I have a very distinct memory of needing to bolt from the room any time I heard the crack of an opening soda can. I was a kid. My chest would tighten and I'd panic, looking for any escape. If there was no escape, the panic would melt into rage as soon as I heard the slurp of the first sip. That sounds like an absolute fucking joke, right? It's not. I'm absolutely crazy.
Since I was a kid I've had an unnatural aversion to sounds -- the sound of eating, the sound of drinking, the sound of heavy breathing. The mouth, in general; why does it make any sound at all? As I've gotten older, it's evolved beyond those sounds, though. Typing, tapping, clicking, snapping.
People are in one of two camps: they think I'm a lunatic, and laugh when I explain my irrational aversion, or they say they are the same way. "Oh, yeah, me too. I hate when people chew with their mouths open."
But in my mind, I know they don't get it. Not really. No one can be as bad as I am because I am insane. The smallest, natural sounds constrict my insides. It feels like a fight or flight response. Panic, anger, a need to escape. I know it's irrational, and I know there's nothing to be done about it. What am I supposed to say, "Excuse me, stop eating? Stop chewing gum? Stop breathing?" No. So instead I glare. Oh, I've become queen of the look.
Right now everyone who knows me is nodding, probably rolling their eyes, because they know. They've gotten the look. They've wanted to smack me for it. They've gotten angry at me for it. They've tried to eat quietly, carefully, or not at all, when in my presence. I've gotten angry at people, needed to leave the room, avoided certain situations and certain people. I've had guys I couldn't date because I couldn't handle being in the same room as them while eating.
I don't know how to explain it. The feeling. The anger. The panic. There have been tears and frustration and embarrassment and fights and avoidance. It affects my life every single day. It's the reason I have headphones at my desk. It's the reason I can't sleep without white noise. It's the reason I'll never be able to cozy up on the couch with my boyfriend and enjoy a bowl of popcorn.
It sounds so ridiculous, doesn't it? But it's so frustratingly real. So frustrating I'd pay money -- and lots of it -- to make it go away. It's been a point of contention in my family for years. YEARS. I can see their stress when I join them for dinner. They know, without question, to leave the TV on in the background as a distraction. More than anything, no one understands, and I don't blame them. And the more I try to explain, the more I feel like I belong on an episode of some ridiculous reality show where the audience watches in shock and awe because REALLY? THIS IS SUCH A RIDICULOUS THING.
It is ridiculous. And it sucks.
I came across an article in the New York Times about the problem, called misophonia. The article, "When a Chomp or a Slurp Is a Trigger for Outrage," immediately resonated with me. Every single word. But after reading it I felt sick to my stomach because holy shit, that's me.
Some of the most eye-opening and horrifyingly familiar passages:
For people with a condition that some scientists call misophonia, mealtime can be torture. The sounds of other people eating — chewing, chomping, slurping, gurgling — can send them into an instantaneous, blood-boiling rage.
The condition almost always begins in late childhood or early adolescence and worsens over time, often expanding to include more trigger sounds, usually those of eating and breathing.
... the condition is hard-wired, like right- or left-handedness, and is probably not an auditory disorder but a “physiological abnormality” that resides in brain structures activated by processed sound.
There is “no known effective treatment,” Dr. Moller said. Patients often go from doctor to doctor, searching in vain for help.
Dr. Johnson agreed. “These people have been diagnosed with a lot of different things: phobic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, manic, anxiety disorders,” she said.
Dr. Johnson’s interest was piqued when she saw her first case in 1997. “This is not voluntary,” she said. “Usually they cry a lot because they’ve been told they can control this if they want to. This is not their fault. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t make it up.” And as adults, they “don’t outgrow it,” she said. “They structure their lives around it.”
Taylor Benson, a 19-year-old sophomore at Creighton University in Omaha, says many mouth noises, along with sniffling and gum chewing, make her chest tighten and her heart pound. She finds herself clenching her fists and glaring at the person making the sound.
I hate reading this and seeing myself in every single paragraph. At the same time, it's like, HOLY SHIT, I'M NOT ALONE. I don't know Taylor Benson, but I want to meet her and bond with her. I wonder if she takes Celexa, too, for anxiety. Because I do. And this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone at this point.
I posted a link to the article on Facebook and was shocked by the number of comments. Many people agreeing or listing off their own aversions. But I still wonder if they really understand. If it affects their day-to-day life and their relationships.
Because that's what misophonia does to me. I hate it.