October 30, 2007

What Do You Mean You're Not Surprised?

Well crap. It looks like Crabby is schizophrenic. Or at least heading that way.

A study out of Yale School of Medicine just concluded that "a tendency to extract messages from meaningless noise could be an early sign of schizophrenia."

(Details? Sure, for those who are curious: Participants in the study were folks with early warning signs of psychosis. When they were asked to listen to a tape of virtually incomprehensible voices babbling, eighty percent of them who "heard" phrases of four or more words went on to develop schizophrenia or a related illness during the study period (unless they were on meds). For the others, the conversion rate was only six percent).

So does Crabby hear messages in meaningless noise? Well, um... yeah. She does.

It all started in New York, not that many years ago... (cue violins)

The Crab and Lobster were living in a very noisy apartment in the West Village, and wished to sleep at night. So Crabby went out and bought one of those Sharper Image Sound Soother machines. These machines are supposed to put out "white noise" (static), or other assorted "soothing" sounds, to cover up the other stuff you hear at night. You know: honking car horns, drunken revelers leaving the bars after last call, car alarms, unmuffled Harleys, sirens, occasional muggings, etc.

The first few nights were fine.

Then one night, Crabby noticed that the Lobster must have forgotten to turn off her clock radio, because there was a man with one of those radio-announcer type voices talking and talking away. She could only make out a few words here and there (and wishes now that she could remember what they were, so she can diagnose what kind of schizophrenia she's going to get). But while she couldn't make out entire sentences, she's pretty sure there were times she heard a few phrases. In any event, it was very clear to her that there was a man talking in the room.

But the Lobster reassured her--no, the radio was not on.

So Crabby turned off the Sound Soother. Suddenly: no man talking. Turned it back on: there was radio man, chatting away again.

Crabby became suspicious that the Sharper Image people were dabbling in subliminal messages. Perhaps they were recording them in the background of their Sleep Soother tapes and not telling anyone? (Crabby even googled to see if anyone else had noticed this phenomenon--but she came up empty. Not enough unmedicated schizophrenics on the web, apparently).

Unfortunately Crabby couldn't quite hear well enough to tell what the man was talking about. Were these friendly "now you're getting sleepier" type messages? Or were they sneakier suggestions, like: "wouldn't you really like a massage chair?" Or, "what if your nose hair needs trimming, do you have the proper tools? You must go visit Sharper Image right away."

Crabby, not being entirely stupid, tried hitting different buttons, looking for a "soothing sound" selection with no man's voice in it. There are 20 different choices offered, and sure enough, she found some without radio man!

But some of these had trumpets in the background. Or other instruments. Or children shouting to each other or weird sounds that were not supposed to be there.

And the rest were simply not tolerable. Many of the channels on the Sound Soother feature a most unusual definition of the word "soothing." Soothing, like...train whistles, or bullfrogs croaking or traffic noise or foghorn blasts or a symphony of crickets or thundering heartbeats or birds screeching. All that was missing was the "car alarm" option.

(Also, to whine further: the sound quality of the Sound Soother is pretty horrible and each channel is really just a repeated loop a few seconds long. Crabby didn't like this machine much even before it started talking to her).

In the following years, however, Crabby discovered she couldn't blame the Sound Soother people entirely for her unwelcome Voices and Trumpets and such. She started hearing patterns that turned into recognizable sounds in other white noise too--like fans or air conditioners or even ocean waves.

Even worse, Crabby has also inadvertently trained the Lobster to do the same thing. This comes from years of saying, in the middle of the night: "Hon? Do you hear that? Listen--don't you hear that sound that keeps repeating? Can't you hear that?"

So now the poor Lobster hears things in white noise too, although not exactly the same things the Crab hears. On the plus side, now when Crabby becomes officially schizophrenic, she'll have company when she goes to see the nice doctor to get her meds.

So, Crabby almost hates to ask--has anyone else ever had this problem? Or, rather than risk an awkward silence and a post having zero comments, Crabby will also ask: how do you folks deal with Noise at Night? or How you feel about Sharper Image Gadgets or Getting a Good Nights Sleep or Any Darn Thing at All?


  1. Crabby!! This happens to the Bag Lady all the time!! Maybe we can all have adjoining rooms at the hospital. (and drink wine and do yoga...)
    The Bag Lady hears voices in white noise. She just assumed it was because her extremely high-functioning brain wanted to make sense of the noise, hence there had to be talking. Of course, now that you have revealed what's Really Going On, she has something new to Obsess About!!
    Gee, thanks.

