In 5th grade, right around the time I hit puberty, I started to notice that I was very sensitive. I would get immediately distracted and violently aggravated, by the sound of certain, usually repetitive, ambient and bodily noises. I cannot sleep or concentrate if I hear a ticking clock, and I have been known to remove them off of walls. Chewing, repetitive coughing, slurping, and other various bodily sounds all bother me, but the “trigger” with the most impact out of all, is sniffing. This is due to the amount of times this particular trigger can be heard throughout a normal day, and I cannot help but notice every single sniff that occurs within earshot of me. Not only do I notice it, but it causes an extreme flood of fear and anxiety to rush through every facet of my body. This natural, innocent noise being such a disruptive thing for me, is extremely tiresome. Most of my family members have sinus issues, causing them to sniff quite frequently, all year round, 24/7, and fun fact: so does most of the rest of the world, including a lot of you reading this. All of these things that trigger me, make it difficult for me to function properly for most of the day, anytime that I am around other people, or even listening to, or watching them. In my younger years, I was violent, physically aggressive, and verbally abusive when triggered repetitively. Since then, through humiliation, and confusion, I have figured out other ways of coping that don’t hurt the people around me, or I remove myself completely. However, it still greatly affects me, internally, and hinders my social interactions. I cannot comfortably be in the vicinity of other people making these natural noises. Even if I am completely comfortable and enjoying myself in an environment, the second I experience a trigger, I am disgusted, in a bad mood, and I want to leave right away. I cannot keep myself from noticing it, and reacting to it, when I hear it. Thus, keeping me from fully focusing or functioning for a stunting majority of the day. I have problems concentrating, remembering details and making decisions, when my mind is under attack. Most people don’t even notice any of my triggers, because it is suppose to be background information, but for some reason, part of my brain didn’t get that memo, to my detriment.
What exactly do I experience when I am triggered?
- Throat tightening
- Strong desire to stop the source of the trigger
- Emotional distress
- Quickened heartbeat
- Extreme muscle tension
- The urge to flee.
- The reflex to repeat and mimic the sound to “cover it up” in my head.
These are all reactions that I have as soon as I experience a trigger, without my consent. Since I have such an uncontrollable, violent reaction, my body and mind get stressed out. I’m left physically tired, mentally exhausted, emotionally confused, self conscious, and terrified that I made a fool of myself in the process. I know people around me sense my sudden anxiety. I am aware that, in person, I can act very strangely. I know that I say weird, or strange things, act flighty, goofy, or seem like I am not paying attention to anything. I know that I twirl my hair constantly, fidget, move, pace, position myself in weird ways, and/or move away from people without explanation. I know that when people are upset, and their noses are running, I seem to get angry, even though sometimes they really need me to be calm and comforting. I know that I come up with peculiar excuses for behaving in such strange ways. That is not my true personality, and I am ashamed, and feel extremely guilty, that I act this way. These behaviors are only mechanisms I have acquired due to my daily battle with Misophonia. I can’t fully focus on anything or “act normal” when my nervous system is being violently disrupted at the slightest, most common noise. It’s just a simple noise, with no malicious intent, no threat to my well being. I know this, you know this. However, no one else around me really seems to understand what this actually does to my mind and body. An extremely negative psychological response occurs for me, including depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia.
