Triggered: Misophonia Redux

I’ve written about misophonia before. And tonight I need to write about it again. Calling it out, naming it, can help sometimes, can defuse some of my anger response. A quick explanation:

Misophonia, or the hatred of sound, is a disorder. People who deal with it — people like me — are set off by specific sounds. And the response to hearing those sounds can be irritation, rage, panic, the need to flee. It makes sufferers feel as if they’re being driven insane. Fun times, right?

So yes, misophonia. I have it. Or, most accurately, it has me … has me tied up in knots and twisting in the wind. I might be happier if my response was the need to flee, but no. My response has always been instant rage. Zero to infinity in a nanosecond. A shaking, head-exploding rage. Picture me the way anger is depicted in the movie, Inside Out.

I have a long list of sound triggers. Mouth noises are my kryptonite, but knuckle-cracking is also pretty horrible for me. Loud yawns, certain voices. Yes, driven into a rage by the sound of someone’s voice, something they cannot control and certainly can’t be blamed for.

I finally learned that misophonia was an actual, for-real disorder about 10 years ago. And it’s only been a named and recognized thing since 2001. I’m picturing a crowd of misophones somehow finding one another then banding together and fighting to get the medical establishment to recognize them. I see them taking to the streets, shouting, “We’re here! We’re here!” like in Horton Hears a Who. You know, or something.

Learning about it was as glorious as the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. Learning about it meant I wasn’t imagining it and that I wasn’t the only person suffering from it — if people were writing articles about a problem I had that I’d never mentioned to a soul, that meant other people were having the same problem, and I wasn’t alone in my craziness. Most importantly, misophonia being a real thing with a name meant I wasn’t the horrible person I’d lived my whole life believing myself to be, a monster who got crazy-angry at people when they made everyday noises that shouldn’t have inspired violence in my heart.

I’d spent decades fighting myself to keep my reactions to myself. My responses were unreasonable, so I’ve always worked hard not to show how I was feeling. I mean, I still fight to keep my reactions in — it would really not be okay to punch people in the throat because they yawn loudly. But at least now I know I’m not actually losing my mind, just living the life of a misophone, dealing with a trigger sound. And recognizing that I’ve been triggered actually helps me calm down. I can do little things to put out the fire — listen to music, make noise of my own to drown out the trigger, breathe deeply and do a mini body scan to distract my brain.

When I wrote about this the first time, I had just read an article that suggested reducing stress and getting more sleep could help. I liked the sound of that, and I like the sound of that now, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a very good job on either front (and writing slices at midnight isn’t really helping, is it?!).

Why am I thinking about misophonia today? Because the first zoom of my day included a meeting participant who triggered me big time. BIG time. A trifecta of horror. He 1) cracked his knuckles, 2) started eating some kind of squishy scrambled egg burrito business, 3) chewed with his mouth open.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To put it mildly.

I had to turn off my camera. I was literally grabbing fistfuls of my hair and pulling it.

Open-mouth chewing is … the worst. I was truly made insane by that guy. So insane that, for the first time in my life, I actually tried to do it, to see why that might even be a way anyone would ever chew anyhow. Yes, this is as nuts as it sounds. I took a piece of my muffin and tried to chew it with my mouth open.

I was quite comically unsuccessful. I didn’t know what to do with my muscles to have my mouth stay open while I was chewing. I’m serious. I was chewing r-e-a-l-l-y s–l–o–w–l–y trying to get the mouth-open thing. Not only was I not able to chew that way, I wasn’t making any sound at all. What gives? Are the open-mouth chewers wilfully making those disgusting noises? Are those sounds not a natural byproduct of chewing with your mouth open? Has the cruelty been the point all along?!?!

I have spent the rest of the day trying to make any of this make sense. I’m triggered anew just remembering that meeting.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Sense and Sensibility: Big Chop Edition

I’m taking a major step next week. I took this same step many years ago … sort of. Back in 1988 I made the decision to cut off my hair. It was a big deal then. A very big deal. I wore my hair short for several years after that. But that was forever ago. I haven’t had short hair in more than 25 years, and next week I’m cutting my hair short … not as short as I cut it in 1988, but short.

Cutting my hair in 1988 was a big deal because that was long before the natural hair movement that has been spreading for the last dozen or so years. As a Black woman, having natural hair is still a big deal, and cutting off a head full of hair is still a big deal. When my kinky coils are stretched out, my hair is anywhere from 20 to 24 inches long. I’m probably going to ask to have all but six inches cut. That will leave me with about five inches more on my head than I left in 1988, but it’s still quite short.

And the short part is exciting. I’ve been missing my tiny afro for years. I mean, I was entirely adorable with short hair:

I was also, you know, 30 years younger than I am today.

That’s the part that gives me the stomach ache. I’m getting ready to cut off my dyed hair, wash out the temporary color that’s been covering my grey, and let the world see my real hair for the first time.

