Biting, tearing, gripping, ripping
Spewing, chewing, gnawing, mauling
SNAP! POP! MUNCH! CRUNCH!
Licky, sticky, slick, breaking, quaking, shaking,
Slice, scratch, screech, slurp,
Gnash. gnosh, wash, slosh, crush, flush,
Thin grin, smile fake, small talk, balk
Smear, sneer, fear, anger
Reaction, distraction, destruction
Neurons fire, so tired, wired
I suffer from misophonia. It is a disorder generally defined as hatred of sound. That doesn’t quite begin to cover it though. People who have misophonia have involuntary and uncontrollable emotional and physical reactions to their trigger sounds. The trigger sounds are not the same for everyone. For most people they can include but are not limited to things like silverware scraping on teeth or plates, chewing, slurping, snapping gum, burping, swallowing, and other bodily noises and repetitive sounds such as typing, pencil tapping, dripping water and other low level noises that most people barely even notice. Some are even triggered by visual stimuli along with sound triggers.
Misophonia is not classified as a psychiatric or hearing disorder. There is some evidence to suggest that it is neurological and/or related to autism and sensory processing disorders. It is fairly rare, affecting only about 15% of the adult population. It may be more common, or at least more sever, in women.
No one is certain what causes Misophonia and there is currently no cure. There are very few treatments or therapy options. Most suggested options involve treating the associated anxiety responses rather than the disorder itself. Mindful self care habits to reduce anxiety and troubleshooting for yourself in the moment with headphones/earbuds, increasing background nose when possible or simply excusing yourself and escaping the triggers are the main treatment suggestions I’ve found.
To someone who suffers from misophonia, the sound and visual triggers can elicit responses from mild discomfort and irritation to rage and even panic. It activates a fight or flight response and a strong need to flee the situation. Mealtimes and other experiences that are pleasant or at least tolerable for most people can be torture.
For me, it started in my early childhood. My first memory of being adversely affected by sounds and visuals that didn’t seem to bother other people was around age 6 or 7. The disorder really didn’t have a name then. It was not until 2000 that audiologists, Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff (wikipedia) gave it a name during their research on other forms of decreased sound tolerance.
I didn’t even know it had a name until a year or two ago. I just thought I was irrational and crazy or that it was just another part of my ptsd and general anxiety. I only told my family about it after that. I think my grandmother and mother knew when I was younger though, but it was just one of those sensitive child things. Fortunately they were compassionate and tried to help whenever possible by offering me buffers from certain sounds and experiences.
So I’ve spent most of my life coping by just winging it. It’s worse when I’m already anxious about anything else and then encounter my personal misophonia triggers. I experience panic and anxiety and am generally miserable in the moment. It’s exhausting and takes time to calm down afterward. A silent room at mealtime or experiencing my triggers in stereo in a movie theater is sheer torture. I’m not exaggerating–I promise.
I manage it with distractions, tv or music during dinner or a crowded restaurant with lots of ambient noise. I work pretty hard not to be rude or to be a bother or to even be noticed when I’m triggered and in distress. I cannot always use headphones or earbuds to manage it. (The sounds of my own chewing and associated sounds are louder in my own head with earbuds on–it’s like an echo chamber!). Ambient noise and music are not always enough to mask the sounds or distract me. I often try to wait until everyone else is finished eating or eat before they do if possible, especially since there is also a strong visual aspect to my triggers. It is difficult to convey this clearly to anyone who does not also suffer from misophonia.
I discovered ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) around the same time I learned that my disorder had a name. ASMR is also relatively new and describes a feeling of euphoric tingling and relaxation that can come over someone in response to certain videos or sounds. I understand misophonia as the dark mirror universe of ASMR. It is the direct opposite, though there are some overlaps I’ve found. Some ASMR stimuli that give people euphoria are torture for me, but there are some that I find calming and pleasurable as well. The connections are fascinating and disturbing all at once to me.
I resisted telling anyone about my misophonia for years. Learning it had a name helped give it validity and helped me to know I wasn’t completely crazy. Discovering ASMR helped me find language to articulate what I’m feeling.
Anytime I consider telling someone, I’m torn. Although it is a great relief to have understanding and support from my loved ones when I am triggered, knowledge of my possible reactions often makes people self conscious and weird around me or worse. There are people in my life who would find it amusing to push my buttons if they know there are buttons to push.
At the end of the day though, I know that if I was suffering in silence and fear and frustration, others must be suffering too. It’s a pretty lonely headspace in which to exist. Burdens shared are a bit easier to manage. That is the guiding light of my existence. My moral compass directs me to shine a light in dark places whenever possible. Whenever I can find the strength to do so, I try to live by that. So here I am. If misophonia is making your life a living hell, you are not alone, though you may be eating alone. Your self care is important. You are not crazy.
If someone you love suffers from misophonia, please take them seriously and be compassionate. Ask them what they need–don’t assume, don’t judge. Try to help if they ask, but don’t call them out over it.
As always, I’m willing to listen if you need to talk or answer questions if I can.
Meanwhile, here are a few resources (there new things to learn about it all the time. Google often)