I have the urge to stay inside, in my room, sometimes for days, even weeks, straight. I dread going anywhere: to the movies, out to eat, out shopping, to school, to work, even hanging out with family and friends, because it is much easier and less stressful to stay home, than to put myself in a position to be triggered and have another anxiety attack. Staying inside all day, not feeling like I can explain myself, missing out on enjoying my life and not being able to do things without fear, anxiety and distraction is deeply depressing. I have contemplated my mortality far more extensively than a 22 year old should, as I have had ample amount of to do so, while in hiding from the world. I don’t have suicidal thoughts, or want to die, but for a while, my life did seem meaningless and cruel. I was underweight for almost two years and still currently struggle keeping a healthy weight. I feel like, for years, I have faked that I was normal as best as I could so that people wouldn’t ask questions. I struggle with faith because I find it hard to believe that someone or something could have purposefully created me to suffer. I strive to be a good person, with respect and morals, but that is because I believe it is my duty to be a decent human, I am just not sure who I really answer to. Constantly being in a physical and mental state of stress has its consequences. I’ve been doing my research, and correlating with personal experience. Under stress, muscles tense up, and mine don’t hardly get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and neck pain, and body aches, all of which I experience quite frequently, and move very stiffly because of so. It, hurts, so it discourages me from exercising, however, strengthening the muscles can lessen the pain. Stress decreases my appetite, causing me to struggle to keep body mass index out of the “underweight” category, and subsequently resulting in my weight being the topic of conversation when I see loved ones. Being stressed raises my heart rate, and chronic stress causes my heart to over work in the long run, making me more susceptible to heart and other related conditions, later on in life. Chronic stress does lower the immune system, although I don’t feel like I get sick super often, its still a threat to me. The rush of hormones, rapid breathing, and raised heart rate, disrupt the digestive system, causing me to have acid re flux, heart burn, and even digestive issues. Not only does the stress have negative effects, but the coping mechanisms that I have developed are somewhat destructive. I tense my muscles, twirl my hair, pick my nails, and grind and grit my teeth as a stress and anger release.
Here is where things get shamefully strange. I like to sit in the back of rooms, wherever my back is to the wall, or there is little to no people behind me, because I find it easier to manage when I can see where the noise is coming from. I like to have my hair down, so that I can put earplugs in my ears more discretely, and, also, because even when I don’t have earplugs in, my hair sort of acts like a safety blanket over my ears, making the noises a little more tolerable, its more of a mental comfort thing. I also know to avoid or prepare for certain places, times, and people that I know will cause me to hear a sniff. There are a lot of little ways that I have found to cope, even if its just in my head. Most people sniff quite a few times a day, sometimes just for emphasis. People sniff when they go swimming, and usually after they cough or sneeze, which are also triggers for me, subsequently. On top of all of that, I live in Tennessee, which has one of the largest variety of trees in one location, resulting in allergy season, and generally all year round, to be extremely exciting. There are lots of different types of sniffs, and some of them bother me more than others. It depends on the volume, length, pitch, and tone of the sniff, itself. This is where things start to sound a bit nuts, because I sort of have a science behind it. (It makes me feel better) I can tell how a persons sniff is going to sound by the shape of their nose and know to avoid sticking around people who look suspicious of being extremely bothersome. I think the aspect about sniffing, that causes the most emotional impact, though, is that people sniff when they cry. The tear duct is connected to the sinus passageways. The major problem is, people cry when they are hurting, or sad, and that’s usually when they need me to be there the most physically and mentally. However, all I want to do is be very, very far away. I’ve been known to my family as being robotic, insensitive, or I have been compared to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, because of the way I act when people are upset, or are just sniffling. Which doesn’t reflect my actual personality at all. I really do want to be able to be there, and I do get through it, assisted by adrenaline, for emergencies or serious events, but other than that, I have zero tolerance for crying. That does not mean that I’m not sympathetic or not caring, though. I will address problems that cause the pain, but most likely from a distance. Even if I really want to, sometimes, I just can’t stick around to provide physical comfort, to those I love. This negatively affects all of my relationships with everyone, if I can’t be there on that level, it stunts relationship growth, and causes us to be less affectionate, and more detached overall. This is why the family, and the only friends I have, I barely see, because I am afraid of them sniffing… and also, because I feel guilty. Hypocritically, I have cried, and sniffed, countless times, myself, which only added to my guilt.
Even though the majority of this article has been depressing, I don’t want people to think that I have given up hope. I am not going to be held back by my own brain. My solution is to carry earplugs and headphones wherever I go, and play music or background noise whenever I can. I force myself to continue living my life, even if it means being triggered in the process, when I accomplish my goals, I will appreciate how hard I fought and worked at it. I am stronger than my disorder.
By Rachel TewWant to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.