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I Hate Whistling

by Kimberly Gullo

“I hate whistling”

Weird. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with that word my entire life. On one hand, it made me who I am today. On the other, I’ve been hearing it since childhood. “You’re so weird, Kim.” Sometimes it would be followed with a sneer and an eye roll, and others, an affectionate ribbing. But I always retort the same way.

“I know…”

Besides my over-active imagination and bizarre sense of humor, it didn’t help matters that I had an idiosyncrasy that most people–family and friends included–found, well, weird.

I don’t talk about this little idiosyncrasy of mine often. Hell, there are very few people who actually know this about me. Mainly because I know it makes me sound crazy and most people can’t understand why I am the way I am (It’s okay…neither do I). Yet, here I am, spilling my guts to the one, hopefully, two people that may read this. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’m ready to let my Weird Flag Fly. Or maybe because I’m actually hoping a fellow weirdo will step forward and say those four little words we all long to hear: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Deep breath.

Ready? Here it goes….

I hate whistling.

There. I said it.

Felt so good I’m going to say it again. I.HATE.WHISTLING.

And I don’t mean I hate whistling the way some people hate–oh? I don’t know?–nails on a chalkboard. It’s not just an unpleasant sound that makes me flinch for 1.5 seconds and then I’m over it. I mean that the sound of whistling has ruined my life (Okay, I’m bit dramatic, but it can feel that way sometimes).

I can see you. Your eyebrow is arched, your eyes narrowed. You’re giving me that perfect what the fuck? face from across the internet. But before you shrug me off as another weirdo, let me explain.
I’m not sure of the exact moment my brain red-flagged the sound of whistling to be my trigger sound. There is no early memory of some significant happening, some terrible thing that caused my immense hatred of the sound. But I do know it started as far back as I remember.

I can recall being at my childhood friend’s home around the age of eight or nine. Her older brother’s incessant whistling sent me into a fit of anger before I burst into tears and fled up the stairs to hid away in her room. Although she found it odd herself, Lauren did what any friend would do (even at the tender age of eight), and punched her brother for upsetting me. I couldn’t be all that mad at her brother. It’s not like he knew how badly the sound affected me. Sure, I told him to shut up a few times, but he was only doing his brotherly duties: to aggravate and tease his sister and her friend at all costs.

Being so young at the time, I wasn’t good at controlling the anger the sound brought on. I would tell anyone–even strangers–to shut up. Slap. Punch. Hit. Cry. Cover my ears and shout. Or run as far as I could from that God awful sound. Now, that I’m older–much older–and we, as human beings, are expected to act in a somewhat normal, sane fashion–I have learned to control myself in public. In fact, besides my boyfriend, family, and a few in between–no one knows my secret.

Sure, on the outside, I look normal enough. When my co-worker passes my cubicle every morning, loudly whistling some obnoxious tune, he’ll stop for a second to give me a smile and a wave. “Good morning, Kim,” he’ll say happily before he continues his whistling rampage over to the Keurig machine. He’ll whistle while he waits for his coffee; while he stirs in his creamer. He’ll whistle all the way back to his desk (far, far away from me, thank God). And there I am, sitting at my computer, typing away, staring at the screen, concentration like a good little employee. I give him a warm smile and exchange pleasantries. But on the inside–I want to tear his face off. On the inside, I’m imagining myself leaping off the swivel chair and dumping that cup of coffee over his head, and then stuffing the Styrofoam cup into his wet, O-shaped mouth. On the inside, I want to smash the computer on the ground and scream my lungs off. Anything, anything to shake off the rage that comes over me when I hear that dreadful sound.

The worst part about it is: the sound doesn’t leave me when it stops. It has this odd power over me. It, like, lingers within. I can’t focus. I can’t concentrate on what people are saying around me. All I can hear in my head is that damn, crippling noise.

My mother always asks me, “How can you hate such a happy sound?” Simple, ma. Because I secretly want to destroy every ounce of joy that is left in this world…Okay, that’s not true at all. Truth is: I have no damn idea why I hate whistling or why it causes me to feel the way it does. It’s not like I want to hate it. It’s not like I love feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and enraged when I hear it. It’s not like I love giving people an extra reason to call me a weirdo, that’s for sure.

I just…do. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

Over time, my hatred of certain sounds has gotten worse. Somehow, someway, it’s progressed from whistling to other bodily noises. Loud sniffing. Incessant throat clearing. Lip smacking. All of these noises trigger fury. And the more noises added to my Hate Plate, the more I started isolating myself.

Ah, but why has this ruined my life, you ask? Maybe ruined is a strong word, but it has certainly put a damper on things. The sound causes me such incredible discomfort, that I isolate myself from others almost completely (or try to at least). If I know someone who is an incessant whistler–I’ll avoid them at all costs. I will avoid socializing with family and friends just because I fear I’ll have to encounter that sound. Even watching television is a feat for me. I leave the commercials on mute. (Seriously though, the amount of whistling in commercials is ridiculous. If you haven’t noticed it already, you will now. It’s like no one wants to pay royalties so they just replace songs with that shrilly hell-noise. No, really. Listen the next time a block of commercials comes on. At least three out of five will have whistling.)

But I digress…

My hatred of certain noises also causes me embarrassment and shame, further leading me to disconnect. The people closest to me are often the ones who make fun of me the most or do it more to get a rise from me. Trust me, I would never expect a stranger to know what goes on inside my mind. I can’t blame someone who doesn’t know me for whistling or sniffing or clearing their throat in front of me. I just have to suck it up, pretend, and smile. What hurts the most is when the people that should love you the way you are–idiosyncrasy and all, no matter how weird–show no respect or understanding. Sure, okay, you slipped up and sucked the snot back in your nose as loud as humanly possible two inches from my eardrums. You have a cold. You can’t help it. I get that. But following up your sniff with a snide comment or a quip in my direction is adding insult to injury, and that’s what gets me almost more than the sound itself.

When people cannot understand or relate to something, they often disregard the seriousness of it or they disregard the feelings of the person going through it. They often think it’s a joke. I found that people responded in three ways when I told them about my little–shall we say–peculiarity:

1.) They whistle more. Usually to be funny, but I’ll tell you right now: IT’S NOT FUNNY. IT’S SO NOT FUNNY, SO CUT IT OUT. I might laugh it off in an effort to stop you from continuing, but I seriously want to smack you.

2.) They’ll respond with: “Oh…” Long pause. Looks around. “Really? That’s weird.”


3.) The best case scenario: They respect my friendship enough to make an effort not to whistle in front of me. The problem with this is it often leads to them telling others to stop whistling in front of me (even when I tell them not to tell anybody else), and then, magically–those people will start whistling even more when I’m around. Which is usually followed by a laugh and a: “Oh, Kim! I totally forgot! Sorry.”

Most people–and by most, I mean my family–will tell me I just have to get over it. This is quite possibly the WORST thing you can say to me. Get over it? Like it’s some guy I dated for a week or some job I didn’t get. Get over it? If I could–don’t you think I would? If I could just wiggle my nose and blink it away, I would. And yes, that was totally a Bewitched reference.

I wish I had an answer. Even more so, I wish I had a solution. Someone suggested a psychologist to me. Sure, talking about your feelings is great and all but my fear is that a psychologist will sit me in a room and surround me with all the noises that I hate, and then try to force me to “get used to it,” or tell me to accept it, or something that I know is never, EVER going to happen. The one bright spot in all this is that after almost thirty-two years, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in my weirdness. In fact, my weirdness has a name! Misophonia. Every time I say it, that 2 Live Crew song pops in my head… you know the one… “Me So Horny.” I’m a child, I know, but either way–my weirdness has a name and I couldn’t be more thrilled! I guess I should thank Ms. Perky, herself, Kelly Ripa, for bringing Misophonia to light. After all this time, I didn’t think there was anyone in the world that shared in my not-so peculiar peculiarity. But apparently, there’s a ton of people just like me. And there’s a whole lot of comfort in that. It won’t cure the way my skin crawls that moment I see someone suck in their cheekbones and push their lips out in an O-shape as I anticipate that dreadful sound that’s about to pop out from their mouths, but it certainly nice to know I’m not alone. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Learn more about coping with misophonia in this 2 night class with Dr. Jennifer Brout. This class is for parents of misophonia kids/teens, adults with misophonia, and clinicians. Learn more here.