I know that when you look at me, you see something other than who I really am. I am not a raging psychopath. I am not a total bitch. I am not a maniacal lunatic. Who am I, really?
I am someone who suffers from Misophonia, a rarely known and seriously misunderstood disorder. My brain processes sounds differently than a normal brain. I am not even talking about bad sounds. I am referring to normal, every day sounds like sniffling, tapping, and even breathing. I am also triggered by visual images, tapping, leg shaking, or even mouth movement. Yes, it sounds completely insane, because it really does not make any sense.
People judge it as human nature. I am guilty of this as well. If I took one look at you smacking a wad of gum I’d think that you were a complete slob. I have watched someone in total disgust as they shoved her hand deep into an ear shattering, crinkling bag of chips, then thrust a handful in their mouth. I have wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “WHY ARE YOU SUCH A PIG?” If I had the opportunity to get to know you when you were not chewing, I’m sure I’d think you to be a very nice person. We might even be friends, but I just cannot look past the visions or the sounds of your chewing. No matter how caring and compassionate you may be, I cannot get past my feeling of disgust. So, chances are, I will miss out on the opportunity to find out because I cannot get past that initial impression. It does not make sense.
Misophonia is a condition where your sense of hearing really makes no sense. You might hear a sound that you find annoying, you may huff and then just go on with your day. No big deal. For someone who suffers from Misophonia, that is not possible; it IS a big deal. We are not simply annoyed by sounds, we are tormented by them. A sound as simple as clicking your pen open to sign a document can send us into a raging fury. My brain does not allow me to ignore it or move past it. Instead, my brain tends to zoom into that click. That one single click. It becomes louder, more intense, and I am overwhelmed with feelings of hate and rage. I want to hurt someone. I want to hurt you, and I want to hurt myself. I feel the blood rising to my face. My body overflowing with hatred. I have to resist these feelings. Sometimes, I am successful, I can hold my rage in but it eats away at me festering inside. Other times, I may just explode. I may blurt something out loud; a rude comment, a curse word. I may throw things. I have no control over these words or actions. They are simply a reflex reaction to what I feel, and I just react without thought. Many times, I use myself as a human stress ball. I grab my arms or legs and dig my nails deep into my skin, drawing blood…anything to divert my attention from that torturous sound. It doesn’t work, but I need an avenue to try to release some of these feelings and emotions and to try to divert my attention from the trigger sound(s).
Most people will not understand, many will mock even if you try to explain. Not that long ago I went into a retail store to pick up an item. I usually avoid shopping in person, but thought it would be a quick errand. There was a construction worker just standing in the aisle snapping his tape measure incessantly. I shoved my earplugs in but it was too late. As I walked past him, I asked him politely if he could please stop making that noise. I explained that I have a medical condition and it was very disturbing. He looked at me with absolute spite snapping it again and asked me, “This noise?” Yes, that noise, is it really necessary? As I walked away, I overheard him saying, “Oh that’s just some lady bitching about me.” I completely lost it, and immediately went into a meltdown. I grabbed the item I was there for and headed to the checkout. I am positive that people must have been wondering what a full grown woman was sobbing about. A few women in line were sympathetic and offered to let me go to the head of the line. As I was explaining the situation to the manager, my fellow shoppers watched in complete disbelief at his contemptable behavior that he continued to flaunt. The entire time I was in the store this man stood pompously, watching me, grinning as he continued to snap his tape measure. He seemed to find my meltdown gratifying. I was beyond livid at this man and I called security on him. I had to sit in my car for at least 45 minutes before I gained my composure enough to drive home. Would I call security on someone for popping gum? No, of course not, but I felt as if this man was not only tormenting and bullying me, but actually assaulting me. Afterwards, I second guessed my reaction, and I even discussed this experience with my therapist and was assured that I did the right thing. Now, in a non-agitated state of mind, I feel justified in that action. It brought me closure. Hopefully, he learned a lesson in human compassion.
If you see someone that looks distressed or seems to be “freaking out” over something simple, do not be so quick to judge. Chances are, there’s a reason behind their madness. Just because you cannot physically see a condition does not mean it is not real.
I do not normally act this way, I do not want to act this way. I do everything in my power to fight these feelings, but I know that I will not win. Until there is a cure, I will just have to continue to live my life by avoidance as best as I can. If you see me having a meltdown, remember that I suffer from Misophonia and the way it affects me makes no sense.Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.