Misophonia, or Selective Soft Sound Sensitivity, or 4S is one of those totally crazy, whacked out, voodoo mental disorders you hear about on prime-time investigative network TV shows. It’s real, though. I know, because I’m pretty sure I have it.
When I was about 9 years old, my mom ripped the ugly brown carpet out of my room so she could do one of those mottled sponge treatments on the cement floor. I spent about a week living in the family room while the 8 coats of polyurethane dried.
On one of those nights while I was sleeping in my makeshift bed, my dad came home from work, made some popcorn and flipped on the TV... In my temporary bedroom... And ate popcorn... Vigorously. The sound drove me into the most blisteringly intense rage I had ever experienced. I didn’t say anything, though. I just buried my head in my pillow, grit my teeth as hard as I could, and bit holes into the sides of my cheeks to relieve the anger.
That’s the first time I can remember feeling intense rage from the sound of eating. That is misophonia.
Many sufferers of this condition have it much worse than I do. While most seem to be enraged by the sound of people eating, others are effected by multiple sounds like sniffing, breathing, coughing, and keyboard clicking. Many of them have to stay away from people for most of their lives. I am effected only by the sound of eating.
I’m a skeptical person, and I fully realize how incredibly lame this sounds. Misophonia is a very recent discovery; there has been very little study of the condition. What I do know is that everything I have read on the subject, and the stories I have heard from other sufferers seem to describe my experiences almost exactly.
While I do think I live a fairly normal and productive life, I won’t pretended that this isn’t hard to deal with. The rage I feel when I hear people eating is the most intense emotion I ever feel. There is nothing that makes me angrier. It’s frightening to feel that angry, especially over something that is so completely unreasonable. Everyone makes sounds when they eat. Even me (my sounds don’t trigger anything). It can’t be helped, yet I can’t tolerate it. Any of it. It doesn’t matter if someone is chewing with their mouth open directly in my face, or sitting across the room, politely chewing with their mouth closed. I simply cannot tolerate the sound.
The real shitty part, though, is knowing how uncomfortable you must make the people around you who know you have a problem. I don’t want people to have to change their behaviour because of my condition. I don’t want them to think that I hate them. Although, I would be lying if I said that didn’t hate them while having an episode. This part gives me reservations about posting this.
The upside to all of this is that I know how to handle extreme anger in a non-violent way. Because I deal with these feelings every single day, I know I’m not in danger of acting on them irresponsibly. I simply walk away when I need to. When I’m out of the situation, I calm down just as quickly as I got angry.
It helps to have some coping mechanisms when I can’t leave, though, like at work. I made damn sure I got myself into a career that allows me to wear headphones1. At home, I’m able to enjoy dinner with my family as long as there is music playing or active conversation. In extreme circumstances, I match my chewing to the loudest person at the table and clear my throat a lot. Restaurants are usually loud enough with other sounds that I rarely have problems eating out. I do not go to the movies, though. Quiet parts are too unpredictable, and popcorn crunching is simply not worth the risk.
It’s a total pain in the ass, but everyone is bothered by something. I always assumed this was just the thing that bothered me. Only recently did I find out this was a documented condition that other people seem to be suffering from.
There are over 7 billion people on this planet. There is essentially zero chance that any one person is suffering from any condition alone. I know how lame and cliché this sounds, but it really is nice to find out you are not alone with something as ridiculous as this.
And I have taken serious measures to compensate for the huge delay between launching iTunes and playing an audio track. I keep a copy of “Bleed” by Meshuggah on my desktop for emergencies. For a long time, I would just play the track from the desktop if someone started eating. But Mac OS X has a command line audio player called afplay. I recently created a service in Automator that runs the following shell script:
afplay ~/Desktop/Bleed.m4a &
I made the service available from any application and set up a system-wide keyboard shortcut so I can play the track at the drop of a ctrl+option+command+b. ↩