Misophonia: When sounds make you angry

A component of misophonia is that it can’t be rationalized
away. I can’t talk myself out of hating a trigger sound.

Pop. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Slurp. Pop. CRACK. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Slurp.

With every sound, I pressed my fingers harder over my ears, not really trying to be casual about it after awhile. Why oh why do we have stupid rules about electronics on airplanes? I wondered, desperately wishing to listen to my ipod at deafening levels. I may freak the hell out before this plane leaves the ground. 

Unlike the time when I switched seats away from a stinky passenger, I could not shuffle away from the loudest gum popper on the planet. She waited until the plane was entirely full to start her cracking. And so I had to suffer and stew about the offensive chewing until we reached 10,000 feet.

You see, I’m sensitive to sound, especially people noises–chomping, slurping, ice crunching, excessive throat clearing, even, on occasion, feet shuffling. Just typing these sounds gives me heart palpitations. In close quarters, people noises make me feel alternatively anxious, annoyed, angry and sometimes nauseated, particularly if I can’t get away (as in during flights, movies, conferences, classes, meals).

Misophonia is the dislike or hatred of sounds. Most of the time I try not to
make judgments about the people who make sounds that annoy me. Gum
poppers though? No. Gum poppers I highly dislike. SHUT IT!

Thinking I might be losing my mind, I started researching auditory disorders. Clearly, I’m in the minority with these sound issues, yeah? Not everyone considers violent raging at too-loud Cheeto eating, right?

And then I found a New York Times article about a condition called misophonia which is the “dislike of sound.” (Seems a little mild for the emotions and sensations I feel, but it’s nice to know the name.) As I read, I realized the article could’ve been written about me. Dislike of the “p” sound in conversation? Check. Anger about gum chewing? Check. Frustration at dog paw licking, pen clicking and footsteps? Check. Check. CHECK!

The fun part? According to the doctors’ quotes in the article, misophonia a hard-wired “physiological abnormality” with “no known cure.” Just FABULOUS.

And don’t get me started on sniffling or throat clearing.

However, like others I read about, I do have methods for dealing with my sound issues. When I worked in cubicle land, I always wore earbuds. Although I may have looked unprofessional, the only way to get work done around loud talkers and the chick who used to CLIP HER FINGERNAILS at her desk was through tunes.

At home, I try to be up front about noises that bug me. Mr. T clearly knows about my sensitivity and I try not to be a bitchmonster. Most of the time, he’s a polite, closed-mouth eater. He’s not trying to annoy me (purposeful overchomping, not withstanding), I’m just overly attuned to sounds. So we tend to eat meals in front of the TV. Mostly this is to keep up with our shows, but partly, it’s so I can’t hear us eating. If he’s enjoying something super crunchy (Tapatio Cheetos being the most recent offender), I just leave the room for awhile.

It feels a bit cliche, but it also really helps to know that I’m not alone. Within the last couple years, I bonded with a dear friend over our mutual sound issues–ruefully, at a conference where a major famous scholar sat behind us and crunched ice cubes during an oh-so-quiet panel presentation. (I can still remember how awful that felt!). Since then, if I encounter a particularly egregious sound situation, I can vent to her. Knowing someone else “gets it” is a comfort, even if I can’t figure out how to make the misophonia issues go away.

I write all this in part to vent about the gum poppers of the world, but also to say to the folks with misophonia/sound sensitivity: you are not alone!! (And if anyone hears of a miracle cure, do let me know.)

For everyone else, thank you in advance for your patience and consideration and future quieter eating/breathing/living habits. (Hey, a girl can dream.)

Questions or comments? Please leave your thoughts below in the comments section or shoot me an email at bluestmuse(at)gmail(dot)com. You can also find me on Twitter if you’re so inclined–@bluestmuse.


Other posts you might like:
Travel tales: Switching seats away from stinky and never looking back
A pedestrian rant: Can’t we all be more careful drivers and walkers, please?
Travel tales: If you can’t say anything nice, HUSH!
For pete’s sake, be considerate. Shawna’s guide to airport/airplane etiquette
Political commentary on Facebook, a call for civility, a plea for self-editing

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