Pretty much the last thing I do before I leave for work (or indeed anywhere) is make sure I have my ipod and headphones with me. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them on my journey to work, which takes about an hour and a half each morning, and the same every night. I use music in a way I would my medication (in fact I probably use it in a better way than I would my meds). It’s there in a morning to motivate me, to get me ready for the day. Coming home it relaxes me, it removes me from anything negative arising from the day. It places me in a better headspace. I need it more than I need most things in my life. And even more so, it helps to dampen the noise. Not just the noise from my immediate environment – people talking, the noise on the bus, traffic outside – but also from the internal noise that anxiety brings, the constant overacting mechanisms of my overworking brain.
We get so used to noise in our lives. The hustle and bustle of what goes on around us, the constant thrum of traffic, the endless chatter of people. The concept of absolute silence feels daunting to us. Just try to think about the last time you heard nothing at all for a period of time. Generally there’s always something there, something in the background. Silence sounds like an unsettling prospect but you should try it sometime. Switch everything off and remove yourself from the relentless pace and general hubbub of modern living.
I was talking to my friend Steve online the other morning. I’ve lived somewhere quite rural for a while now whilst he’s just moved somewhere rural too. We were talking about the views and comparing how quiet each place was. It kind of struck me in that moment as to how much I relish the silence around where I live (something I know my friend is really enjoying at the moment). When everything gets switched off in the house you don’t hear any of the usual noise that constantly bleeds into your life when live somewhere suburban. All you can really hear sometimes is the wind, the rain and the occasional sound of birdsong.
Noise can come in various forms. People, animals and the place you’re in can all contribute to this. Some is welcoming, some isn’t. But noise is also something that interrupts our understanding of something. In communications noise is described as a ‘disturbance in the transmission of a message that interferes with the interpretation of the message due to ambiguity in words, sentences or symbols used in the transmission of the message’.
I often refer to my mental health issues as white noise. To me they stop me from processing things or feeling things properly. They add confusion to the situation. What should be a nice simple 1+2=3 becomes something completely different. Everything becomes unpredictable to a certain extent.
Paranoia creeps in and colours everything. Conversations that you have suddenly seem to develop hidden meanings as you let the white noise in your head fuck with you. Everything becomes interpreted incorrectly. Offers of help feel like offers of condemnation. You feel constantly persecuted. Nobody is on your side. Everyone is out to get you. The thoughts go racing through your head until they become a relentless, intangible mess you just can’t make sense of. All you want is for it to just go away.
Silence becomes the perfect metaphor for those rare moments where you can process things rationally, without having to hack away at all the crap that surrounds and confuses everything. Those perfect moments of peace are rare but are attainable. It’s hard for people who’ve never experienced anxiety to understand as they don’t get that level of noise that adds confusion to everything. To them, noise is just a slight distraction, something that occasionally clouds their train of thought but doesn’t derail it.
Sometimes trying to live with anxiety involves having to try and retrain your brain into a pattern and behaviour that’s probably more akin to how ‘normal’ people process things. The process of taking information, understanding it and reacting. When it’s put like that everything sounds so simple. Too simple though, says the anxious mind, what else is going on? There’s got to be something else…
That’s why, to me anyway, I feel exhausted and tired a lot when I’m going through an episode of anxiety. Everything runs in fight-or-flight mode,everything is always on and turned up. There’s no escape from it. You wake up and it’s there, you try to do things and it’s there, you try to sleep and, guess what, it’s there. There’s just no escape from it. That’s why I relish these moments of silence so much, they’re my respite from my constant battle against the noise in my head. It means most things are working fine and I’m not overprocessing everything. The noise in my head can’t be drowned out with other things, that just adds to the cacophony. I need a complete absence from it for me to function as a normal person would. Everything else is just me trying to cope and wade through life as best as I can.
As usual, if you want to talk more you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve also set up a closed support group on Facebook, also called The Order Of The Dog. Just search for it and request to join, we’ll let you in. It’s the perfect place to go if you want to talk. There’s suffers there like myself, as well as people who are looking to support others. Finally, please feel free to share this anywhere where you might think it will help.