Welcome to the Year of the Dog.
A word of caution: it’s not a happy dog, you’re welcome to skip if you don’t like the bark.
My 11-month old Bose noise cancelling headphone has stopped working on one side. Damn it. I’ve been counting on it to help me get through noisy days at home and in the office. I’m feeling extremely vulnerable and exposed now. The service centre is closed due to the Chinese New Year holidays and I’m not keen on making the trip either. I don’t know if they can get it fixed and if they can’t, whether I should spend another ridiculous amount to get a replacement headset. But damn, these are the most comfortable headset I could find, why couldn’t they last longer?
I like what I’m doing for a living because mental health is my passion but my increased exposure to humans and the outside world wears me out, especially when ideals and reality clash and you start to question the others’ motives and to what extent they are truly interested in improving the lives of those affected by mental health issues and whether our institutional belief and approach are not contributing to, instead of eliminating, the stigma on mental health. I am a believer of practice what you preach, which people don’t seem to give a fuck to. “What are these people thinking?” is a question I never stop asking but rather than attributing this to an impaired empathy, I’d say I simply don’t understand how the majority neurotypicals’ mind work just as they don’t understand how mine works, and a sad reflection of the fact that I’m being outnumbered by them in numbers. And then of course, the university incident which I keep bringing up because one fact I haven’t mentioned is I work for the university, yes, The University. Not only that, but The Faculty, although it is divided into different departments and centres and I have no direct connection with the relevant persons involved in the incident (and I did not disclose my full name in the correspondence). But the fact that I work for the university creates a cognitive dissonance. How do I continue to work for an institution that shuns responsibility? It doesn’t help that I do want a job in the university because I don’t think I can take on a job that requires me to commute at peak hours and living within walking distance to the university takes a load off my mind.
Then there’s the flat I currently rent and have stayed for 11 years. Four years ago, I had a bout of depression and was losing weight at a rapid rate, the nurse at the university clinic was making a big fuss about it. (Rule No. 1: Don’t kick up a fuss over me!) I was enrolled in the university then as a graduate research student in the Faculty of Law and having trouble completing my thesis. At the same time, I was being plagued by noise problems in the flat. Although I was already diagnosed with autism years earlier, it wasn’t until this sequence of events that I realized my sensory sensitivities and weak executive functioning skills were actually manifestations of my autism. What was troubling me then was I could hear my upstair’s neighbours’ footsteps (and their golden retriever’s pawsteps) throughout the day, which was very disturbing. What makes the whole incident strange was they weren’t neighbours who just moved in but have been staying above me for about 4 years. Why was this happening then? Why am I suddenly hearing their footsteps? I could also hear them vacuuming the flat and moving stuff about. They said they haven’t changed the flooring in their flat and claimed they were walking normally. There was no way for me to prove if they were telling the truth or lying, whether they couldn’t care less or whether they did try to keep it soft. I can’t file a police complaint because it wasn’t like they were having late night parties, I can’t stop them from walking about in their own apartment. The anxiety was triggered by the fact that the sounds occur throughout the day and was unpredictable, which meant I had extreme mood swings. I could be enjoying myself one second and feeling irritated the next, I had no control whatsoever, I was practically at the whim of my neighbours. During the day, I could still plug in to my music. At night, I’ve tried wearing ear plugs to bed but they were extremely uncomfortable and I had difficulties getting them to stay fixed in my ear. I’ve tried white noise machines but the footsteps and their impact were still audible. I got so fed up I started looking around nearby for flats to rent. It was difficult because compared to the amount I was renting, the rentals were expensive and I actually do like the flat I’m staying in. However, I was desperate to move out of the situation because of the noise as I saw no prospect of it improving. The flat was my peace haven but the peace was gone and that made me depressed because I lost my peace haven. In the end, I did move to another flat in the building beside but barely three months, I wanted to move back to my old apartment because I hated everything about the new flat especially the stale smell and the lighting. This was a particular dark period and I remembered it because it was during the FIFA World Cup season. I contacted my old landlord about moving back into the old (i.e. my current) apartment. I figured if I have to stay depressed, I rather be depressed in a flat I was comfortable in than somewhere else. About 5 months after, I did move back. I tried to be nice to my neighbours but they weren’t keen on further communication. The noise issue wasn’t resolved but at least, I was back in a familiar environment. From then on, I always have my music player by my side. I also got a sleepphone for use during bedtime. It doesn’t block out noises but at least, I could listen to my favourite music. There were nights when I was kept awake by their footsteps, I opened the window, stuck a pole out, pointed it upwards and hit their wall. I’m not sure if they were aware of it but that was the only way I could vent my anger. People told me I would get used to it. No, People, Fuck it! This is what sensory sensitivity is about! I don’t get used to it. Repeated exposure to the source doesn’t desensitize my sensitivity. Get it? I get fucking mad as hell each time I hear it. I hated weekends because they tended to return home during the early morning hours during weekends. I hated Sundays because they vacuumed their flat on Sundays. I worked from home during this period and found that weekdays tend to be quieter and more predictable. This situation continued for another 2-3 years. I blogged about my frustration various times here (29 Jan 2017), here (5 Feb 2017), here (26 Mar 2017), here (3 Apr 2017) and here (8 April 2017). Then I finally decided to get a Bose noise-cancelling headphone around March last year which helped ameliorate the situation, especially when there were a few flats undergoing renovation at the period. However, it was still a tug of war situation when it came to bedtime. And then something almost miraculous happened sometime around May last year when I noticed that the noises have almost stopped (which explains why I haven’t blogged about this since April last year). I still hear them from time to time but it has reduced greatly and I no longer hear the dog. Sometimes, I don’t even hear any noise for several days in a row. Is the house still occupied or vacant? Did they move? It sounded unlikely though because I would have heard furniture, stuff and people moving about. Curious as I was, I was more than happy to enjoy the new found peace. I didn’t need to wear my sleepphones to bed any longer. This peaceful state of affair lasted for the remaining months of 2017. I do hear the occasional footsteps and noise once or twice a week but for the most part, it was blissful. I started to enjoy weekends again especially after I’ve started a full time job in September last year which requires me to travel to work, leaving weekends the only days when I could enjoy some rest and peace.
Come 2018, I was hoping things would stay the same, I think I got complacent, perhaps it’s a stark reminder that things and people do change and I should have changed. The noise is making a comeback. Just like before, it is unpredictable and happens throughout the day, especially at night and in the early morning hours. This is what is triggering my anxiety. I have been sleeping like shit because I have been woken up by noise at various times between 12am-4am. What the hell is happening? What happened during the last seven months or so of blissful peace? Who is staying above me now? Are they the same neighbours who were staying here before? Why are they always up or coming back in the early morning hours? If I know their habits, I might feel a little less anxious but I have no answers. Many times, I got so fed up I wanted to charge upstairs and knocked on their door but the thought of confronting them made me sick. I wouldn’t want people to knock on my door unannounced. Besides, I’ve done that several years before and it didn’t help, people aren’t going to stop walking about in their apartment just because I could hear them. I am intrigued with my neighbours’ lifestyle, which seems to go through cycles of drastic changes. These days, I go to bed playing white noise in the background in addition to wearing my sleepphones with music on. Still, that doesn’t put me at ease. In the past, I could still make use of the time they kept me awake at night to work whilst I catch up on my sleep during day time but with a day time job now, I can’t afford this. I’m nervous and anxious to go to sleep at night. I’m worried this will trigger another bout of depression. I’m outraged I wish my neighbours dead. I have enough interpersonal and sensory challenges to deal with at work, I’m not sure how and whether I will survive this.
Welcome to my Dark World.