In My Head

Since I started working from home full time a year ago, I’ve become much more “in my head” than before. When I go outside it’s generally with the same two people or Nozomi. When I’m on my own I tend to walk to the same park to sit in isolation in a semi-secluded spot on a hill. When I’m at the computer, the words people use to communicate are given voices as the text is being read. A surprising lack of communication with people in the real world means that I spend a great deal of time in my head, and I wonder if this is contributing to my hearing problems.

The other day I wrote about “noise” and how it generally affects me. As is likely true with most people1, I generally cannot be in a noisy place for more than a couple of hours. A ceaseless acoustic assault will make me feel trapped and claustrophobic, which results in rising stress levels. Depending on the volume, this might result in some temporary deafness as the mind begins to shut out the world in order to better manage the overload of information. When I’ve tried to explain this to people, the assumption is always that deafness is quiet. For me, it’s anything but.

When one or both of my ears begins to deafen, I generally hear what is best described as 100 or more people talking simultaneously at the same, loud level. When this happens in one ear, I can generally deal with it by keeping my head turned towards the people I want or need to listen to. When both ears have given up, the world is essentially shut out and I’m walled in a garden of incoherence for most of the rest of the day. But why?

This hearing problem has been with me for years, but it does seem to be getting worse as I continue the march towards 50. For years I’ve wondered what it’s like to be deaf. From most accounts, it’s quiet. If my ears ever do completely give out it will be interesting to see if this is true. The one thing I do worry about, though, is spending too much time in my head while the rest of the world goes by.

Should I find myself in this predicament, it would likely make sense to buy a bunch of decent pens so that I can continue to communicate with the world in a more controlled environment.


  1. I’m assuming most people have certain tolerances for noise.

Noise

Many years ago, when I was in high school and knew everything, there would be days when my parents would be quite sensitive to certain kinds of noise. Sometimes they would complain about the Backstreet Boys cassette my sisters played on repeat a dozen times a day. Sometimes they would complain about the noise from my younger brother as he would complain ceaselessly about how something or other "wasn't fair". This would often strike me as odd given that when seven people live in the same house, a certain tolerance to noise was required.

At some point in my 30s, my ears started giving me problems. Well … I thought it was my ears. There were the signs of tinnitus by mid-afternoon six days a week. There was the desire to wear noise-isolating headphones everywhere, even if they weren't plugged into anything (aside from my ears, of course). Occasionally an ear would even stop working, rendering me deaf on one side for a number of hours. A lot of this was taken in stride, though. The tinnitus was likely the result of working at a printing company for many years without wearing ear protection1. The headphones were the desire to block out human interaction as well as the audio assault one contends with when working in the city. The temporary deafness in one ear was caused from stress.

Or so I thought.

Over the last couple of years one of the things I've noticed about sound is that most of it is fine so long as there is a purpose. Sounds that have no immediate value or — worse — obstruct other sounds appear to cause a physical reaction in me. This is especially prevalent when the TV is on. Japanese TV is not quite as weird as YouTube videos would have a person think, but it can be incredibly annoying in the name of "fun". There might be multiple layers of background music playing while one or more people are talking about a subject. There might be sound effects placed in random spots just to give the sound effects person a reason to get out of bed that day. There might be as many as six people talking all at once resulting in two or three overlapping conversations while background music is playing and a laugh track chimes in every couple of seconds.

I just can't stand it for more than a couple of minutes, yet I'm in the minority here as both Reiko and the boy enjoy having the TV on for several hours a day. When they're talking while the TV is on, my ears start to tighten up, I feel my chest tighten as well, and I just want to leave the room or shut the TV off. Muting does help, but not always.

Which strikes me as odd. If the problem was with my ears and how they process sound, then muting the TV should resolve the issue. Instead it just puts my rising tensions on pause. The problem likely isn't my ears, but in my head … like so many of my other problems.

After a number of conversations, there's a better understanding in the house that sometimes I need to insist the TV gets shut off for a few hours. This doesn't always happen, but the number of times that I've been able to ask that the TV be shut off and see it stay off is nice. One day I might see a doctor about this. Given my past experiences with Japanese doctors looking at my ears, though, it might be a while before that day comes.


  1. The company did provide free ear plugs, but that made it really hard for me to hear people above the thrum of the presses. After a couple of hours, I opted to just deal with the noise.