I’ve begun reading through Mesopotamian mythology in the last few days to finally read and remember—the number of words my eyeballs had glanced over without retaining their meaning when my ADHD was unmedicated is stupendous—the Gilgamesh Epic. I’m reading Stephanie Dalley’s Myths from Mesopotamia, which includes supplemental myths beyond Gilgamesh, one of which is Atrahasis, or The Flood1. Atrahasis is, as near as we humans can tell, the earliest recorded Flood story in the world; archaeologists have found tablets containing broken fragments of the myth dating from the early second millennium B.C.
Genesis tells us, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth” 2 and resolved to reset humanity with the Flood. What possible reason would the gods have for killing off all humankind in Atrahasis? Why, sensory sensitivity issues of course!
600 years, less than 6003, passed
And the country became too wide, the people too numerous.
The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull.
The god grew restless at their clamour,
Ellil4 had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
“The noise of mankind has become too much.
I am losing sleep over their racket.”
I assume the neurotypical reading this is thinking something like, “Honestly, there is never a good excuse for genocide.” To which I would strenuously object5!
As a neurodivergent man with both ADHD and autistic traits, there are moments when the auditory input becomes so overwhelming that, without my stimming6 readily available, I would instantaneously and without remorse authorize the death of every human on the planet to end the cacophony. Don’t get mad at me! I’m not the one making all that racket and bellowing like a bull; you are! The great Anunnaki—greater gods—and their offspring, the Igigi—the lesser gods of the world’s first union, which you can read about in the footnotes—are, I’m sorry to write, entirely correct here, and humankind is wrong.
Less satirically, auditory sensitivity is burdensome for me in two ways:
- Hidden loss of concentration affects me in ways that aren’t fully realized until hours later.
- Self-shame over the feeling that I must “hide” from sensory input. No amount of therapy will permanently revoke the intermittent mixture of sadness and shame at the existence of a seedbed within me that allows this brokenness to blossom (this is despite undergoing a borderline miraculous therapeutic experience).
The first is a productivity concern. To help manage my ADHD and executive functioning issues, I make detailed lists early each morning of what I need to complete. This includes Saturdays and Sundays as well. This list gets translated into calendar entries that fill up my entire day: forty-five-minute segments for walks, thirty minutes to read this book, twenty minutes to play a video game, fifteen minutes for baths, forty minutes to handle a technical task for work, endless Microsoft Teams meetings. Sudden sounds like a dog barking at a delivery driver, a banging on the door to the office, a raised voice in the office adjacent to mine, or even—worst of all—the ringing PING of a text or Slack message, can break my concentration and unsettle me emotionally for a few minutes. These breaks in concentration add up over the day, which leads to a blown schedule, which leads to feelings of inadequacy that I cannot finish what I need to complete—inadequacy and its ugly cousin shame are two emotional hallmarks of an ADHD-afflicted person’s inner life—which inevitably ends with me being in a foul mood at the end of the day. There are far too many days when I could have starred in a Marvel movie as the latest and greatest threat to life on earth with my superpower: “irascible and crotchety dad.”
The second reason—self-shame at feeling unable to handle what others seemingly can do with little to no effort—is most notable with my children. My kids (ages 10 / 7 / 5) are the greatest gift God has given me. They are also my sworn mortal enemies, capable of dealing immense psychic damage to their long-suffering father through the insidious act known as “healthily playing with each other.” The laughs, screams, giggles, and triumphant yells as Link vanquishes Ganondorf7, or as my girls run through the sprinkler, or as a pair of kids is finally caught in a tag by the third, are all the joyous sounds of a peaceful childhood. These are also the sounds that often bring a physical reaction from me: a twitch of my shoulder, a violent shake of my head as if I had been slapped by an invisible hand of noise, and even a full body convulsion that requires me to grab my desk and breathe deeply for a few moments to resettle myself and assure my mind that everything will be OK. The shame I feel when my inner dialogue begins complaining about my children’s happiness is difficult to bear.
This is not an abstract or infrequent thing; this past weekend, needing to complete work pushed off by the long Memorial Day weekend, I struggled through an hour-long task for multiple hours before finally abandoning it in a mutant combination of grumpiness and dejected guilt. My children’s monstrous crimes? Playing on a slip-and-slide outside on a Sunday afternoon before being too loud while cleaning their rooms. Real dad-of-the-year stuff, eh?
