I wear sunglasses to deal with the noise.

Wearing sunglasses helps me cope with noise.

And yes, I do mean noise in an auditory sense.

But this doesn’t have anything to do with synaesthesia which, to the extent I’ve analysed myself and my perceptions of the world so far, is not something that I experience.

Over time since my diagnosis, I’ve reflected and reflected and reflected. And I’m now firmly in the camp of supporters for the Social Model of Disability. I’m happy to come down on the side of the fence that says “I am disabled”, but also that “I am predominantly disabled by being in the environment in which I happen to find myself”.

I’m also convinced that a) I’m more disabled now than I used to be, but that b) – mostly – this has nothing intrinsically to do with me physically, or me as an individual.

Why does wearing sunglasses help me cope with noise?

I’m surprised by how much noise bothers me these days. It never used to bother me to the extent it now does.

I cringe and cower at ambulance sirens and the violent brake “sneezes” of buses and heavy goods vehicles.  I clap my hands over my ears in anguish at loudspeaker crackles, shouting, and school bells. I ram my fingers into my ears as I walk past pneumatic drills, leaf blowers and stone cutters. I never used to do these things.

Why now? These things are no louder now than they used to be. The traffic is perhaps a little busier now than it used to be, the base level noise seems to be much the same.

And I still enjoy music.

But my world is so much more visually jarring these days. When I was younger, I didn’t spend so much time looking at screens. We as a society didn’t spend so much time looking at screens.

My childhood, teens, and early 20s were not swamped by promotional videos on flatscreens, mouse-over animations on websites, flickering, flashing LED displays, autoplay videos and GIFs on social media. I was not endlessly distracted by TV screens in pubs, shops and restaurants. The teaching I experienced at university did not rely so heavily on video and bright, online content. Even TV imagery was less “busy”.

So many bits of visual information now vie for attention. My brain takes in all of it, and I struggle to know where to look, or how possibly to avert my eyes from it all.

Hell, even my doctor’s surgery and the buses I travel on now display moving adverts on bright LCD screens. I can’t escape.

And everything’s so bright.

The constant bombardment of moving, flickering, flashing images and lights overloads my brain.

I can’t constantly block out noise with earbuds, earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. I’m often with people, and required to listen to them. Often, these people are my own children.

But I can’t focus on trying to filter out unwanted noise and on listening to people if so much visual information is competing for my attention. It needs toning down. If I can’t block out noise, I have to find ways to lessen the assault on my other senses. I must close down a few other mental applications to leave enough working memory to deal with what is in front of me.

So I wear sunglasses. My world is calmer, darker, and the contrast is turned down. And this leaves my brain just that tiny little bit more processing power to cope with the noise.


[Featured image description: monochrome, heavily filtered black-and white photograph of a white person with medium length hair and a large coat, wearing large vintage-effect sunglasses. A leafless tree is visible in the background on the right of the image. Effects have been applied to the extent that very little of the person’s facial features are distinguishable.]

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