Turning Down the Background Noise

Sometimes you don’t notice a sound until it stops. Then, in the sudden quiet, you realize just how loud it had been – and how much the undercurrent had been getting under you skin.

I’m not a fan of background noise. My brain gets overloaded by superfluous auditory input. I don’t like having music on unless I’m focusing on the songs. I’ve never been able to concentrate on conversations around me if a television is playing in the same room, and do not try to talk to me in the car if there’s heavy traffic.

I turned off Facebook last weekend and had the same experience. The sudden, unexpected calm that told me the emotional sound waves in the background had gotten louder than I realized.

I didn’t delete my account, or even take a full hiatus, the way that some friends I know have done. I just took the app off my phone and left my computer off for the weekend, effectively giving me a 48-hour detox.

It was the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that pushed me over the edge. Or rather, the sickening realization of the ugliness that her death was about to unleash. Within hours, the vultures were circling, announcing their intention to cement their hypocrisy for all time by ramming forward a nomination, despite having piously declared four years ago that such an action was unthinkable. The dirty victory would galvanize the right and I could already picture the memes that would spew forth from the more conservative nooks and crannies of my friends list.

I realized that I simply could not spend the next month and half glued to my newsfeed the way I usually am. I’m a mindless scroll-er. I know it. If I’m bored, I open up the app. If I have a few minutes to kill between meetings, I sneak a peek. Before bed, I’ll do one last check…and suddenly find that an hour has passed.

All of that information overload was taking its toll on my heart, so I turned it off.

Around the same time, I realized that stress can be its own background noise, particularly in the form of a decision that needs to be made. We spent the weekend wrestling with yet another round of school-related choices. Because this is 2020, as soon as you adapt to one set of bad options, they change. So, just as we started to find our feet for virtual learning, it was time to decide whether to join the return-to-school plans or continue to stagger along digitally.

We spun the options around in our heads, looking at them from every angle, finding something new and unattractive no matter which way we looked. Around and around, the choices swirled like a heavy cloud, even when I wasn’t directly contemplating them. They were just there, lurking in the back corner of my head, taking up bandwidth I didn’t have to spare.

Go back to school a couple days a week with masks? Cross our fingers that the safety precautions are enough? Do we load up the clear backpacks that are a dismal illustration of two awful realities. Backpacks are deemed necessary because the lockers are deemed unsafe during COVID. Clear backpacks are deemed necessary so kids can’t sneak guns into class. America 2020. Are we winning yet?

Or do you stay online? Hope that the teachers can juggle two sections of in-person learners on top of their virtual students? Cross your fingers that they can impart a week’s worth of knowledge in a couple twenty-minute video sessions each week?

There weren’t any good options. Just static in my head that I couldn’t seem to shake loose. There wasn’t any way to turn down the noise other than to make the decision. So we did. There was an immediate instinct to second-guess, but I believe what I told my kids: you make the best decision you can with the information available to you, and then you live with it.

It’s the ownership of the decision that can quiet the background noise – whether it’s choosing a school format or choosing to look away from social media. Choice is power when you’re feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Let’s wield our choices wisely.

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