I started dying my hair in my mid-40s. I got sick of it quickly, but I wasn’t ready for my grey. I started telling myself that I’d cut off my dyed hair before my 50th birthday. Yeah. That perfectly good milestone came and went. My vanity convinced me to keep dying, told me my face didn’t look like I should have grey hair. (Seriously, what the hell is that?) With my 50th birthday behind me, I started telling myself I’d cut my hair by my 55th birthday. Vanity blocked the move again.

I stopped using boxed dyes and switched to henna — it was natural, after all, surely that was better for my tresses than the chemicals I’d been using, right? But henna was still permanent dye (and red!). A couple of years ago I gave up the henna and swapped in a temporary color that matched the henna. Still, I was moving further and further past my 55th birthday, and I was still hiding my real hair.

Today, I’m in the countdown to 60. I am still just as vain as ever, but I’m also sick, sick, sick of coloring my hair. Or at least, I’m sick of coloring my hair so that it isn’t clear I’ve gone grey. I think it will be fun to play with silly colors in my grey hair — making my tips rose gold or purple, for example.

My vanity still has me worried, though. What will I look like with so much grey? Am I ready to say goodbye to people guessing my age 15-20 years younger than I am? Will seeing that I’m older than they imagined make people judge me for where I am in my life? Can I just calm down and accept that none of that matters and be comfortable moving forward as my authentic self?

I guess we’ll see, won’t we? I’m going to the barber on Saturday.


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Under the Sea

Okay, one last Grand Cayman story. At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there was a lot of snorkeling on that trip. It makes sense, of course. We were in the Caribbean, of course a lot of our activities would involve the water and seeing what was in the water with us.

I’m not a great swimmer. I can swim, and could probably swim well enough to swim out of trouble if trouble approached me slowly, but Diana Nyad, I’m not. I’m fascinated by the ocean, however, and by sea creatures.

Backstory on me and snorkeling: The first time I went to Jamaica, I was excited to go snorkeling. My friends and I got gear and marched ourselves into the water. And the ocean didn’t disappoint. I saw lots of fish — including a beautiful moment when a school of silversides swam around me. I saw sea urchins, a conch, lots of coral … After I’d been paddling around a while, I was annoyed because there was a terrible noise that was distracting me from my leisurely sea-gazing. It was a loud, rasping noise, as if Darth Vader was about to tell me he was my father. I kept looking for what could be the source of the nuisance. Finally I realized that I was the source. What I was hearing was the sound of my own panic breathing, loud and terrified, amplified by the snorkel and maybe by the water. I don’t know, but it was LOUD.

Panic breathing even though I was totally fine … and would always have been totally fine because I was snorkeling in such shallow water I could just stand up when the going got too unnerving. Seriously. The second place we snorkeled on that trip was a sand bar. I couldn’t even swim there. I just lay on the ocean floor and looked around.

Why panic breathing? Because I am fascinated by the ocean, but I’m also pretty entirely afraid of it. And when I’m fully in it, swimming around with the beings that live there, I’m out of place. I’m the alien, unable to adapt, inserting myself into someone else’s territory. The landscape is foreign, the atmosphere is inhospitable — I can’t breathe there unless I have special equipment — and no one speaks my language.

And being underwater in the ocean, I discovered, makes me feel claustrophobic. Really, really claustrophobic.

All of this adds up to panic breathing. I consciously calmed my breath and forced myself to keep going. There was so much I wanted to see. And I got to see a lot, but my snorkeling fear took hold from that first day. I snorkeled a few more times on that trip — even had a barracuda swim on his own leisurely path right in front of my nose! I kept snorkeling, but my fear didn’t abate.

So when I agreed to be a chaperone on the Grand Cayman trip, I knew there would be snorkeling on our agenda. I figured it would be like what I’d done in Jamaica, and I’d make it work. I also figured that, with two other adults sharing the chaperone duties, there would be times when I could opt out of being in the water. And then the other chaperones announced that they had no intention of swimming because they couldn’t swim and were terrified of the water. So I would have to do all the snorkeling. All. And keep a brave face on while doing it so the kids who were nervous would feel better about giving it a try.

Our first outing, we got on a boat, and motored out further from shore than I’d ever snorkeled before. Our captain and guide announced that the spot he was taking us to would be great for seeing lots of things … and would be between 75 and 80 feet deep. And, while the kids were oohing and aahing at the thought of such deep water, I was repeatedly confirming for myself that no, in fact I wouldn’t be able to just stand up if I was freaking out. I’m tall, but I am woefully human-sized, so no toes on in the sand and head above the waves options there.

We put on our gear when we reached the designated spot, and our guide and his crew began helping the kids into the water. I descended the ladder and pushed off from the boat and, before I even put my face in the water, I could feel my panic breathing start. Under the guise of monitoring the kids, I treaded water and did some deep breathing exercises to calm myself. I finally got my breath back to something that could pass for normal, and went under.

