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Finding Gratitude in the Noise of COVID-19 Quarantine as a Highly Sensitive Person

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

Noise. Inside my home right now — in this very strange season of global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — noise is everywhere. I find this odd because outside, everything is quiet. I mean, the news is loud, and the threats are loud, the warnings are loud and the health risks to the lungs and respiratory system are loud. But, just outside my door and around my neighborhood, in our downtown streets, and even across our bridges, things are quiet. I can hear the birds singing and the gentle breeze rustling through our trees. I can hear the raindrops falling upon the wooden railing of my backyard deck. I can hear my dogs drift off into sleep and groan lightly as they dream of (presumably) chasing cats. I can hear my refrigerator humming, my furnace thumping and the white noise of my electronics running in the background of our life.

Noise is everywhere.

The noise permeates my eardrums, banging against them with violent vigor, the sound boldly accosting my auditory nerves, sending chilling and prickly pain into my very thoughts. In an otherwise optimistic mind, a mind that innately searches for the silver lining, all of this noise wreaks havoc on my anxiety. It’s like the cacophony of everyone’s needs, the world’s warnings, the sounds within the environment to which I am tethered has created this symphony of debilitation. I cannot move because there is no peace. I cannot think clearly because anxiety thrives in a mind of chaos and distraction. Chaos and distraction seem to audibly fill every blank moment of each one of these blank days. I cannot take in any more noise.

It turns out I’m not alone. There is something called “listener fatigue.” According to Wikipedia, “listener fatigue (also known as listening fatigue or ear fatigue) is a phenomenon that occurs after prolonged exposure to an auditory stimulus. Symptoms include tiredness, discomfort, pain and loss of sensitivity. Listener fatigue is not a clinically recognized state, but is a term used by many professionals.” While listener fatigue is typically linked to musicians, construction workers and military personnel, I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that highly sensitive people are also prone to listener fatigue.

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I feel more susceptible to, well, everything. My brain more acutely processes each and every experience I engage in, both directly and indirectly. Because my brain processes things more deeply and with a greater sense of awareness (and dare I say it, empathy), I am more easily overwhelmed and overstimulated. Being highly sensitive isn’t a disorder, or even a condition — it’s a personality trait. And, anyone who knows me well can attest to my personality of sensitivity, tenderness, strong intuition, and the deep need for solitude to recharge from a world that feels like a constant dose of sensory overload.

But where and how does one recharge in a square box that others are inhabiting with you? It’s not lost on me that my home, and my healthy family, are the ultimate privileges in this unprecedented time. It’s not lost on me that the peace of security which currently surrounds me while the rest of the world suffers in painful upheaval is the only thing on which I should be focused, and with reverent gratitude. But, I would be remiss if I didn’t also share the truth in my experience with gratitude.

Right now, gratitude is the noise. Right now, gratitude lives under my roof in the noisy sounds of life moving forward.  Gratitude comes in the form of a frustrated and shrieking child who can no longer sit still in doing her distance learning from our kitchen table. Gratitude is having children well enough to fight with one another. Gratitude is barking dogs, and a ringing telephone, and the soft echo of my husband conducting conference calls from the other room. Our life is marching on. We are moving forward even though we don’t have any idea where the next stepping stone is.

Life is noisy. So, so noisy. Mind-numbingly thunderous. It gets increasingly louder with each day of quarantine. And, while I’m desperate to find a dark and silent sanctuary to self-care through this trying time for which there is no playbook, I am earnestly trying to welcome the noise because it means life is beckoning us to move forward another day.

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