I can’t recall when I first noticed the sound of certain friends and family members’ chewing. I can’t have been more than ten or eleven. But suddenly, the slurping, smacking and chomping of people who ate with, shall we say, a certain gusto, began to have a powerful impact on me.
My pulse would speed up, my jaw would tense, and I’d ball up my little hands into fists, instantly struck with a terrible urge to do violence to people I loved to make the offensive noises stop.
I remember tearful arguments at the dinner table with my family, who (fair enough), would jump to my dad’s defence when I would start picking on him about his chewing (for the record, my dad is not some kind of open-mouth chewing boor. His head just has really good acoustics or something).
I remember swallowing the urge to scream on nights when I wasn’t allowed to put on a CD while we ate because mom just wanted a “nice, quiet meal.” I couldn’t understand why none of them were bothered by the tormenting noises the way I was.
Reading that, you’d think I was a high-strung, stressed-out individual, but on the whole, I’m generally just the opposite. My tolerance and compassion for others are two of my best qualities and believe it or not, I’m normally so zen that I’m often told I’m a calming influence on others. Put a baby or a small animal in my arms and it will be asleep in seconds.
I’m certainly affected by life’s little annoyances. I get irritated when my train is four hours late or when a server forgets to order my food, but it’s nothing compared to the swiftness and severity of my reaction to certain sounds.
I hoped this extreme sensitivity to insignificant, everyday sounds would be something I would one day grow out of. Meanwhile, I’ve tried to cope by developing little habits that seem to ease it a little or distract me, like chewing when other people are chewing, sleeping with a white noise machine, and listening to calming music on public transit (after carefully checking my volume to make sure no one else has to hear it leaking from my ear buds, of course).
Unfortunately, instead of outgrowing my food/mouth sound issues, as the years have gone by, I’ve just developed the same instant rage reaction to a whole catalogue of sounds, including gum chewing, plate/bowl scraping, tinny music leaking from other people’s headphones, knitting needles clicking, certain repetitive vocal tics, and most recently, keys jingling (which is only problematic as I work in close proximity with someone who insists on wearing keys on her wrist all day long.)
When I encounter any of these sounds, my adrenaline immediately spikes, and I feel an alarming (and certainly irrational) amount of instantaneous loathing and disgust towards the person making them.
Despite recognizing intellectually that the sound is not actually going to harm me, I can’t get past the feeling of desperate need to make it stop or to escape it somehow. It takes everything in my power to behave normally and decently, and I lose the ability to focus on anything else until the sound stops.
It was while I was trying to figure out some way to politely approach my coworker about her keys that I stumbled across the term Misophonia, last week.
Literally, “hatred of sound”, Misophonia is the name that neuroscientists have given to basically everything I’ve described above. Two scientists who recently conducted the largest study yet on the condition and whom have linked it to Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, are trying to have it recognized as a neurological or psychiatric disorder.
My eyes widened as I read all of my “symptoms” (thought I’d never thought of them as such before) right down to my urge to mimic the sound that’s making me feel such visceral panic.
As much as I’m not thrilled to learn that what I have apparently has no real treatment or cure, and although it’s alarming to read that to cope, many people with this condition simply end up isolating themselves more and more to avoid their particular triggering sounds, it did give me a strange sense of relief to be able to name this bizarre condition and to know that maybe it’s not my fault I have never just been able to get over it and relax when one of my triggers rears its noisy head.
At least now I’ll have a name to give to HR, when I inevitably yank my coworker’s keys from her wrist and toss them down five flights of stairs.
Have you guys heard of misophonia? Do you experience a similar fight or flight reaction to certain sounds? I’d love to “hear” (haha) all about it in the comments!