Thursday, 15 February 2018

SHUT UP!!! Okay, I admit it - other people's noise drives me nuts

Ever since my mid-twenties, I've been annoyed by other people's noise to such an extent that I could probably be described as mildly phonophobic or misophonic, i.e. certain noises in certain situations trigger an instant, almost overwhelming "fight or flight" response - if I can't make it stop, I have to escape it. The effect is so powerful, that it has, over the years, become what Jung termed a "complex" - i.e. a separate personality which temporarily takes over from the normally placid, easy-going, fun-loving, tolerant "real me".  It's different from the anger I feel when someone insults, cheats or threatens me or a member of my family (admittedly an extremely rare occurrence): this tends to evoke a rather icy, controlled sort of rage, whereas the anger produced in me by certain types or noise is very hot - I imagine it's akin to road rage...

Trigger noises include: barking dogs; other people playing music so loudly that I can hear it inside my own house - including parties (anyone who places stereo speakers in their garden should be shot); builders' radios; people sitting outside our house in cars or vans with the windows open and the music blasting; the persistent thump of a football against a garden fence; people congregating outside houses when leaving a party so they can say goodbye for half an hour REALLY LOUDLY; delivery drivers who all seem convinced that the best place to sort out the rest of their day's deliveries in the back of the van with the engine running and the radio on is RIGHT OUTSIDE OUR FUCKING LIVING ROOM; the workmen who meander up and down the pavement in front of our house bellowing into  mobile phones for up to half an hour at a time; and drivers who are convinced that the best way to let the person they're supposed to pick up know they've arrived is to park in the middle of the street and  repeatedly blast their horn, rather than getting out of the car and ringing the sodding doorbell...

As you can see, nothing out of the ordinary for a residential area, and nothing that most people would find wildly objectionable. But each and every one of them instantly reduces me to a frothing rage - because none of them is necessary:  they're all examples of people prioritising their enjoyment and/or convenience over mine, i.e. some selfish pillock has decided that making their lives easier or more pleasurable trumps my desire to write a blog or read a book or take a relaxing bath or hold a conversation or sleep or watch a film or a television programme - or just to sit quietly and think - without having my concentration broken.

Actually, I'm not quite as bonkers as this probably makes me sound. I've lived in the centre of a city or a suburb for most of my life: there's always going to be noise - but it's the type of noise that's the issue. I'm fine with traffic - people have to get places; people hold parties, and I have no problem with guests braying at each other in gardens as they get progressively drunker - but not at 2.30 in the morning, accompanied by amplified music; the sound of children happily quacking away as they play in gardens is rather cheering - but half an hour listening to the smash of ball against wood would drive anyone nuts; I'm fairly cool with most types of building and roadworks racket, because it usually has to be done -  but there's no reason why it has to be accompanied by Radio One (or one of its East European equivalents), and a special circle of Hell should be reserved for people who put their neighbours through a year of noise, dust and disruption because wouldn't having a basement be terribly convenient; there's obviously nothing wrong with people holding conversations in the street - but not for half an hour at one in the frigging morning; I love dogs, and, occasionally, they bark - but allowing them to run around the garden shrieking for quarter of an hour or even longer is both unnecessary and unforgivable.

I've identified two factors which determine whether a noise is cause for going ballistic - one, as I've mentioned, is necessity. I worked for years in a huge TV newsroom, which was pretty damned noisy, and it simply never bothered me  - because it all served a purpose. After I left the BBC, I worked for a digital media start up for a while. First day in a small office, it rapidly became obvious that one of the girls intended streaming live music on her computer all day long, every day. I asked her to switch it off, and found everyone staring at me as if I were the Man in a Bateman cartoon.  I then made the reasonable point that, if she wanted to listen to music, there was a pair of headphones attached to her computer.

The other factor which determines whether a noise acts a trigger on me is whether the person responsible for it should know better: just about everyone around here is well-off, educated and middle-class - they must realise that, whereas dog-barking and football-smashing might be acceptable to them, because they presumably love their kid or their pet, and there are emotional compensations for putting up with the distraction, the barker or smasher don't mean jack to me. I simply can't believe that the well-spoken, well-heeled home-owner who carts stereo speakers into the garden before a party doesn't know they're being thoroughly inconsiderate. Ditto the horn-blaring cab-driver - they know exactly how annoying they're being: they've just weighed their convenience against other people's right to a bit of peace and quiet, and chosen to be selfish. You see? I personalise the issue: these wretches are either deliberately or carelessly attacking me.  Ridiculous, of course - but why else would it make me so angry?

I've been asked why I don't go and live in the country - but I don't see why the people who seem intent on making unwarranted noise don't move to an isolated location where they can racket away to their heart's content without annoying their neighbours. Others accuse me of growing old and crabby - but, believe me, I was a lot crabbier about unwonted noise thirty years' ago: because of CFS, getting enraged over noise takes too much out of me these days - and, besides, it upsets my wife (who, unlike me, is very adept at complaining pleasantly and achieving instant results without getting into an emotional lather in the process).  It's not even as if this is a noisy area - 99% of the time, it's as hushed as a Trappist monastery: visitors who live in a dozy East Coast town once told us how much they envied us our peaceful surroundings - "It's like being in the country." The vast majority of our neighbours (including the ones with whom we currently share walls) couldn't be quieter or more considerate - on the whole, we live surrounded by extraordinarily nice people. I suspect a night in one of the nearby high-rise council blocks would see me going full postal.

My misophonia/phobobia (neither quite hits the spot) has never led me to attack anyone, but I've done my fair share of undignified yelling over the years. I'm sure a psychiatrist would have a field day identifying the causes of the complex: these days, having at least recognised it for what it is, I try to take pre-emptive avoiding action. Which will be the subject of the next post.

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