I figure it’s safe to assume most of you are wondering: What the hell is misophonia?
Well, my friends, you have come to the right place. Let’s chat.
The word misophonia literally means “the hatred of sound.” It’s believed to be a neurological disorder, and it causes negative emotions (such as anger, hatred, and disgust) to be triggered by certain sounds. These triggers vary wildly from person to person, but they are almost always average, day-to-day noises; turning a page in a book, eating a bag of chips, tapping your toes, even breathing heavily. To most people, these things are nothing more than background noise. To someone with misophonia, one of these sounds could cause a full-on breakdown.
Of course, like most things concerning the brain, misophonia falls on a spectrum. This self-test from www.misophonia.com has broken it down into ten groups; people in group one suffer from a higher-than-usual awareness of certain sounds but don’t experience any overwhelmingly negative emotions when faced with their triggers while people in group ten have admitted to resorting to violent behavior just to get the sound to stop.
I’ve dealt with misophonia since I was in elementary school, and I didn’t have a word to put to it until just last year. Most of the people in my life knew that I didn’t like the sound of people eating, but everyone told me that it was something I would eventually grow out of one day. I wanted them to be right, I really did, but it’s been around for about fifteen years now. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
Personally, my two main triggers are the sound of people eating and muffled noises (like music or voices coming through the wall), and on my worst day, I fall into group seven. The most recent incident I can remember took place at my day job and involved nothing more than a piece of gum. No one else even noticed the chewing, but every smack and pop that came from their mouth set my teeth on edge. I’d already had to deal with a large crowd of customers, and one particularly unhappy one, and I could just feel myself coming apart. I ended up taking a break early so I could run to the back room and talk myself down before I had a full-blown panic attack. Even then, the noise kept replaying itself in my head. This same thing has happened whenever my neighbors have parties in their backyard, since their only way of communicating seems to be via screaming everything they say. It went on for hours, and near the end I felt like I was trapped inside my own house. There was no room I could go to that their voices didn’t reach.
Those are just the big moments, but misophonia is the kind of thing that settles right into the front of your brain. I feel anxious when I know I’ll be in group situations that involve food, and I rarely ever go see movies in the theatre because the sound of dozens of people eating popcorn ruins the entire experience for me.
I’m not writing this article to complain. I’m writing it because, in all those years before I knew what was wrong, I was starting to think that I was textbook insane. I’m not kidding. No one else even noticed when someone was sucking on a mint from across the room—why was I the only one so stressed that my hands were shaking? Why couldn’t I just let it go like everyone was always telling me to? Why the hell did it bother me so much that I was willing to bite down on my tongue just to distract myself?
Then, a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article about misophonia.
Not only did I learn what was happening in my brain, but I discovered that other people felt the same way. I could have cried. If I had known about misophonia earlier, it would have saved me years of self-doubt about the legitimacy of my unwanted aggression. I’m writing this to tell anyone else who feels the way that I do that I GET IT, DUDE. I know it sucks, but you aren’t crazy, and you aren’t going through it by yourself. We can all be there for each other.