Awareness for Misophonia brings relief and understanding
When I was growing up, almost every night the four members of my family could be found all sitting around our kitchen table eating dinner together. There was always delicious food, thanks to my mom, and lots of conversation and laughter.
It was around this same kitchen table that I would begin to develop an intense anger toward the sounds my family made during mealtimes.
At the time, and for many, many years after, I did not realize this feeling was something that other people felt as well, or that it was even an actual condition.
Meal times began to devolve into shouting matches where I was told to stop being so sensitive or ignore the sounds people were making. I would be so frustrated and angry at feeling something so strongly that no one else could understand.
What I developed and still have today is something called misophonia. If you have not heard of this before, do you live under a rock?! This term has been blowing up online for a few years now which thankfully means that I finally understand why I have been getting so mad at sound!
WebMD defines misophonia as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, where a person is triggered by certain sounds (often mouth sounds when people eat, repetitive sounds, crunching, animal sounds etc.). When a person suffering from misophonia hears their triggering sounds, their reaction can range from feeling anxious or wanting to get away from it to the more severe side of panic, rage and feeling like their skin is crawling.
There is some research about how this extreme aversion to sounds, which other people do not even notice, develop, but there does not seem to be a standard explanation. From research on sites like misophoniainstitute.org, misophonia.com and Harvard Medical School, misophonia can typically begin in children who are already anxious, have OCD tendencies and are very empathetic and sensitive to others and their environment.
So far, I seem to fit all the qualifiers. I used to think, and I am sure people around me thought this as well, that I was a brat or high-maintenance for being so physically upset at noises that they personally did not even take notice of. To me however, these noises were all I could hear in my head. I can clearly remember how I would yell and shout at people to stop eating or making literally any sounds, or to just go far, far away from my ears. Sometimes I would even pick up my food and run to my room to be in my own space that was safe from another person’s noise. These days I’m working on not yelling as much as I used to.
In addition to this extreme anger I feel when hearing any of my “trigger sounds,” which elicit such reactions as my heart beating faster, my muscles clenching, my skin crawling, a headache and yelling, I feel very guilty at being so mad at my family or anyone/anything making the sound.
When I finally knew that what I was feeling had a name, I was able to understand why I felt so out of control over something so simple as a sound, and why I have always been so sensitive to certain sounds in general. It is a tremendous relief to realize that I am not going crazy over this invisible internal fight.
There is no “cure” for misophonia as far as I know, but it has been more helpful than I realized to finally have recognition and concrete knowledge of what I am experiencing. I have come a long way, and so has my family in trying to understand my sensitivities. But if I ever abruptly move away from you when you are crunching on a bowl of cereal – do not take it personally, it’s not you, it’s me.
Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.