• Michelle Partington

Silence is gold plated.

One of my most prominant symptoms is hypersensitivity to noise in various ways. It may trigger irritation, or something much worse.

There are some very specific sounds which take me back to being on tour. These are sounds such as: ambulance sirens, bangs, walkie talkie type radios, fire alarm sirens as well as a couple of others. Despite the fact im in the ‘here and now’ my mind immediately associates these sounds with being back in Afghanistan. This also means my body and mind are on constant high alert all the time sadly which is exhausting. These sounds unfortunately also contribute to some terrible tension headaches which sometimes wipe me out for the day. I have a terrible feeling of unease quite a lot of the time without reason. In some cases, this may even make the noises sound louder. So I will try to explain why my brain would react to the noises I have mentioned.

Ambulance sirens will always make me feel uncomfortable. During my tours the first association with sirens was when I had to drive the MERT landrover in an emergency. Then as we landed at the hospital we would load the casualties into the ambulance and the sirens would be going for the journey between the helicopter and the hospital. When lying in my bed in Afghan all you can hear are helicopters, sirens and the sound of the air conditioning and generators. When I’m in my bed in the UK sirens are still triggering that sensation.

Various bangs are very uncomfortable for me. Now some of you may be thinking ‘you weren’t infantry so why would bangs bother you’. Well let me explain that whilst out on the ground with the RAF Regiment I used to stag on with the rest of the lads. During this time we would here a sort of whistling noise as a mortar would go above our heads aiming towards camp. Then whilst on camp a couple of mortars landed near us. Whilst on MERT during shouts we would be under fire on occasion when flying into a ‘hot zone’. I will never forget those noises. Im not sure if i’ve mentioned before about dropping to the floor when I heard a farmers gun? I dropped automatically but felt pretty stupid afterwards. Especially when I had to explain to the farmer what happened after he thought he’d shot me!! Bonfire ‘season’ affects me more than I would like. I say season because bangers and fireworks go off well before 5 Nov!! Walking Mitsy in the dark around this time of year is just not fun because its darker earlier and the fireworks have already begun. Whats annoying is that they have started using bangers during the day!! Give us a break eh! Because my little girl is also bothered about fireworks you can imagine what we are like 🙂

Walkie talkie type radios and the siren type fire alarms are not noises I am exposed to on a daily basis but when I hear them I instantly want to jump for it. As one of my previous posts mentioned when I hear a workers radio my heart goes and im ready to run for it. So where does this reaction come from? Whilst on a 24 hr shift we would be sat in the crew room waiting for a shout. There is a radio per shift which is used to inform the team we have a shout. I used to be at a heightened state of readiness at all times waiting for a shout to come in. Think of a time when you know something terrible is about to happen, that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach and your heart beats that little bit faster…This is exactly how I felt every shift but always hoping it would never go over. Sadly the inevitable click would happen and you know someone on the other end is ready to transmit the message “MERT and MERTFP you have an urgent medivac, acknowledge over”. Then someone triggers the fire alarm and the rush begins….

They are the main bangs which affect me but other noises are much more acute but somehow different. Some days I hear only muffles but on other days the noises echo, pretty much what it would sound like if your in the pool at the swimming baths. Everyone has done this so imagine you are in the bath, it’s all nice and warm so you lower yourself and let the water swill over you. You popped your head in so the water is covering your ears. Any sound becomes distant and muffled somehow. That’s all I can hear sometimes it’s so strange. It’s like I’m in the room but not.

My hearing appears to be more acute than it used to be. I seem to hear everything now. So many different things going on in one place. Using last night as an example I went to the local club for a drink. I sat there and my ears seemed to tune in to everything. There was so many different conversations going on and ‘Wrecking Ball’ was playing in the background. It was then time for the live music to start. The guitar player was amazing, I used to love listening to Gary Moore but the music last night was grating me! I should be thankful though because at least I couldn’t hear the bangers outside. During my tours I would have to wear a radio headset as the only way of communicating with the team. The noise of the aircraft meant everyone had to concentrate extremely hard in order to hear the information coming through the headset. It is vital to hear everything because details about the patients, the team, the environment we are landing into had to be very clearly received as ambiguity could have put everyone involved at risk.

Some days when its really bad all I want to do is climb into my white treasure chest and lock myself in and lock the whole world out!! Silence is supposed to be peaceful and serene and for the short term this is fine. That is until that silence triggers the mind to jump into action. Then it all starts again, intrusive thoughts and memories. The frustrations and loss of the person I used to be. I guess I should be thankful for noise drowning out my inner voice…


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