  2. Like the bag lady, I always thought it was just trying to make sense of the noise. That or my acute sense of hearing.
    I just leave a fan running - of course now that I am having hot flashes, this is not a bad thing in the middle of winter ;)

  3. I can't say I've ever heard sounds in white noise, but then again, I have a hard time sleeping even with that, and usually put in earplugs instead (also helps with sweetie's snoring), so if there were noises, I wouldn't be hearing them. Although, knowing me, without the earplugs I'd probably be hearing exactly the same thing.

  4. Oh for Dog's Sake! This is perfectly normal. It's called "Psychoacoustic Phenomenon" and it's the way some brains, mine included, deal with noise.
    We had a problem in a water pipe in the house due to some work the Town had done. I heard voices in it, sometimes English, sometimes German, but not quite clear enough to understand.

    It infuriates me when something normal gets labeled as a disorder or suggests the percipient is a candidate for insanity.
    And if the participants in the study were already showing signs of psychosis, then the study itself is skewed.

    Hearing things that aren't supposed to be there is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. There are plenty of unknowns in our world and hanging on negative labels will ensure they stay that way.
    Hm, methinks I'd best stop now.
    Great topic, Crabby. I haven't had a good rail in a while.

  5. I've been told it's the brain just trying to make sense of noise it can't make sense of...me? the whole white noise thing doesn't work as I can't just ignore it...I honestly try and hear things in it. The randomness gets to me. I keep thinking there might be something in there that I might have heard and can't relax. It's like living in a dorm or apartment with thin walls...you may hear enough noise to hear something, but not all of it to hear the full conversation.

    Solution? I switched over to music for this sort of thing...ambient music. Or classical. Drowns out the freeway rather nicely.
    I recommend it. Not so much the the fruity new agey stuff (although I did find a nice recorded rainfall CD that was nice to fall asleep to). Ambient music has no words usually and is nice and mellow and dubby...perfect for the future crazies to get a good night sleep. So nice...

  6. um...that came off wrong not that I think of it. I didn't mean new agey is fruity...just a lot of the "new age" classed music isn't that good is all (cheesy synthesizers and all that...).
    Jus thad to say I didn't mean anything by it.

  7. Heh heh. This is kind of unrelated, but I'll share anyway. We use "white noise" from a little radio outside our baby's room. (to block the noise from the rest of us when it was his bedtime) When we lived in an apartment next to a busy road, every now and then we'd pick up trucker frequencies. So we'd all be sleeping and then hear really loudly, "OK Bob! I'm here on the 15. ...How about those Red Sox!" Or something like that. It would totally freak me out, I'd jump out of bed thinking someone had broke into our apartment.

    Anyway, I hear patterns in everything, but not men's voices...except for the truckers that is.

  8. I hear the voices in my fan that I leave on at night to cover apartment noises and traffic. Sometimes I hear music in it too.

  9. I think this is good news. At least now when other schizophrenic tendencies appear you'll not be confused and fight the doctors, you'll be really and accept you medication willingly. Actually my cousin is schizophrenic but I don't know if she heard anything in white noise. I wouldn't be suprised. She'd hear stuff in everything and nothing and talk to it and it would talk back. Until you have conversations with your white noise machine (and it answers you) I don't think you should worry. I do like the submliminal message idea though. I can't believe you didn't find anything.

  10. Hmmm...now you have me thinking- do I hear "voices" in white noise? I don't think so- we live smack dab in the middle of a small town so there is always traffic at night. We sleep with a fan to lessen the noise but I haven't found myself talking to the fan yet. LOL, since we're moving this weekend to a quieter area I guess I won't need the fan. But I'll let you know if I turn out to be schizo : )

  11. Oh hooray, it's not just me! Well, I guess there are either a bunch of us who are nuts or Leah is right and it's Psychoacoustic Phenomenon and we have nothing to worry about. (Not that I was all that worried about it--I'm crazy in a lot of ways, but not showing too many signs of schizophrenia). Bag lady & reb, thanks for the reassurance I'm not alone.

    de, I wish I could do earplugs but they creep me out--can't do iPod earphones either and have to get the foam kind that go over the ears.

    And geosomin, I know what you mean about the synthesizery new age music--I like the acoustical stuff but not the muzac type. I should switch to music with a timer, good suggestion.

