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.
- Columnists: Jaci Stephen: Silence would be golden for us misophonia sufferers (walesonline.co.uk)
- Teen’s Rage Risk: Can’t Be Near Mom (abcnews.go.com)
- Me + loud typing = disaster (ask.metafilter.com)
- Misophonia? Fibromyalgia and Sounds/Noises (fibromodem.wordpress.com)
- Safer for Misophonics: 20/20’s Misophonia Coverage (abcnews.go.com)
- Misophonia (highfiveandraspberries.wordpress.com)