Another “weird” symptom of my ME (or CFS, or Gulf War Illness, or Central Nervous System dysfunction, or whatever you want to call it) involves “the cocktail party effect,” specifically the apparent disruption of my brain’s ability to filter out extraneous stimuli and focus on just the one I want to pay attention to. It’s been suggested to me by a medical professional, although I have yet to be tested for it, that I might have Central Auditory Processing Disorder.
Let me explain it in my own words: I have difficulty focusing on a conversation if there is too much background noise, to include a second conversation taking place that I am not involved in. These external stimuli “intrude” upon my listening and disrupt my focus. It’s incredibly frustrating, and leads to a strong desire for quiet much of the time. When I watch a TV show or a movie, I turn on the Closed Captioning to help me catch all of the dialogue–otherwise I have difficulty following along, even if the room is quiet. It’s one of “ME workarounds” I’ve devised to allow me to continue doing things I enjoy, knowing my physical/mental limitations.
I have found that like most of my symptoms (pain, fatigue, balance difficulties, speech/finding the right words, light & sound sensitivity, emotional control, etc.), once my energy reserves or “batteries” get low (compared to my “normal” which anyone with ME knows is anything but normal when compared to healthy people), my listening ability declines dramatically as well, and my distractability increases to the point of effectively taking me out of any conversations.
Incidentally, I’ve had my hearing tested and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. The problem, like most of mine, is neurological.
I imagine a lot of people with ME can relate to everything I’ve written above. However, I wonder if others have experienced a stranger phenomenon I’ve noticed over the last six months or so: while I can still listen to music when not in a bad flare up of symptoms, I have an extremely difficult time tolerating male vocals and find that I listen almost exclusively to female vocalists. Weird, right?
While there have been a number of articles published about general marketing preferences for “female” voices in digital assistants, artificial intelligence, car navigation devices, etc., there are plenty of highly successful and talented male singers. I used to enjoy a number of them. Now, I find that listening to male vocals is rather like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.
This only applies to music, so I wonder if it has something to do with this whole cocktail party effect thing and the combination of vocals and accompanying musical instruments? I have no difficulty listening to male speech, or carrying on a conversation with another male. However, whereas I used to love to blast “Nirvana” or other distinctly male singers in the car, I can’t do it anymore. It just…grates on me. But I can listen to music with a female vocalist just fine, and I’m not talking mellow, relaxing music either. One of my current favorite bands is Within Temptation, an awesome Dutch metal band. Sharon den Adel is their lead singer, and sounds amazing. I’m also a big fan of Lorde and Michelle Branch, who I liked back in the early 2000s when she made her debut but has recently returned with a bang by releasing a new album last year, “Hopeless Romantic,” which is really excellent in my humble opinion.
So if you catch me “rocking out” to an all-female playlist, well, chalk it up to yet another bizarre symptom of my ME.