    Katieo, that trucker thing cracks me up! And given the vocabulary of some guys late at night when they think no one's listening--could be an interesting education for your kids!

    And virgo, glad I'm not the only one who hears music too. Dang trumpets!

    Randi, hope I wasn't too flip about the schizophrenia thing--it's a terrible disease. (But I do promise I'll be most compliant about my meds if i end up getting it.)

    And emily, yes do let us know if your fan talks to you and particularly if you find yourself talking back to it!

  12. Hi Crabby. I have problems with my ears - won't bore you with the details, but the short version is I have some hearing loss, plus I have chronic noise in my ears. I guess that's sorta like walking around with white noise built into my head.

    Anyway, I do often think I hear something - will often say to the husband "What? Did you say something?" To which he will reply "No, you are hearing things again." I have kind of thought maybe it was me overcompensating for the fact that I don't hear well, so I'm always afraid I'm missing something.

    As for How I Get To Sleep At Night...I wear ear plugs. Didn't like the idea at first, but I like sleep and I need sleep, so I gave in and it works for me.

  13. The only time I can recall hearing things in white noise is when I was way too drunk to know what the heck I was hearing anyway. Maybe there really WAS someone there!

    I don't make much use of white noise, though, so I'm relatively inexperienced with it. When I need quiet, I use earplugs.

  14. Just had to add - the Bag Lady can't stand to wear earplugs 'cause then she starts obsessing about her laboured breathing or her heart beating too fast...OMG, maybe she IS crazy (now why would anyone think someone who always refers to herself in the third person was nuts, hmmm?)

  15. Whew!!! Thank God for these comments--I was freaking out thinking I was going to be schizophrenic. Though surely at my age it would have happened already???

    I use fan noise, and can hardly sleep without it. But yes,,,,,,sometimes I'm convinced the television is on out in the living room or the girls' room. But when I sit up in bed and listen, it goes away. And music too. Sometimes it's really loud, and sometimes just barely audible (audible??). Now I'm used to it and I just ignore it.

    I can't do music at all. I'm a musician, and it's like someone talking to me.

    Hey though, since the subject arose, I just bought a couple classical CDs that a harpist friend of mine made, that I think are going to be wonderful relaxing music and might be good for sleeping to if you like to sleep to music. I haven't got them yet, but you might check out the demos at www.victoriadrake.com to see if they're your thing.

    I can't do things in my ears either, Crabby. And you are the greatest. I laugh so hard at you!!! In a good way I mean.

  16. javachick--maybe you're hearing ghosts and are just more perceptive than the rest of the world!

    bunnygirl, you're such a healthy gal it's hard for me to picture you totally drunk!

    And bag lady--I'm with you on earplugs. Not only do they feel icky in my ears but I too don't like the heartbeat sounds etc. (I have pvc's, which means it sounds like my heart is often skipping a beat, and though it's not supposed to be anything to worry about I do worry about it so I prefer not to hear it!)

    Melissa, glad to hear you are a Freak like the rest of us! And thanks for the cd recommendations.

    OK, I seem to have fallen back into Obsessive Comment Response Mode...must leave laptop and get some things done in the "real world"...

  17. Oh great! Up until now, I've only consistently heard the phone ring every time I'm in the shower, even though call display indicates there was no such call. I've just recently been talked into using a fan as white noise to help me sleep. Now I'm going to lie awake listening for voices. Thanks a LOT, people!

    Bag Lady, I hear my pulse, heatbeat and heavier breathing when I'm wearing my iPod too, but I'm always walking very quickly at the time... ;)

  18. Just had to say this about that: a breastpump at three a.m. one or ten weeks into the life of newborn twins will say really crazy things.

    Just another crazy lady readin' your blog who should be working...

  19. My first thought was "HOLY CRAP!" I have THIS to look forward to too, along with bad joints, nose hair and no Social Security???! But your post was so HYSTERICAL I thought oh so what, I'll be in good company, especially after reading all the comments, thanks guys! :D
    We also use a fan all year 'round, I don't often "hear" voices in it but once in awhile, mostly if I'm sleepy, I think it's as noted, just a smart brain working too hard, the aural equivalent of seeing images in grilled cheese sandwiches and oil stains on garage floors. I have a clock that does nighttime noises but DH claimed it when he moved in. I used to put it on "stream" which actually sounded like "ocean", as "ocean" sounded like a toilet flushing! I liked "rainforest" but there was a frog in there that would come in just seldom enough to startle me. I also have tinnitus and get the odd whistle or hum, and sometimes a sudden deafness feeling in one ear. DH also has the constant background static of tinnitus, so we both have decided it's just that we're tuned in to the Universal OM.

