Waiting room at the mental health clinic. Walk in. Sit down.

© Arpad Nagy-Bagoly –

The clock. Every second. Tock. The clock. The clock.
The window is open.
A car is getting closer. VrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAuuuuuughhhhhhhhhmmmm.
Music. Somewhere. Radio maybe? Too faint to hear which song.
Receptionist typing.
Someone LAUGHS. Outside? Softly fading away.
The clock. The clock.
Pouring coffee in a plastic cup.
Someone COUGHS.
The clock. The clock.
Music. Is it getting louder? Still too faint to hear which song.
The window is open.
Road works. Banging bricks together. Clink. Clink clink.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
The clock.
Receptionist typing.
Air conditioning vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
A car is getting closer. VrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAuuuuuughhhhhhhhhmmmm.
The clock.
Only once. Settle down.
Receptionist. Talking.
Music. Which song which song?
Road works. Bricks. Clink clink.
The clock. The clock. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Someone SLAMS a door somewhere.
Receptionist typing.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
Sliding doors in the hallway. Whshshshhhhh.
Sliding open.
Sliding shut.
Sliding open. Sliding shut.
Receptionist typing.
Sliding open. Stuck? No rhythm.
Someone COUGHS.
Someone opening a file cabinet down the hall.
Footsteps. HIGH HEELS.
The clock. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Not for me. Settle down.
Receptionist typing.
Sipping coffee from a plastic cup.
Music definitely louder now. Can almost hear the song.
Footsteps. High heels. AC vent. Whrrrhrrrrrh.
Sliding doors. Sliding open. Whshshshhhhh.
Sliding shut.
The clock. The clock. The clock. The clock. THE CLOCK. THE CLOCK.

This description is based on the actual sounds I heard while waiting for one of my diagnostic appointments, last Thursday. This wasn’t a sensory overload, just the things I heard. The fluorescent lighting didn’t breach my threshold that day so I haven’t included them in the sound list. I also haven’t included the receptionist’s phone conversation because of possible privacy issues and the conversation the receptionist had with one of the therapists about one of their colleagues possibly having a burnout and not returning to work because by that time I was concentrating on my stim toy and besides it was really none of my business even though I could hear every word.

15 thoughts on “Soundcaged

  1. Oh, this is so familiar to me. Every sound, every sensory intrusion (when I’m in that frame of mind). Reading this put me in that place — but not to the point I overloaded 🙂

    I guess I’m lucky in that most of the time I can handle these situations, but there are other times when I just want to run to the hills. When I’ve been in similar situations with my wife (she has a lot of hospital and doctor’s appointments) there have been occasions where my car has been my haven.

    • I’m glad this wasn’t overloading! Maybe I should put a warning on top for people who are sensitive and/or imaginative. I tried to make it sound sort of off-and-on because that’s what the sounds felt like, not too overload-y (although the sliding doors were really annoying and the clock pisses me off every time I’m there). But I know I still filtered out a lot of sounds, like the lights and the breathing and most of the faraway traffic. So I tried to convey that sense of “it’s a lot of sounds but I can handle this, this is a normal level of noise” as well.

      • Well, I guess it worked 😉 I remember one time when I really struggled with the noise of a door: sounded like it belonged in a horror film with its creaky hinges!

        • Creaky hinges can be a terrible sound. I think a lot of it might be sound frequency as well, I’m far more bothered by high frequency sounds than low frequency sounds (unless they become really low and then I feel them in my belly and bones and become nauseous and tired).

          The sliding doors were just awful because there was no predictability to the swishing. And because I was in a different part of the building (I could hear the swishing through the open window) I couldn’t see what set them off. Very frustrating.

        • Now that you mention it, yes, frequency does seem to play a part. I do find high frequency sounds — like the fire alarm at work that sounds at 10am every Tuesday (I try to be outside when it goes off) — to be painful if loud; otherwise they tend to get lost behind my tinnitus. Misspent youth and a lot of concerts and loud heavy metal. 😉

        • Tinnitus would drive me up the wall. I have freaky good hearing in terms of high-pitched noises and I haaaate it.

          Know those frequencies you’re not supposed to hear anymore by 26? I still hear a lot of them. Up to 21 kHz.

  2. That is approximately how I experience any waiting room. The combination of heightened anxiety and uncertainty and nothing to focus on, just waiting, makes me extra vigilant to all the auditory details and other happenings in the surroundings to the point of feeling massively bombarded by them.

    • Yes, vigilance is a good description. Especially because the “background noise” is so loud already that when something makes a sound really close, it’s deafening!

  3. Thank you, Autisticook, for your amazing description. I found you through I’m the NT mom of a 6 year old on the spectrum. He doesn’t have major sensory issues in terms of sensitivity – he’s a sensory seeker – but I know he processes things differently. I very much want to understand how his brain might be working differently, so I can help him understand and help him grow his “toolbox” for dealing with the NT world. I am VERY greatful for Autistic authored blogs. I would like to put your link on my blog (just started it this weekend) – I’m hoping to follow in Jess (DOAM’s) footsteps.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for commenting and letting me know you enjoyed this! Congratulations on starting a blog yourself, I’ll be sure to pop over and read about you and your son’s adventures. Growing up is an amazing journey no matter what your neurology. 🙂

    • Oh by the way, I’m hugely sensory seeking when it comes to touch (especially skin and fabrics). So for me that’s just another form of sensory processing that’s just a slightly bit off from most people. It doesn’t have to cause problems, as long as I recognise the signs of approaching overload. 🙂

      • Oh, goodness, my son loves to be squeezed and tickled – a lot! I’m thankful that his verbal communication is high so we can usually stop or adjust the environment before overload.

        I officially added your link to my blog (YAY!) – Thank you very much for allowing me to share your perspective!

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