Do you know what I find frustrating? The sound of someone sitting next to me and sniffing away in the midst of flu season.
I’ll never forget the day I was on a tight deadline and found myself struggling to operate as the person beside me let off a repetitive sniff that rang in my ears.
This was intensified by the person opposite me, who was drinking a cup of tea and slurping it loudly, adding a final kicker, going ‘Ahhh’ after each wretched slurp.
Someone else in close proximity was constantly clearing their throat in a way I found incredibly irritating. It sounded like a haughty high-court judge in a TV movie gently – and probably needlessly – giving a little cough just before they are about to deliver a verdict.
It made me want to ram a Biro into each of my ears.
The feeling these noises give me is like no other – it’s like a tingling between the fingers and on the back of the knees, as the rage bubbles up from the pit of my stomach. These sounds are so utterly repellent to me, that anxiety levels are raised to a point where the fight or flight response kicks in.
The only thing that is comparable is the feeling you get as a child when someone was taunting you into a fight and you felt that rising anger just before you snap and go into a fury of flying fists.
But this isn’t the playground, I’m not 11 years old, and Graham Marshall hasn’t just stolen my Panini football stickers – this is the adult world and giving the guy from accounts a running kick in the shin for constant sniffing will only land me in a HR meeting to discuss actions that I cannot adequately justify.
But you can never adequately justify having a hatred for sound – known as misophonia – because it’s hard enough explaining it.
I’ve had this since I was in school and I’d always assumed the sounds were specific to me. Some people hate crying babies and nails on a blackboard – I hate people loudly eating, slurping, chewing, swallowing.
I thought it was normal, so I didn’t talk to anyone about it. But these noises increasingly made concentrating exceptionally difficult. Other times, they are the only thing I can hear.
It was only as I got older and began to research what I was experiencing, that I discovered that many others have the same aversions to the exact same – and very specific – noises.
I Googled symptoms and scoured Reddit pages where I discovered people just like me going through the same struggles.
I’ve never met anyone in person who has misophonia, but it was reassuring to find others who shared my triggers and we could discuss how it affects our lives and jobs.
I once sat in a fancy London hotel having afternoon tea with the head of a globally famous and historic tea brand. I was interviewing him and he was taking me through a tea tasting and it was required to extravagantly slurp tea.
Despite being a lovely and charming man, he couldn’t have been stressing me out more if he’d been politely demonstrating the art of strangling kittens while I was forced to chew on tinfoil.
I had to sit through this, smile politely and ask a series of questions, while internally struggling – and this is something I pretty much have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
There’s been various ways I’ve attempted to curb my misophonia with not much success. Sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy have disappointingly changed nothing and I now spend a lot of my life wearing headphones and listening to podcasts or on websites that allow you to play background noises such as wind or rain to drown out sounds around you.
As of now, there are no evidence-based treatments for the condition, no randomised clinical trial has been published and it’s barely even recognised by the medical world. It’s understandably low on the list of medical-research priorities right now but that’s of little help to me and the many like me dealing with misophonia every day.
I’d like to be able to say people with misophonia have to suffer in silence but ironically silence would be lovely.
I just have to cope with it and I avoid situations where those noises are likely to occur as best I can. The TV remote and its glorious mute button are always on hand, the headphones are essential to daily life and I learn to avoid certain situations.
But honestly, do you all really need to eat and drink so loudly?
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