Crunch. I tried to ignore the sound of my family tucking into the chicken. Crunch, chew. In my mind I could see my blood simmering away, interspersed with shots of me flipping the dining table over in slow motion. Crunch, chew, CHOMP. Alright, that was it. My family stared in annoyed confusion as I left the table without a word, shut the door to my room, and screamed into my pillow.
No one could really understand it. Why would someone feel so annoyed by small sounds that they would actually leave the room in the middle of a meal? In Indian households, that’s practically declaring open rebellion. True, I had been complaining about sounds since I had been a child, but kids, right?
Some people tried to identify with what I felt. “I also don’t like these loud noises when they burst fireworks and all, very annoying they are.” But that wasn’t it, I knew. This wasn’t the same as complaining about the neighbor’s dog howling or having a baby niece cry all night. It was the little sounds. People chewing (not even loudly, just any volume), smacking their lips, speaking too closely into the mic. You can imagine the ASMR trend wasn’t very fun for me.
It only got worse as I grew up, and the older I got, the less patient people were about my complaints. “You have to learn to adjust to other people’s habits even if you don’t like them, Hannah,” advised well-meaning adults. It wasn’t their fault, no one thought to read too much into a teenager being annoyed at things. And I tried not to be a diva, I really did.
I tried different explanations. At one point I thought it was OCD, but I didn’t want to take OCD lightly either, so I didn’t pursue that option further. Maybe it was PMS. Maybe I should just be drinking more water, or sleeping properly or eating at appropriate times of the day. Or maybe, deep down inside, I was just a huge b-word.
That was when I stumbled on an Instagram post and looked up an unfamiliar word that I saw in it. “Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance,” said WebMD. I wanted to cry. Here, in clear words, was exactly what I had been feeling like for more than a decade! Now I could stop feeling like a terrible person every time I turned my head to shift focus away from triggering sounds. Now I could reply to people who said, ‘stop being so overdramatic and deal with it’. Most importantly, I could now begin to take steps to accommodate for this disorder.
Unfortunately, I discovered that misophonia is a lifelong condition with no definite cure. According to research, people who have misophonia have different brain structures than other people, and they may feel anxiety, rage, or panic when hearing sounds that trigger them. It also occurs more frequently among women. A crucial note is that these sounds will always be small, underwhelming noises that do not interfere with the daily lives of those who do not suffer from the condition. Some people isolate themselves to be distanced from trigger sounds, which is then linked to depression, social anxiety, and loneliness. That tracked with what I had been experiencing because I reached a point where I was unable to sit with my family for meals without feeling overwhelmingly irritable.
Fortunately, there is light at the end of this tunnel, however feeble. Although research into misophonia is relatively new, counseling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and this has been shown to make considerable progress in alleviating the symptoms and desensitizing oneself to trigger sounds over a period of time.
What I have gotten out of this experience is a name to associate with the problems I had been dismissing as ‘bad moods’ and ‘attitude issues’. I am very grateful I saw that Instagram post and I have now become more sensitive to others around me who might be suffering from similar disorders as well.
So if someone asks you to please chew softly, please don’t take it personally. It may mean more to them than you know.
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