Quick poll. Raise your hand if you:
- are an introvert
- listen to podcasts constantly
Okay, everyone else, you’re excused. What I’m about to say is super niche and won’t make any sense if you don’t hit one or both of those. (Or stick around and watch me unravel. Also fun.)
I don’t remember exactly when I switched from music to podcasts as the soundtrack to my life, but I suspect it was in that “fourth trimester” window when I was walking roughly five miles a day to soothe a screaming newborn and needed something, anything to keep me entertained (and awake) as I trawled the same neighborhood streets day after day. Before that, I had a car visor full of CDs and one talk radio show I streamed from St. Louis; my husband could tell if I was up or down depending on whether or not I was singing.
But when I first became a parent, I needed more than music. I needed company. There’s a peculiar quality to the silence of the newborn season—of never being alone but also being alone all the time—that produces tension unlike any I’ve ever felt. It’s a yawning chasm of disturbing, isolated quiet that can be shattered in an instant for no reason, one that’s never satisfying or restorative.
Even (especially) as a life-long, verified introvert I couldn’t take that silence. And so I filled it with friendly voices.
Podcasts became more than entertainment for me: they were a lifeline. When I felt like I was drowning in crying and milk and sleep-deprivation and that never-ending silence, I clung to the stories, people, and ideas coming through my headphones as desperately as I would a life preserver on the high seas.
Over time, though, the silence has lessened. It’s filled up with movement and questions, friends and adventures. Eventually, I found that I could touch bottom again, no longer flailing in the deep, dark water of that unbearable quiet. Three years post-newborn, most days are so loud that I can’t hear the podcasts I’m playing while doing dishes, driving around, walking to school, taking a shower, making dinner, or the hundred other things I do in every day.
I didn’t realize how fierce the competition had gotten for my aural attention until last week when I snapped at Mackenzie when all she’d done was ask me a question in the middle of One Stage at a Time. But because my brain is so well-trained to focus on a single input (mostly from an auditory processing problem, but also from spending hours and hours and hours listening while walking her tiny butt around the ‘hood so she’d go to sleep) it’s now treating podcasts as conversations. Like I’m talking to real people and therefore any interruption is cause for irritation.
This is quite possibly the worst thing I could do as an introvert. Because when podcasts become people and you always have a podcast on, it equates to always being around people. I’m never alone. Which means I never truly get a chance to recharge my batteries. Which means I’m constantly running on fumes and at the edge of my temper.
So that’s not great.
What’s also not great is the corollary realization that, because my every waking moment (and some sleeping) is filled with sound designed to grab and keep my attention, I have zero mental white space. There’s no breathing room, no blank canvas, no stillness. By maintaining a constant stream of information and entertainment in my earholes, I’ve made it impossible to hear anything except what comes from out the outside.
No wonder I can’t seem to write new fiction. No wonder I feel so disconnected from God. No wonder I feel so claustrophobic in my own mind—it’s too full of other people’s thoughts to have any of my own.
I am taking a week off. (In fact, I started yesterday.) Seven whole days with nothing to listen to except music and the low hum of electricity in the silence.
From the outside, I’m sure this sounds ridiculously easy. How hard can it be to just no listen to podcasts?
But for me, losing 4-8 hours of sound input is painful to me in the same way as switching to decaf or starting keto. With the comforting distraction from the daily toddler grind removed, I’m forced to face what I’ve missed out on from being too lazy to wean myself off an old coping mechanism that’s clearly reached the point of hurting more than it helps.
I’m not sure how it’ll go. Maybe I’ll be curled up in a ball singing to myself by next week. Maybe I’ll have outlined a whole new novel. We shall see.
All I know for sure is that it needs to happen; I need to hear those still, small voices from within. I need to make room for the Spirit, for the muse, and for my self.