Posted on: Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My sister just recently posted a New York Times article to my facebook wall, "When a Chomp or a Slurp is a Trigger for Outrage." Please read the article; it is the best description of what I have been looking for for years, to describe what I believe I have at least a moderate case or version of. I'd heard of tinnitus and hyperacusis before, but they didn't quite fit with what I was experiencing. Reading about others describing misophonia sounds exactly like what I experience. I haven't really had any triggers consistently around me lately, in my quiet new apartment, away from classes and public transport, so I can't say if it is still a big problem or not. Though some people talking with their mouth full of food really irritates me; the muffled sound and the change in voice, and seeing the food as you chew it is unpleasant (though it might be the blatant lack of regard for manners that bugs me more). It is always only people-made noises that irritate me.

My issues and sensitivity to sound were the worst in college. It is why living in the dorms was such a bad experience for me. I never had a single all-nighter from having work to do, but there were several sleepless nights because of my roommate snoring, or the neighbors talking or playing music. The dorms at American were kind of like torture for me, and going to bed every night really made me panic and worry about how the night would go. I tried earplugs and fans but nothing could cancel out the noise fully. I got so angry sometimes in my third dorm room that I would punch the rock solid wall next to my bed and my knuckles would bruise and swell. While moving to Pittsburgh my mom was chewing gum, pretty quietly, but I still knew, and I was just sitting in the back seat waiting for it to stop and it didn't, and I had a panic attack and started crying and shaking. That was really the only time I've let myself get to that point of reacting; I am very aware of social norms and would never freak out in class or with a stranger (which would probably lead to deeper irritation from holding it all in). These troubles continued in my apartments in Pittsburgh, so much that I had to switch rooms with a friend so I wasn't in the basement hearing all the footsteps above me all the time, and instead was on the very top floor. I felt very embarrassed about having to ask to switch and being unable to adapt to the situation or really explain myself properly. I am living at Toftrees because they had a top floor, corner room available, and I knew if I lived in a less expensive place in this town I would be surrounded by college students I would be miserable again, for the fifth year in a row. College students are particularly cruel and lacking compassion for anything that gets in the way of their partying and fun. They sometimes apologize for being loud or sometimes don't; either way they don't really get any quieter when asked. This is probably why I dislike them in general so much.

As a Psych student I tried to figure out where each of the feelings came from, and why I was having such obviously deep psychological reactions. Anger because I couldn't tell random people in class or on the bus to stop chewing gum. Anger because friends and family I've told that this annoys me (I both really didn't want anyone to know and wanted everyone to know) should remember it so I don't have to uncomfortably tell them again. Stress from not being able to do anything about it. Stress compounding the longer it goes on for and the longer I can't say anything. Distracted from other things around me. Racing thoughts as to how nobody else seems so disturbed by it, why do teachers allow gum chewing in class anyway, how can the person not know how annoying that sound is, and how stupid people look smacking their mouths. Guilt that some people chewing gum or food doesn't bother me at all, though others do (no sounds from Kyle or my little brother have ever upset me in the slightest). Physical reactions- heart racing, tension, flushed cheeks, eyes darting around; it was almost physically painful having to sit through it sometimes. I've gotten very very angry all while having to sit in class and do nothing about it, while someone chews gum across the room. And then as soon as class is over, it is instant relief that I can get away from that situation. On more than one occasion a good friend would be chewing gum while hanging out with me and unknown to them I was miserable the whole time. I don't like to say anything because it is my problem not theirs, but it also upset me because I've told them before that such things really irritate me, please don't make me say it again. Going to movies is another stressful situation. I prefer going to movies in the middle of the day and during the week rather than at night on weekends, because I know it will be less crowded, and less people around to make noises. I worry about it every time I go into a theater, and if there are other people I try to sit as far away from them as possible. I hope that new people coming in don't sit close to me. I would rather sit in the front row than close to others if it is crowed further back. Luckily often times movies are loud enough to cover up a lot of sound, but I've sat through some very uncomfortable movies I hardly paid attention to.

But really as much as I could try to assign reasons for my feelings and find ways to avoid triggers, it never solved the fact that it was a problem in the first place, never answered why this was a problem for me and nobody else around me. Like I said, it hasn't been much of a problem for me at all since I moved out of my last apartment in Pittsburgh, but I can't say if it is because I have not had any triggers, or if the problem isn't as bad as it used to be. I have pretty good control over myself, so it never got to the point of me not going to class or avoiding public places or anything, and no lasting effects after the episode was over other than wondering how and why I got so upset in the first place. It is certainly a curious thing.

- From the desk of Mrs. M


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