themighty logo

What I Need You to Understand About Life With Misophonia

Remember the time when you were the angriest you’ve ever been.

Perhaps you were betrayed by a loved one or family member. Possibly your advances were spurned for seemingly no good reason by a prospective mate. Maybe someone acted unjustly towards your closest friend or threatened to hurt your children.

Whatever it was, hold it in your minds eye. Try to remember what it felt like: The white hot anger that, like lava, threatens to burn everything it touches. When reason is set aside and all you want to do is attack the source of your problem – fists, nails, teeth. When the feral, reptilian part of your brain has control and all it knows is fight or flight.

Now imagine that this burning hatred, this animalistic anger could be triggered by, say, someone flicking a light switch. You have no idea why, but whenever someone flicks a light switch, you go from calm and placid – straight to full-throttle fury with nothing in between. It doesn’t happen when you do it, but if someone else flicks a light switch it’s all you can do not to walk over and punch them in the face.

You understand it’s not normal. You get that it’s an unreasonable response to an every day occurrence, completely out of all proportion to the act itself. Yet when it happens you don’t care about any of that because your veins run with a flame with only destructive intent, and that is the only thing you can think of right now.

How difficult do you think your life would be?

You’d try to avoid people near light switches, which is tricky at best. Plus there’s that one friend you confided in, hoping for support with what is a confusing and frustrating condition, but they think it’s funny to do it it on purpose until one day you snap and tell them where they can stick their switch. They listen, dumbfounded, as you say some extremely hurtful things because they’ve been effectively torturing you for months for their own amusement and you feel betrayed that they never took it seriously. They never saw it coming because they don’t, can’t understand. It costs you a friendship. Another of several.

Early evening brings anxiety as wait for the time that the lights will need switching on. Sometimes you make excuses to be out of the house around that time.

Now imagine that your partner doesn’t really believe it’s “a thing,” or at least, even if it is a thing, you don’t have it. Maybe you’re just being “grumpy,” or if you’re female, perhaps the old PMS trope gets rolled out for another tired lap around the block.

Your partner gets tired of saying “Sorry!” every time they hear your jaw clench because they forgot and flipped the switch in front of you. More sarcasm creeps in every time they say it.

Instead of light switches, now imagine you have a pet – a cat or dog. Imagine that you love them completely and that they bring you joy. Now imagine that hearing the sound of them lapping up water from their bowl makes you so infuriated that often you chase them from the room just to make the noise stop. You understand that it’s not their fault, that they have to drink and the way they do it makes noise. It’s not as if they have the option of sipping quietly from a glass. You know that it’s wrong to get annoyed but you can’t help it. That you’re essentially teaching them, Pavlovian-style, that it’s wrong to drink water and they can’t understand why you get so angry when they service their natural need to drink.

And you hate yourself.

I’ve often said that I wish I could close my ears like I can close my eyes. Shut it out. It would certainly help, but 60 percent of people with tinnitus have misophonia, so even when the outside noise is quelled, there’s still the ringing in your ears.

So how can you help someone who struggles with this odd condition? Well, accepting that they have it is always a good start. Trying to ensure trigger noises are kept to a minimum. For some people, it’s chewing sounds, for others it can be something else or several things.

If you know someone’s trigger noises, don’t tell other people. There are those who, when told someone has a phobia of something, they immediately try to introduce that thing into the situation because they think it’s funny. These sorts of people will also think it is funny to cause or replicate those trigger noises which is both frustrating and upsetting.

Be patient – we’ll probably calm down once the noise has stopped.

Don’t try to downplay the condition, it has a huge effect on our everyday lives.

Be prepared to leave places at a moment’s notice if a trigger noise is present. Nothing says “I love you” more to someone with misophonia than the phrase, “It’s OK, we can go somewhere else if here is a problem for you.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.