The Poison Within: Living With Misophonia
The Poison Within: Living With Misophonia
I am beset by a tetrad of psychological and neurological issues: high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome, Adult ADHD, chronic depression, and Misophonia. You've probably heard of the first three, but not everyone knows about the fourth. In fact, even many psychologists I have visited do not know what it is. Why? Because it's relatively uncommon--and many of us who have it don't talk about it often. It is, however, a serious issue. I do not hesitate to say that of all my problems, Misophonia is by far the worst. I would gladly keep all the others if only I could get rid of this one.
So what is Misophonia?
Literally, it means "hatred of sound". But not just any sound--a person with Misophonia has adverse reactions to certain sounds, which vary between individuals, hence another name for the condition: Selective Sound Sensitivity Sydrome (4S). Some of the most common "trigger sounds" among Misophonia sufferers are coughing, sniffing, sneezing, snoring, breathing, swallowing, lip-smacking, and various other small sounds of the mouth and nose. These are usually nonverbal, although some verbal sounds can also be triggers (for their actual sound, not for their verbal meanings--consider that physiologically, the letter "p" is really just lip-smacking).
At this point, one might point out that nearly everyone is bothered by these sounds to some extent. Perhaps you had to ride the bus to work this morning, and got stuck seated next to someone with heavy allergies, and the constant coughing and sniffling annoyed you. What's different about Misophonia?
Well, when you have Misophonia, these sounds cause more than annoyance or irritability. The closest word I can put to it is revulsion. I can no more ignore my trigger sounds than I could ignore excrement smeared across the walls. It is that appallingly disgusting. On particularly bad days, I even fantasize about hurting the offenders in the goriest, most excruciating ways that I can think of. I never seriously intend to carry out these fantasies, but the desire is there, the desire to make people suffer as much as they have made me suffer. The worst part is that I know, in the logical part of my mind, that my reactions are completely irrational--but that doesn't make my trigger sounds any less repulsive when I actually hear them.
How do I deal with Misophonia?
Most of the time, I don't. I don't even know where to begin dealing with it. It is virtually inescapable, as every human being on the face of the earth makes these sounds on a regular basis, without even thinking about it. You probably don't even notice how many times you cough or sigh or smack your lips over the course of a day--but those of us with Misophonia notice every single sound, and revile all of them.
About the only thing I can do is avoid my trigger sounds, or drown them out. I do not go into public places any more than I need to, and when I do go out in public I always wear ear plugs. I even wear ear plugs at home if there are any other people around. When I am at my computer, I frequently listen to music or white noise to block out other sounds. I never invite anyone over. I never go to social events.
I dread my coworkers. I dread my classmates. I dread my family. In short, Misophonia rules my life, and there's not much I can do about it.
Why haven't I heard about this before?
A lot of people with Misophonia just don't talk about it. We all have our reasons for this, and while I cannot speak for every Misophonia sufferer, I can give some of the reasons I don't talk about it much.
1. A lot of people don't believe me when I tell them I have a problem. I guess they think I'm overreacting to a simple annoyance, because they usually tell me to "shut up and deal with it". It can take a lot of persuasion to make people believe that this is something beyond ordinary annoyance, something that cannot simply be ignored. Some people even become angry when I try to make them see the problem, and some make noises on purpose just to mock me.
2. The rarity of Misophonia and the lack of awareness led me to believe that I was the only person with this problem. For years after developing the condition, I never encountered any other Misophonia sufferers. My family sent me to psychologists, but the psychologists didn't know what to make of it, and always ended up brushing it aside in favor of other problems, such as my depression. It wasn't until a few months ago, when I mentioned my problem on an anonymous website, that another Misophonia sufferer came forward and told me what the condition was called.
In any case, I'm telling you about it now, because there needs to be more awareness. Maybe you have Misophonia, and like me, thought you were alone. Maybe someone you know becomes incredibly angry when you so much as breathe in their direction, and you never knew why until now. Maybe you don't have Misophonia and don't know anyone who has it either--but someday you might meet one of us. You might even become one of us.
What can I do to help?
The biggest thing you can do for Misophonia sufferers is to educate yourself about the condition and try to understand it--especially if you live with someone who has it, which can be almost as difficult as having Misophonia yourself. It can be frustrating at times, but bear in mind that we don't mean to be so difficult. If we get angry with you over the noises you make, it's not because we're angry at you; it's the sound that drives us up the wall, and we know that a lot of a time you just can't help it making noises any more than we can help our reactions.
--allow the person with Misophonia to leave the room when they are bothered by sounds. Trying to keep them in a room where they are exposed to trigger sounds will only brew pain and anger, which may be taken out on you.
--blow your nose when it is running. This may temporarily reduce or eliminate sniffing.
--try to stop your hiccups. This can be difficult, and you may not always succeed, but try to find a method that works for you, such as holding your breath for ten seconds.
--understand that our reactions are hard-wired and cannot be ignored.
--tell us to ignore noises. We can't. This is like someone jabbing you with a hot poker and telling you to ignore the pain.
--force a person with Misophonia to eat at the dinner table with family. The chewing, swallowing, and tapping of silverware against plates can be excruciating. Many people with Misophonia prefer to take their meals to a private room and eat there.
--punish someone (especially a child) with Misophonia for having adverse reactions to noises. This will only hurt and anger the sufferer. It is generally more effective to let the individual escape to a private room to calm down.
Ear plugs have been a part of my life for years now, and they are one of the few things that make social situations bearable. I've tried several kinds, but Mack's silicone ear plugs are my favorite so far.
Some people like foam ear plugs, but I find that the foam exerts too much pressure on my ear, which causes severe pain after extended use. Since I wear ear plugs so often (up to 24 hours a day) I prefer silicone plugs, which do not expand in the ear like foam does. Ultimately, though, you should find what works for you.
Information and Resources
- Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome or 4S
Description of Misophonia (also known as 4S) and its sufferers.
- Misophonia UK
Great collection of information and resources for Misophonia sufferers and those around them.
- Simply Noise
Online white noise generator you can use to drown out problem sounds.
- Hating Sound
Video weblog of a Misophonia sufferer, describing symptoms and problems in dealing with Misophonia.
Do you have Misophonia, or know someone who has it? Feel free to share your experiences, questions, and suggestions.