigue”, according to my audiophile dad. If the speakers are perfect and the sound is balanced, go as loud as you want. Your future self might bemoan your future deafness, but your current self will thank you for the current kids-not-talking silence.)

Now that I’m an adult, I seem to still wait for someone else to put my music on for me. I don’t think I’m claiming my space very well. Or my life. I’m not claiming my life very well. It’s like the silence is punishment for me, deep in my subconscious. “You don’t deserve music, because it will calm you down – and you don’t deserve to rest and be calm.” WTF is that? What is wrong with my brain? I’m realizing I just might also be doing that with reading. And writing. My favorite things. Ugh.

When my babies were babies, I was desperate for quiet. The middle of the night – as soon as my head hit the pillow – someone would cry. I never got more than an hour of quiet/ sleep at a time. It started to mess with my brain. Night became torture. I would get really depressed when the sun started going down. And it didn’t help that they were born in the fall, when it just gets darker and darker by the day. By the minute. Waiting for someone to cry was horrible, but also, once the cry finally did come, I could relax because “the other shoe had dropped”. Does that make sense? 

I couldn’t bear the crying (simul-crying is hell on earth), but I couldn’t bear the silence, either, because I knew it couldn’t last. Anxiety is waiting for something bad to happen. So, when it happens, no matter how bad it is, it’s almost a relief.

As they got older, that feeling continued. But instead of night crying and day crying, it was the constant toddler noises (banging on pots, toys with batteries, screaming tantrums, pulling twin brother’s hair). Then, as they got a little older, it was the constant talking. Talking about legos. Talking about matchbox cars. Talking about forts in the woods. These are all GREAT things to talk about. My kids are pretty cool people, to be honest. It’s not like they’re talking about Fortnite or something (because they don’t know what that is). But when the talking is non-stop, your brain starts to feel like a ping pong ball. 

When the pandemic came, I was so grateful that they were healthy and that we had a big house and yard for them to play in. But the noise level increased, not only because they were home 24/7, but also because they got bigger and bolder and stronger during the months and years that the pandemic kept rolling across the globe. Even when they were outside playing, I was waiting for the noise to start again anytime anyone came in any door. Why do they come in so many doors? Sometimes it feels like one kid is going out the back door while another is coming in the front door. Sometimes all three come inside via a different door – the garage door, the back door, the basement door. I never know where they are coming from and when the talking will resume. I love my kids with all my heart and I’d take a bullet for them but THERE IS SO MUCH TALKING. 

Then we got a pathetic but adorable shelter dog. All the work I’d done in therapy and with self-help books went out the window. I don’t want to overuse the word “trigger”, but this dog is definitely a trigger. The barking and the chaos puts me straight back there. It really doesn’t help matters that he is an anxious dog and only calms down when Mr. Okayest is home. (OMG THE DOG IS ME?!)

Now, the kids are in school. After more than a decade of near-constant parenting, this silence is both soothing and agitating. I guess I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the cry or the request that spurs me into mom-action. Waiting. Waiting for someone else to turn on my music for me. Waiting for someone to tell me that I deserve soothing silence or reassuring music as loud as I want…. Waiting for someone to direct my life. 

Like I said in previous posts, I’m an untethered balloon. I’m floating here, waiting for the noise to bring me back down. My husband is at work. He can chew his ice there. My dog is napping on the deck in the sunshine, quiet as a mouse. My kids are doing their talking at school. Hopefully not their crying, though. This silence is golden, but my brain can’t quite accept it yet, no matter how much I want it to. It feels good, it sounds good, but I can’t relax. 

I hear the ticking clock. I hear the cicadas in the huge woods outside. I’d hear the washing machine, too, if I’d get off my butt.  

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