Stop that noise before I go mad

There was an article in the Daily Mail recently about a student who becomes enraged by certain sounds. It drew predictably spiteful comments from the readership. She should “pull herself together” “get a grip” “stop acting like a spoiled kid” etc. etc. etc.

She suffers from misophonia – hatred of sound. It’s one of those obscure conditions that little is known about, thus there is little understanding of it. It is also known as “selective sound sensitivity”.

Quite often you’ll hear somebody saying “His snoring drives me mad!” But they mean that it keeps them awake, resentful and irritable; not that it literally causes them to feel insane with fury.

The condition causes feelings of uncontrollable anger, and a physical sensation that I can best describe as itching all over your body without the ability to scratch. Your heartbeat increases, your jaw locks, your fists clench, and you want to lash out at the source of the noise, despite the fact that you may love the source very deeply.

Common triggers are snoring, audible sound of breathing, chewing, rustling paper, teeth sucking, noisy eating, sniffing, slurping drinks, jingling coins. Volume is not a factor. Even the faintest of any of these sounds can set off that rage.

I can remember vividly when I was first affected. I was about 14 years old, and my father was smoking his pipe. I don’t know the mechanics of pipe smoking, but he made small puffy noises with his lips, and a little bubbling sound came from the pipe, like somebody sucking through a straw. I felt my face become hot and flushed with anger, and wanted to shout: “Stop that noise.” But, of course, I didn’t. Then there was the dog, a lovely old part-Labrador I adored. But he liked to pass his evenings lovingly licking his genitals with a satisfied slurping noise. Evenings became hell with the orchestra of puffing, sucking and slurping. I drummed my feet on the floor to try and deafen the noise, scratched at the fabric of the settee, and hummed loudly. I was told to stop it and sit still. So then I started going to bed at 7.00 am to get away from the noise. It was put down to me “being at a difficult age.”

That was so long ago, and over the years the condition hasn’t improved; in fact I think it’s worsened. I can sleep through a violent thunderstorm, an alarm going off or a telephone ringing, but even the slightest snore will wake me. Earplugs don’t help, I can pick up the sound through them. As soon as our dogs, who I love to bits, begin that langorous licking, I have to stop them. And when the DH snores, or even breathes heavily, I have to make him stop. Even if I’m downstairs and can only faintly hear him, I have to go upstairs and prod him into silence. It’s beyond my control. And as for a dog barking monotonously, I don’t know whether I feel more like committing murder or suicide.

A couple of times an evening with friends has been ruined because of their dog or cat snoring or licking itself for what seems like hours on end. You can’t say to a friend that they have to stop their pet from licking itself, which is a natural thing that animals do. So I try nudging the animal with my foot, picking it up (doesn’t work with Great Danes) and cuddling it, or generally trying to distract it; and surreptitiously looking at my watch wondering how soon we can leave.

There is no cure for misophonia, and it can lead to family discord and even the breakdown of marriages. People who don’t have it cannot imagine what it is like. DH, for example, when I say that a noise is bothering me, will reply: “Then stop listening.” If only it were that simple. But it isn’t. For as long as that noise continues, I am going to feel incredibly stressed, furious and physically uncomfortable.

Research indicates that eating noises seem to be the most wide-spread triggers. They affect me slightly, but nowhere as badly as breathing/licking sounds and coin jingling.

Thankfully misophonia is now recognised as a condition, and many people who have for years felt guilty or mad because they thought they were unique are now finding that they are far from being alone. They don’t need to suffer in silence any more. That’s a little joke, of course: we don’t suffer in silence. Silence is bliss. In the words of Zucchero from the lyrics of Miserere: “Sometimes, the best music is silence.”

Please feel free to leave comments about your triggers, any methods you have found for coping, or any experiences you would like to share.

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6 thoughts on “Stop that noise before I go mad

  1. Brilliant post, thank you. It will take a lot of widening and deepening awareness, education and understanding for Misophonia to be afforded the attention that it, and its victims, need sooner rather than later. There is a Misophobia Support Group on Facebook for those who would welcome that system of self-help.