  20. I don't hear voices, but I do see people, and spiders, and snakes. I have night terrors, which while somewhat amusing in my small mother, is not so funny when the person thrashing psychotically around the room and trying to punch and strangle people is big old weightlifting, kickboxing, 6'6" me. I went on medication after I nearly broke my foot stomping the metal frame of a bed while trying to stomp a snake.

    Hope that makes you feel less crazy.

    I sleep with a fan for the noise.

  21. I've heard 'the voice' one time. It happened one day as I was running on the edge of a highway, where the cars go 55 mph at least. I was running toward the traffic and the road was clear on my side. Suddenly I heard very clearly: " GET OFF THE ROAD!" in my mind. I stepped into the grass and within less than a second, a car passing another from behind me, went right through the area where I would have been running!!
    This was a one time thing, take it as you will, but if YOU ever hear that voice, I suggest, from my one experience, that you listen!
    Dr. J

  22. Even though this is sort of OT, Dr. J is correct! If it's an emphatic voice out of "nowhere" and not something one would be on meds for, it's worth paying some attention to! Years back I parked a car in a spot off the road with other cars, a voice said PULL IT UP, don't leave it like that, it will GET HIT! I had it half a car length past all the cars beside it, told the voice no way and left. Half hour later I hear screeching tires and a huge bang, and knew instantly it was our car.. The "protective" cars had moved. It had been hit so hard (it was a very heavy '65 Lincoln Continental!) that the rear end was shoved 6 feet over. The driver ran. Now of course, we'd taken collision off a couple months before, so you know it was inevitable.
    Also, sitting in my van in a parking lot about 15 years ago, I had a sudden feeling of dread that I needed to get OUT of there, but got stuck behind a car waiting for another to pull out, with a car behind me. Wham! A guy backed into the side of my van so hard from a parking space right next to me that it rocked my van badly and put a 3' x 4' crush area in my sliding door. He didn't "see me" because he supposedly was looking right through my big custom rear windows. If he'd looked in his side mirror he couldn't have missed me!
    Another time I was "told" not to leave my parrot at my Gram's house. I actually had the car almost backed out to the street, the "voice" was now screaming at me, so I went back in and got the bird, and then all was quiet. I don't know what would have happened, (I had a sense that the Elkhound would have grabbed her) but it would have been awful!
    Lots of other stuff like this; I like to think it's our 6th sense connection to a universal consciousness, a much higher form of intuition, or even a guardian angel of some kind. Whatever, I trust it now!

  23. Hilary, the Bag Lady hears the non-existent phone ringing in the shower, too, but only when she leans her head back to rinse the shampoo out of her hair.
    Also wanted to add that out here in the country, it isn't traffic noises that keeps me awake, it's the F***ing Hot Flashes!! And the coyotes howling. And the frogs in the summer. And the woodpeckers on the tin roof of the pump-house....The very worst, though, are the damned loons in the spring. It's enough to send you to the loonie bin...gee, wonder what the correlation is there?

  24. Interesting post! When I was little my Dad would fall asleep with the TV on, back when stations when off air around 1 am or so. Anyway, I would wake up and that noise would scare the sh*t out of me. I thought the devil lived in there. I never heard voices, but I was terrified of it. (What can I say? I was strange.)

    Anyway, if you had schizophrenia it would soon become very apparent. Go rent "A Beautiful Mind"! (Besides I thought the disease showed up during the early twenties.)

  25. Whoa, Dr. J & TK--those are creepy stories! I never hear the sort of voice that's talking TO me--just an announcer type voice that seems to be yammering on about nothing. But if I ever do, hell, I better listen to it!

    (And Hilary, there must be something about showers that creates the phone ringing sound because our shower does that too).

    Jeff, night terrors sound awful! I've heard they seem really, really real, much more so than normal nightmares.

    And soap box girl, I think you were right, and the devil DOES live in the tv set!

    (But yeah, I agree, I'd know it by now if I really was gonna get schizophrenia).