And I saw lots of fabulousness, including rainbow parrotfish, who I fell in love with instantly, and gorgeous, enormous sea fan coral (gorgonia ventalina), which is one of my favorite corals. I also saw how far the floor was below me, and I had to fight back the panic breathing again. And I saw a stingray … and I decided to swim back to the boat … which at first I couldn’t find but located before a full panic attack could erupt.

I don’t remember how many snorkeling outings we had during that week. At least five, including one day when we snorkeled at two different venues. Vidalys, one of the older girls who had held my hand across the aisle on the plane because she was terrified of flying, told me she was excited to get better at snorkeling because she could see how much I loved it. I almost laughed. Then I realized that a) my “Whistle a Happy Tune” approach to being a snorkeling chaperone had worked for both Vidalys and for me because b) I was loving the snorkeling. I was loving seeing all those rainbow parrotfish and seeing corals and seeing all the other underwater-world things there were to see. And by the last couple of excursions, I no longer had to calm myself because the panic breathing had stopped clawing at my throat.

I’m still not Diana Nyad, nor will I ever be. I am, however, making some undersea plans. I have a gift I want to give myself when I hit my 60s, and it involves some serious undersea activity. Just thinking about it calls up the old panic, but Grand Cayman taught me the cure for that: I just have to keep diving in.


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Enjoy the Silence

Most of the traveling I’ve done has been solo travel. When I was young and would quit whatever job I had so that I could travel for as long as I wanted (or until the money ran out), I would spend long stretches of time in silence. Sometimes I would miss casual conversation, the easy talking that could be done with someone who spoke my language, with someone who spoke my language as their first language.

I am thinking about those extended periods of not talking because the shelter-in-place order I now live under creates something like that for me when I’m not working. During my work-at-home days, I have meetings and meetings and meetings. I have anything but silence. Come the weekend, however, I have to conjure up some activity if I want to speak — a phone call, a zoom date.

At the same time, it’s hardly true that I’m silent in my downtime these days. I’m a talker, and there always seems to be some chatter of one kind or another around here. I talk to myself. I talk to my cats. I am that crazy spinster lady you’ve heard tell about. I talk. 

On a call with a friend this morning, she mentioned how hard the silence has been for her. Like me, she lives alone. Unlike me, she has been working at home for a couple of weeks now, and the quiet is getting to her.

And so I thought about my travel experience and the enforced silence of having neither a companion nor enough language to make real conversation easy. And that silence went on sometimes, went on for one week, for two weeks, of me really not speaking at all. And it was hard sometimes, but it was also okay. I was writing in my journal, I was having an adventure. Silence wasn’t a weight I was carrying.

And we have tools now that I didn’t have when I was traveling. We have the ability to be in contact no matter how physically isolated we are. We’re just at the beginning of sheltering in place. Now’s the time to figure out how not to be driven crazy by things like not talking. We have a much longer period of aloneness ahead.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
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Still Processing …

Plans are taking shape for offering our programming online. I spent pretty much this whole day in meetings with our program directors, answering questions, encouraging brainstorming, trying to reassure them that they won’t be left in the lurch.

I’m exhausted.

I’m also, for the first time, worried. It’s not that I didn’t take this virus seriously before today. I most certainly took it seriously. It’s not that I didn’t acknowledge that I am in the group of people at risk for having a bad time with this virus if I get sick. I acknowledged that. So what’s different?

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve actually had to make plans for working from home, had to wrestle with the concrete facts of the degree to which I’ll self-isolate, had to cross the line from “here’s what *people* should do,” to “here’s what *I* have to do.”

I’m also sad. Preemptively sad. I’m sad thinking about not getting to see my really excellent team every day until the fog lifts on this terrible time. I’m sad thinking about all of the people that will be negatively impacted by this virus. I’m sad thinking about all the ways we as a country could have responded more quickly and helpfully so that fewer people would be in jeopardy. I’m sad thinking about the fact that my trip to visit my family last month will be the last time I’ll visit for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t thinking about any of these things yesterday. I wasn’t worried yesterday. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that, if I  were to wind up in the worst-case version of this illness, I would likely not be a candidate for the limited supply of life-saving acute care equipment because of my age and size and pre-existing health conditions.

Wow, talk about things that aren’t helping my mood. I mean, damn.

Yes, and.

And it’s also true that I ate a delicious Jona Gold apple today. It’s also true that I saw my team rally and come up with great ideas today. It’s also true that I had great text exchanges with my best-beloved niece and nephew. It’s also true that I started my day with a text from my best-beloved sister. It’s also true that my hair looked great today. It’s also true that the day turned from grey, foggy, and rainy to clear-blue sunny when I wasn’t looking. It’s also true that I made a connection with one of my neighbors. It’s also true that I won every game of online Scrabble I played. And it’s also true that I saw my first star of the night before the sun had fully set.

So, yeah. All of that. All of that. I’m worried. I’m prepping to start doing 60% of my work from home. And I’m determined to be fine, to keep myself as safe and healthy as I can … and to remember that practicing gratitude always makes me feel better.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot