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Surviving The Workplace

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In my limited experience, the one thing that those of us suffering from Misophonia have in common is that most of our triggers typically stem from one primary source: people. People make the sounds that cause our lives to be disrupted and stressful.

Necessity forces us to encounter these triggers each and every day because we can’t really avoid being around people. Well, I can’t; every lottery ticket I have ever purchased seems to have been faulty, so

I go to work five days a week in a jewelry and gift shop where I must endure a litany of noises that make my heart race and my anxiety spike. Being in customer service means that I can never, ever, be rude to the customer, even when they inspire a black tornado of rage within me.

Coping mechanisms are a must because my job is what allows me to buy the wine I need when I get home after dealing with people all day. (Just kidding. Don’t drink to self-medicate unless you’re okay with ending up in a room full of weeping loved ones armed with letters about how your drinking has negatively impacted their lives.) My coping mechanisms vary, depending on the type of trigger with which I am confronted.

Working in a jewelry store means being surrounded by glass cases and women who are very conscious of their appearance. Many of these women have long, acrylic nails that they just cannot help but drum against the glass. This happens several times a week. Every time, my immediate reaction is the desire to grab that hand and slam it into the case.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that breaking someone’s fingers might make them a bit less likely to buy that pair of earrings that they were inquiring about, and a bit more likely to incur the assistance of the authorities. Neither of those outcomes are likely to put you in good standing at your job. Instead, I stop whatever I’m doing and stare at the hand.

I stare hard. I stare like a kitten’s life depended on it. Sometimes, the nail drummer notices me staring and they get the point. More often than not, they do not.  In my mind, I’m snapping off every one of those fake nails and throwing them in her face.

As I imagine how shocked and horrified she would look as I bounced Lee Press-On Nails off her forehead, I am able to mitigate the storm of fury and panic that is roiling inside of me. So now you know, if you drum your nails in front of me, I will be fantasizing about harming your manicure, your fingers, and possibly your face.

Dealing with the general public means that it is virtually impossible to completely avoid gum chewers (or Satan’s Elves, as I refer to them). I know for a fact that it is possible to chew a piece of gum without it sounding as though you are consuming your face from the inside. Some folks seem to be infuriatingly unaware of this and will chomp, smack, and snap that gum like it owes them money. Staring them down doesn’t work. Staring only brings the gum into focus and swells the sea of anxiety.

The only way to deal with a gum smacker is to put a finger in my ear. I do it subtly, like I’m scratching or playing with my earring. I have found that one finger in one ear is enough to make the noise tolerable and keep me from reaching out and squeezing the chewer’s lips closed.

As you know, Misophonia almost always means an intense reaction to the sound of someone chewing. This can make lunch breaks at work the fuel of nightmares. I’ve told a few of my co-workers about my Misophonia, and they have been gracious enough to accommodate me by allowing me solitude in the breakroom. This allows me to enjoy my lunch without having to sit across from a co-worker who eats gravel sandwiches.

On occasions when I do have to share the breakroom, I’ve found that chatting helps to take the focus away from that pinecone and glass shard salad on which my breakroom buddy is chowing down. I talk about the weather.

I talk about kittens. I talk about kittens dressed for the weather. As a result, I’m reasonably certain that at least one co-worker thinks I’m insane. I’m okay with that. If it takes making her think that I’m crazy in order for me to keep from going crazy, I call that a win.

Written by Deb Hathaway

Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.

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