Certain sounds are really difficult. Loud noises, certain frequencies or pitches, too many sounds happening at the same time make me feel overloaded, so I start frantically looking for a way to make them stop. These symptoms are fading very gradually. For the first weeks after the accident, I had to put in earplugs every time the kid practiced violin, because there was something about that particular tone that made my brain go into a kind of panic mode. Now it’s only certain notes that bother me, or if it’s particularly loud, or goes on for very long.
These days I carry earplugs with me everywhere.
I used to be someone who could concentrate even in really noisy environments. I could read or write in the middle of a band practice; I was able to focus in open-plan offices surrounded by phones ringing and discussions; I encouraged my child to play drums. At home I left CBC Radio One on all day and mentally tuned in and out of it without any effort.
Not any more. I went to see a movie last night and had to put in earplugs about fifteen minutes into it — and not even just for the action scenes, or because it was especially loud. It was just way too much. It required too much of me.
My songwriting partner and I have only met up once since the accident, and as soon as he started doing the thing that absolutely all guitarists do when chatting with a guitar on their lap — talking while randomly picking out notes and chords — I felt my brain start to overload, kind of the mental equivalent of my old failing computer freaking out when the graphics card failed. I had to ask him to stop.
For weeks I couldn’t listen to music at all — I could only get partway through a song before I felt overcome and exhausted. It felt as if every element, every instrument, every tone, every detail of the arrangement, required my careful attention. Then last Sunday afternoon I happened to tune into CFRO (Co-op radio), and they were playing very early rock & roll and doo-wop, and to my surprise it was okay, I was able to listen and even enjoy it. Maybe it was the simplicity of the arrangements, or the fact that they were such familiar songs. Either way, I’m taking it as a good sign.
I still get overloaded and hit the wall. (That’s what I call it when I’m suddenly unable to understand what I’m hearing, or suddenly have to stop what I’m doing, or suddenly just can’t cope, and I have to close my eyes or leave the room.) But it’s not happening as quickly or often as it was before.