There was a little piece about misophonia on NPR today. I’m glad that there has been an uptick in folks writing and talking about this condition. It means more people who deal with it will have the huge relief of knowing they aren’t nuts and aren’t alone. That was certainly what I felt when I learned that this awful thing that happens to me has a name. While I’m sorry to know that many other people suffer with misophonia, it was such an enormous comfort to know I wasn’t alone.
Misophonia is the hatred of sound — the hatred, to be clear, of specific sounds. Although there are a large number of sounds that can trigger a response, the most common are mouth noises such as yawning, chewing, and breathing. These sounds can trigger panic or rage, and sufferers describe their responses to sounds as being driven mad.
That has definitely been my experience, feeling as if I’m going insane when I hear certain sounds. My response has always been instant rage. And yes, that seems both funny and fitting since I am so often foaming at the mouth about something (case in point: yesterday’s post). But in reality, it’s not so funny. As a kid, I thought I was the most horrible person in the world because I would feel a driving, aggressive hatred for people I loved if I had to listen to them eating. I would be almost blinded by my fury in those moments. I couldn’t understand what kind of monster I must be to begrudge people the right to eat.
I was once prepared to quit a job because of misophonia. Back in the dark times, when I worked as a temp word processor, I had a long term assignment in the corporate office of a bank. My cubicle was across from a man who was the noisiest, sloppiest eater I’ve ever encountered. He was a disgusting eater, but his habits multiplied by my misophonia made him a public menace. I did whatever I had to in order to be away from him when he ate. And I was mostly successful … until a big project required us to work closely and work long hours and work through lunch. It was all I could do not to strike him. I called my temp agency and demanded a new placement.
I was young and dopey then, didn’t realize that I couldn’t always just say what was true. When asked why I wanted a new placement, I was honest: “This man is a disgusting eater, and I can’t be around him.” I was told that wasn’t a good enough reason to leave a good job, and that if I chose to give up the placement, they probably wouldn’t be able to find me anything for a while. I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, it was leave or put my letter opener through his neck. (And, too, I was getting called for jobs from two other agencies, so I wasn’t worried about work.) If only I’d known about misophonia back then, known that I could have asked to be accommodated and that quitting didn’t have to be my only non-violent option.
The agency said that I’d need to tell my onsite supervisor why I was leaving, that they wanted the client to understand the problem was with me and my foolishness. No problem. I went to my supervisor at the bank and told her I’d be leaving immediately. Before I had a chance to say why, she looked at me with sympathy and said, “It’s Ken, isn’t it? Please don’t go. We’ll find you another place to sit, and you can work on a different project.”
Done and done. My paycheck — and Ken’s poor neck — saved.
That was a long digression, but I hope it makes clear the hideousness of misophonia. It’s little things. My cats clean themselves, and I want to put my head through a wall. People on conference calls breath heavily into the phone, and I have to bite my tongue on streams of profanity. It’s me putting on headphones whenever my coworker eats lunch at his desk. Little things. All. day. long.
Music helps. White noise helps. Sometimes meditation helps. And learning that misophonia is a thing helped. Not enough is known about misophonia (yet?) for there to be sure-fire tips, but an article I read that said getting more sleep and reducing stress could improve responses to sound triggers, and I’m certainly willing to give that a go — and more sleep and less stress is just bound to make my life better even if I’m still driven into a rage when I hear certain sounds.
It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!