  26. I hear voices quite often when no one's around and used to think I was nuts until I realized it was the dog.

  27. I thought I was the only one that heard voices in those sound machines. My significant other got one for Christmas one year and I think it lasted less than a week in our bedroom. I kept hearing whispers, like creepy alien abduction whispers. She though I was crazy, but I made her get rid of it and go back to the fan. Glad to see I'll have some friends in the psych wing.

    Someone mentioned ear plugs. A lot of flight attendants wear them, but I never could. All I hear is my hearbeat and my breathing, its too quiet, drives me nuts. I grew up in the city and am used to all the noises. We spent the weekend at a cabin in the mountains one time and the quiet weirded me out.

  28. Oh... my... goodness... the same thing happens to me. So many nights when hubby and I go to bed, I hear voices or music, and I am so convinced we've left the TV on that I have to get up and check. It's that clear. And I ascertain we haven't, lay back down, and start hearing the voices and the music again. Hubby and I leave a fan running at night, which helps, and if I deliberately don't concentrate on hearing the voices and/or the music, it dissolves.

    It's kind of cool, though -- I'm a musician and like to compose music, and sometimes I come up with some pretty neat tunes that way! ;-D

  29. Sarah, so breast pumps talk too? Fortunately, that's one voice I probably won't ever hear, but if my Sound Soother every gets lonely and wants to chat, I'll know yet one more gadget it can hook up with. (And sorry, since I was in Obsessive Comment Response Mode, that I missed yours the first time through, especially since it made me giggle).

    Frank, as I recall you have some clothing items which are pretty "loud" as well--but I'm sure Benny has some important information for you so I'd pay strict attention when he talks if I were you...

    Noah, we missed you! Hope you have been happily gallivanting across continents having awesome adventures. I'm so glad you're almost as neurotic as I am with the voices and the heartbeats and the fear of fl... oh no wait, you don't have that one.

    You too Thomma Lyn? That makes me feel better. Because you seem so level-headed and un-weird. And I didn't know you composed music! Yet somehow, with all your talents, I'm not surprised.

  30. Wow, a lot of interesting comments. All I can think to add is a quote from William Golding:
    "Normality is a condition only arbitrarily definable."

  31. Oh my gosh, I'm so, so glad I'm not alone!

    It happens to me all the darn time. I can't drive without the radio on because I hear things. I'm someone who generally prefers silence but sometimes it gets to me. Just the other day I was trying to take a nap and kept thinking I was hearing church chimes playing some song. Not chimes were really playing until about a half hour layer at 6, knew it really was the church chimes. I do that all the time, thinking I hear bells or chimes from churches. I love to hear them when they really play, maybe it's wishful thinking.

    I have this horrible pet peeve when people turn the music down in the car so it's just barely audible so they can order fast food or talk. I'd much rather they just shut it off. That lower volume gives me the creeps.

    It is worth mentioning, perhaps, that I do have bipolar disorder and take an anti-psychotic drug twice a day. I've even had stupid doctor diagnose me as schitzophrenic. But you know, whatever. I have my illness under control and all my other things in order. i now think I'm more sane than most people...

  32. Mary, um, wasn't he the Lord of the Flies guy? Somehow it makes that quote less reassuring!

    And Meg--well, I'm not bipolar or on anti-psychotic drugs but I also agree totally on the radio thing: radios turned down way low are indeed annoying. I can't just shut it out, I have to try to make out what they're saying.

  33. When I was a kid I clearly heard someone saying my name...and then I read I Never Promised You A Rose Garden...a story about a girl becoming schizophrenic!!

    So far so good (I'm 53), although my kids might disagree! :)

    I have constant ringing and noise in my ears....head noise they call it. Most of the time it's barely there, but sometimes it gets really loud.

    I go to bed with the TV on, with a timer set. When I was a kid we all slept with radios on, all night. TV or radio (I've not had good radio reception in years!) has to be loud enough that I can understand what they say, but low enough that it doesn't disturb me!

  34. Oh yea...someone mentioned looking for the pattern in white noise? I've had several MRIs....sounds like a jackhammer and something knocking....and I find the rhythm in it and almost want to tap my feet!

  35. Cindy, you're the first person I ever heard of say something nice about an MRI. Should I ever have that pleasure, I'll have to think: ignor the claustraphobia, just try to find the dang beat!

  36. Crabby -- nice and slowly -- lift your hands off the keyboard and step away from the computer. :)


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