    My grandson, who has ASDs that could have ‘cloaked’ the Misophonia symptoms, has not yet been formally diagnosed, but it was first mooted four years ago and the symptoms have escalated very swiftly and violently during the past year; he will be 8 years old at the end of this summer. So, contrary to articles I have read in the past, the ‘beginning’ is not ’10 years old’, or ’16 years old’, or ‘when I had a tooth extracted’!

    Grandson can’t bear to see or hear somebody eating, the sight of another person’s tongue is enough to send him ranting to any nook or cranny that is as far away from the offending tongue as possible! The harsh noises from grass-cutting machines render him hysterical, a raging, tear-soaked mess.

    Television, radio, particularly music, must be turned to the lowest volume that’s just above the ‘off’ point. Nobody can afford to whisper within his range, and he has ears on stalks when he hears breathing at any level – sometimes, it’s his own breathing that sends him bonkers!

    Nobody could ever be a devoted nail-biter in our home, grandson would be in a spitting, lathering fury before you could say ‘hang-nail’!

    When none of the above sounds are occurring, my grandson is a little ray of sunshine with cheeky smiles that stretch from ear to ear. Sometimes, he’s loud, he’s often mischievous, he can be precocious or even downright naughty, but he’s not a bad-tempered child, far from it.

    We don’t know if CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) might be helpful, but we’re going to try to put something in place. Grandson has a set of well-padded earphones for when the grass-cutters are active, they’re truly a great help.

    Susie, you have our sincere, heartfelt sympathy. Silent and silence-creating earphones might provide you with a small measure of peace, if only when you’re typing. xx

    • Oh, I am terribly sorry to learn that your grandson has this awful condition. It’s terrible that he has developed it so young, but, hopefully, now that it is beginning to be understood, there will be a cure or at very least an efficient treatment – without drugs – sooner or later so that he won’t have to live with it for too long. So frustrating that people who don’t have the condition, or know about it, put it down to being bad-tempered and are unaware of the extreme emotional and physical discomfort it causes. I’ve downloaded a hypnosis track to see if it will help. The earphones could work under some circumstances – for instance when there i a dog in the distance barking for hours on end, but it might look a bit odd at dinner parties. 😀

      I’ll blog again in a while as to whether the hypnosis works.

  2. It is, Fly. I spend half my day hissing at the dogs to stop licking, and half the night prodding TOH to stop him breathing. 🙂 Thank god the dog that used to be locked in a barn every afternoon was taken away after several months, because I was really on the verge of despair.

  3. Without any trouble whatever, I can see you dressed in your finery at the dinner table, wearing a super set of earphones! The reason why I can see that is because I know you would have the presence, the sense of fun, the humour, to carry it off! Likewise, my grandson has that same presence, sense of fun, and the humour to wear his earphones, no matter who is around him. As kids do, he loves to stand at the level crossings, waving like mad to the conductor and passengers. He could not possibly manage that without wearing his earphones. But, he really does not bat an eye-lid at the stunned faces of passengers! Something really special that we have noticed, train conductors show no fear or favour, no suspicion, no shock, they all wave madly back at grandson, grinning like the proverbial Cheshires, as their machines whiz past! Not surprising, really, that train conductors are our favourite people.

    The menfolk and I will be waiting for your review of the hypnosis, everything and anything is worth trying. I’ll let you know how we fare with the CBT. Time will tell. 🙂

    Fly, I would think this awful affliction – that’s what it is – is definitely worse for Susie to live with, much of her life has been spent living with it, trying to contain it, but it must be even more frustrating knowing what life is like without it. Grandson knows no different, he’s too young to recall a time when he didn’t have what he calls “my doodahs”! Only during the past year has he slowly come to realise that we, his everyday family, don’t have ‘doodahs’.

    Lovely word, ‘doodahs’, says everything and nothing, totally impartial! 😉

  4. Thank you for your confidence in me, Chrissie. We have a dinner invite, so perhaps if I can’t get any earphones in time I’ll stuff my ears with giant wads of cotton wool. 😀

    Twice I’ve tried the hypnosis track, and each time I’ve fallen asleep and woken up when it stops. 😀 I think I’ll have to listen to it before I get up rather than before I go to sleep.

    Oh, the doodahs! What would we doo without them? Hah! :0

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