Background Noise

By: Christine Hersom

(3 min read)

Do you need to have music playing when you drive, when you are cleaning the house, or even playing when you are alone? From as far back as I can remember, I needed background noise whether it was from the radio or television. It made me feel less lonely and kept my mind busy and focused. The noise kept me from wandering off and getting into too much trouble. 

I would get up in the morning and immediately turn on the television or radio. Many times, I was called out for leaving the room because I forgot to turn it off. The background noise simply seemed to soothe me.

I remember vacuuming the house as a teenager with the television on. I mean who can hear the television over the vacuum? It made me feel like there was another person present. While growing up, I usually leaned on the television for support because the music in my house was one kind…Country. 

If my dad heard anything other than Country, he would remind us that “no devil’s music was allowed in our house.” (A story for another time). As a teenager, Country music was not my favorite, therefore, the T.V. became my friend. Like all kids, I had favorite shows.  My absolute favorite was Dark Shadows. I also enjoyed light television shows like Gilligan’s Island and the Beverly Hillbillies. In hindsight, I am not sure it mattered what was playing. I clearly wanted some form of chatter.

My dad taught me how to drive. We always had the radio on. Maybe I learned this background noise thing from him. I remember my first Driver’s Education class. They had very strict rules; do not play the radio when driving. Apparently, we teenagers might be easily distracted while behind the wheel.

I was bold enough to let him know my thoughts. “I cannot drive without music.” I shouldn’t have said that at least not in my first class. I was relegated to “riding” for the rest of the class. I think my instructor just liked to hear himself bark directions. He seemed to remind me every time I drove…no music.

When taking a test in school, I would hum to myself. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go to another room to take my tests. My incessant humming was considered disruptive to others whereas I considered it a form of concentration. Imagine that.

You can probably listen to music while testing now. My high school years were so long ago that portable music and ear buds were not a thing. I guess we did have portable music if you consider a boom box which was the size of a microwave as portable.

After facing so many circumstances where music wasn’t acceptable, it occurred to me I needed to adapt. It was time to figure out how to be alone with my thoughts at least for some activities. Passing my driver’s test was one of them. Though it frustrated me, I quickly determined I wasn’t getting my license from Mr. Grumpy unless it was in silence. And if I didn’t learn to study or test in silence, I would forever be shuffled out of the classroom. I was a pretty bright kid so I could figure this out, right?

I had to find a way. I started waking up every morning before school and being quiet with my thoughts. That was a trip. What high school kid ever wants to wallow in their own thoughts? Yet, I understood it was a sacrifice in order to get what I wanted. Ten weeks later I was a licensed driver. 

This was a huge accomplishment for me. Not only did I live through a little bit of peace and quiet, but I celebrated every day driving through our small town with the windows down and the radio screaming Bob Seger, Meatloaf, and Bruce Springsteen. Driving with the music cranked was my way of flipping the bird to the driving instructor.

I lived the first fifty years of my life with the music blaring in the car and the television blaring in the house. Lots of blaring. My hearing has suffered. It was well worth it. Or was it?

Once I turned fifty, it was like a check engine light came on. When others want to play music when I am driving, I am easily annoyed. I would rather sit in silence. What happened to me? Is it because I truly have lost some of my hearing and I do not want to further damage it? Is it because I am now comfortable in my own thoughts? Is it because I run a daycare, and I cannot think half the time so I welcome any silence when I can get it? Is it because I have anxiety, and it stresses me out? Is this what happens when you turn 50 – you want peace and quiet? Am I not cool anymore?

I decided it’s likely all of the above.

I still love music. I still like to watch television. But I don’t need it 24/7. I have grown to respect quiet time. In the silence, I reflect. 

Aging is weird. We struggle when we are younger to find any form of balance, and I wonder if it then causes us to also struggle when we are older. It is all black and white. Background noise – no background noise. 

If I had learned to be more comfortable in my own thoughts as a younger person, perhaps I would have been more aware of my choices or even made fewer mistakes because I would have “thought” things through. Whatever the reason why I choose to turn down or shut off the volume these days, I know I am now comfortable with my own thoughts.

I chuckle as I picture my driving instructor now. He is deceased and is probably looking down at me laughing and flipping me the bird.

Christine Marshall Hersom
All Things Wellness, LLC

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