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Living With Misophonia and Anxiety in a Loud World

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We live in a very loud world. Unbearably loud for someone like me who was born with hypersensitive hearing, a condition known as misophonia. It’s a form of sound sensitivity much like hyperacusis. I cannot stand sounds above a certain decibel level, therefore, I often live in chronic fear of being overwhelmed by sounds.

I also have depression and anxiety. I’m not sure if my sensory disorder caused my anxiety, or if it’s just adding fuel to a fire that’s been burning for a long time. Either way, I am at my most panicked when I am being overwhelmed by sound.

When I was little, it was much worse. My sound aversions were unbearable. I lived feeling terrified of the fire alarms at school, I refused to flush public toilets because of how loud they were, and Fourth of July was an absolute nightmare. During most of the month of July, I would walk around in public wearing the bulky headphones you might find at the gun range. I’m sure I looked ridiculous. Anxiety weighed on me, and I didn’t know how to get help.

These disorders blended together to create many phobias. I am still scared of thunderstorms. I get anxious and jittery around balloons. I cannot be anywhere near a gun. I still don’t like the Fourth of July. It’s very hard to tell where one disorder begins and one ends, and maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Perhaps the worst part about this disorder is how unsympathetic many people are. As I said before, this world is loud, and in my experience, people love loud. Fireworks, parades, balloons, rock concerts, guns; these emblems of fun are nothing but sources of anxiety for me. And yet, I have been chased with balloons, forced to endure loud school activities and taunted with firecrackers.

Most people don’t understand just how debilitating and overwhelming sound is to me. I can’t just block my ears and “get over it.” Many sounds are simply too loud, and I can still hear them when my ears are blocked. I’ve even had a panic attack during one Fourth of July firework celebration while I was sitting in the basement with headphone on.

Even in the face of how hopeless and afraid I have always felt, I have made progress. I became accustomed to my brother’s band concerts. I no longer cry during storms. And sometimes I enjoy balloons. My biggest accomplishment, however, was July two years ago. I watched fireworks outside for the first time without a full-on panic attack. I was blocking my ears, of course, but this time, I was still and calm and I actually realized how beautiful the fireworks were despite the intense noise.

The world hasn’t gotten quieter. I still miss out on opportunities. I still sit out during chemistry when I know the demonstrations will explode. But there was a time when I was too afraid to even take a chemistry class. I know this world won’t get quieter, but I do know I will get stronger. To everyone out there with sensory disorders, there is hope. The world may always be too noisy, too bright, or too smelly, but it’s still beautiful and it’s still worth being here.

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Thinkstock photo via Creatas

Originally published: August 21, 2017
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