My Life with Misophonia

I had my first negative experience with sound when I was about eight years old. I was having a friend over for a playdate, and we were eating waffles. Over the course of what should have been a benign breakfast, I discovered that I hated the sound of people chewing loudly. It enraged me, and all I wanted to do was take that plate of waffles and hurl it at the wall. Even now as an adult, I cringe when I think back to that incident. The worst part is that I love waffles.

Why did my friend’s eating make me so angry?

It’s because I likely have a mild iteration of a disorder called misophonia. People with misophonia become unusually angry at certain sounds, to the point of feeling rage or pain whenever they hear it. Chewing and other eating-related sounds are the most common triggers, but any repetitive sound can potentially garner a hostile reaction. I can’t stand whispering, for instance, or high-heeled shoes on hard surfaces, or excessive pen-clicking. And those are just a few examples. Believe me, you don’t want to read the full list.

No one is quite sure what causes misophonia at this point. Since it’s not officially listed in the DSM-V, it’s hard to get an official diagnosis (note I said ” likely”) but you’ll find plenty of websites offering descriptions or support, both to sufferers and their families.

So what’s it like to have misophonia? It’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s manageable. I’ve read stories about people who can’t leave their houses or eat in the same rooms as their families, so my issues are pretty mild by comparison. Still, it’s not always easy. Having misophonia means dreading working lunches, or grimacing when people start whispering because it feels like you’re being pricked with tiny, invisible needles. It means not going to the movies very often because, between the whispering and the popcorn chomping, there’s not much pleasure in it. It means abhorring open office plans because somebody’s probably going to eat, type, or talk. It means knowing that a lot of people probably think you’re just a grumpy person by nature, when really you’re just exhausted from having to hide your anger all the time. It means shame is an intimate companion because a harmless sound has enraged you.

That’s the peculiar thing about misophonia. You know that your responses are irrational. I remember thinking I was out of my mind when I tried explaining it to my parents as a teenager. To this day, the only people who really know are my immediate family and Brandon, because I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable or self-conscious about something that isn’t their fault. This is my problem.

So why am I writing about this then? I hope in part it will serve as an apology for all the folks who’ve ever wondered why I can sometimes be curt at lunch meetings or other occasions. It’s hard to be affable when you’re fighting an irrational vexation. With all the literature circulating out there about misophonia, I also wanted to add another personal perspective. I’d like to show that it’s possible to thrive in spite of it. I still go to movies, concerts, and other events. I can sit through working lunches and contribute. I may not like open offices, but I managed to successfully work in one for a year when I was interning at the Dallas Museum of Art. Everybody has their own struggles. In the grand scheme of things, my aversion to sound is very manageable.

And what if you know someone with misophonia? I can’t speak for everyone, but my advice is to take it seriously. I don’t expect you to bend over backwards to accommodate me because I know that’s unreasonable. The world can’t shut itself off just because I don’t like certain sounds. But don’t laugh it off either. Misophonia may be something I have to ultimately cope with alone, but the effects are very real to me.

And if all else fails, chew quietly.

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