To help combat this issue, I wear earplugs the majority of the workday when I am not on calls (my current job as a tech exec requires me to be on calls 4–6 hours per day, so I spend at least four hours a day with cheap foam earplugs in my ears). I will often wear them in the early evening as well during the witching hour–that ninety-minute frame at the end of the day consisting of tired kids, dinner, baths, chores, and bedtime that feels like Frodo trying to summit Mount Doom every evening–if I am feeling punchy that day. This creates its own set of tradeoffs to consider:
- Placing an additional workload on my spouse as I cannot hear the requests (they always feel like ungrateful demands at the end of the day, don’t they?) of our kids
- Missing out on the rare kind comments between our children that keep a parent moving forward
- Worst of all, I cannot shake the feeling I have put an unhealthy fear into my children that dad cannot be bothered with as he has his “quiet ear pods” in.
So, yes. I empathize with the Mesoptamian gods who desire nothing more than a bit of tranquility so they can focus and get some well-earned shut-eye. The mass genocide of most of humanity via a terrible global flood to reduce the decibel level may seem a bit harsh. Still, I would comfort you with the words of Shrek’s Lord Farquaad: “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
Jeff, can you please provide a one-sentence overview of Atrahasis because, unlike you, I, the reader, am not a massive nerd? I sure can! The myth includes, among other things (deep breath here folks): the reason for the creation of man (long story short, the lesser gods got tired of all the back-breaking labor required for the upkeep of Creation; they formed a union, went on strike, and struck the world’s first Collective Bargaining Agreement to force the creation of humans to do work instead), multiple cyclical discussions on why the gods felt the need to kill off most of humanity (in antedelluvian8 times there was no easy way for humans to die before the age of like nine hundred; overpopulation was obviously a bit of an issue), the flood event itself and how our hero Atrahasis managed to escape it (Atrahasis, legendary wise man, got the scoop on the approaching apocalypse from his good bro Ea9 who hid behind a reed wall and whispered the deets to him), and some concluding curses from the gods to explain why prior to the advent of modern medicine the mortality rate for children under the age of twelve months was thirty percent10. ↩
Complete verse: The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5 New Revised Standard Version) ↩
Ancient Mesopotamians used a base 60 number system—a so-called sexagesimal system which is a word that read aloud sounds made-up—so this oddly specific number phrasing should be read by you, the modern reader, as something analogous to, “and then a long time later, like a bazillion years later or something.” ↩
Ellil: a god whose nature is uncertain because Mesopotamia was eons ago. ↩
A Few Good Men’s Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway’s attributes include a rigid moral code, trust in the system over the reality of relationships, and difficulty reading social cues. All of that codes as at least slightly autistic. ↩
Stimming—a shortening of self-stimulation—is a behavior that is marked by repetitive action or movement of the body (such as repeatedly tapping on objects or the ears, snapping the fingers, blinking the eyes, rocking side to side, or grunting) and is typically associated with certain conditions (such as autism spectrum disorder). So says Merriam-Webster. Stimms are unique to each individual. Mine take several forms, from smaller movements, such as playing with my hair or tossing a baseball back and forth between my hands, to much larger full-body movements that can only be performed in absolute privacy. ↩
I don’t need to articulate Legend of Zelda characters in the footnotes, do I? We’re all properly functioning adults, correct? Good. ↩
Antedullvian is an amazing 25¢ adjective: of or relating to the period before the Flood in the Bible. Thanks, Merriam-Webster! ↩
Ea: god of fresh water, wisdom, and incantations. Also goes by Enki, depending on whether the text is from Samaria or Babylon, which isn’t confusing in the slightest (editors note: it is baffling trying to keep all the names straight. It’s like high school where everyone has their name, and then everyone has three or four nicknames depending on the context, and you have to keep track of everyone somehow). ↩
Modern historians put the mortality rate for children under twelve months in ancient societies at somewhere between 25–30 percent. It’s jarring and awe-inducing to read a four-thousand-year-old line that is statistically accurate: “… let there be one-third of the people, among the people the woman who gives birth … let there be a [demon] among the people to snatch the baby from its mother’s lap”. ↩