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I Thought I Was Just a Mean Person, When Really I Had Misophonia

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Growing up, I always used to warn my friends not to eat gum around my mother. I did not know why, but whenever my mom heard someone chewing gum, she would beg them to spit it out. I thought she just had super sensitive ears.

It started with me constantly gauging if my friends were loud gum chewers so I could warn them that if they were ever around my mom, they would have to spit their gum out. Somehow, this manifested into my own hatred for gum chewers. At first I thought it was sympathy pain for my mother. Then suddenly I realized I was starting to become agitated with sounds other than gum chewing. People tapping their feet, clicking their pen, whistling became unbearable. I would hear these sounds and instantly become filled with hatred for these people.

You know how when you ask your younger sibling to stop kicking the back of your seat when you are in the car but they continue to do it anyway because they think it is funny? Even though there are a solid 30 seconds between each kick to the back of your seat, you are annoyed because you are just anticipating the next one. You can’t focus on your movie or book because you can’t just not feel a kick to the back of your seat. Now, imagine that younger sibling is capable of kicking the back of your seat anywhere you are — the classroom, the library, while you’re walking on the street, while you are trying to sleep. I knew the people around me weren’t trying to annoy me, but I could not help but feel that same disdain felt towards an annoying sibling kicking the back of my seat.

I remember being in third grade in math class and a boy next to me began to tap his fingers on the desk one at a time. First his pinky would hit the desk, followed by his ringer finger, then his middle finger, then his pointer, and then he would repeat the cycle. I knew he was not doing this to annoy me, but I could not focus on anything else in class besides his fingers. I asked him if he could stop because the sound and visual were distracting to me, and he responded by calling me a freak. People in class heard my request and his response and they all laughed. He didn’t stop. Other people thought it would be funny to follow his league and play the invisible piano on their desks. My heart raced, the tears filled up behind my eyes, and I shook with anxiety.

Now jump to high school. I did not want to be labeled a freak so I would sit in silence while the people around me ate chips, tapped their feet, clicked their pens, and chewed gum. My only way to release the anger was to vent it out to the very public platform of Twitter. People who followed my Twitter would tell me how funny my tweets were. Then people began to catch on when I wrote tweets like, “Ugh, the girl who sits behind me in sociology chews her gum like a farm animal.” Do you have any idea how awkward it was when this girl asked me why I tweeted about her? I had to come up with a different way to address my annoyance. So, I began to tell people, “Hey, I have this really weird thing where I hate (insert whatever they were doing), do you think you could stop?” This usually worked well, until once a girl said to me, “Why don’t you just move seats?” to which I responded, “Because I would still hear it across the room because you chew like a cow.” Oops. Why couldn’t I just be nice? Why did I have to snap back? Why did I feel personally attacked when someone told me they did not want to stop? I knew they weren’t attacking me; they just wanted to chew their gum or eat their sandwich in peace. I began to accept that I was just a mean person who hated the world. I knew I would hate me too if I met me. What kind of person demands others to stop doing things they are entitled to do?

Flash forward to senior year in high school when my mom told me “our weird hatred of sounds” has a name. It is called misophonia. I looked it up on Google, Twitter, and Facebook. I realized my mother and I were not the only ones in the world who could not control our emotional responses towards sounds. I found a Facebook group called “Misophonia Support Group” where others would share their experiences of anxiety, rage, and depression all because of sounds. I was so relieved to know I was not just a mean person. I had a condition I could not control.

Today, I still struggle with the condition that plagues my daily life. I avoid situations where I can’t escape in the event someone chews or taps. I have had seven panic attacks on planes alone. I feel trapped in a world where I have to suffer in silence to avoid being called a freak or a bitch. I wish I could just ignore sounds. I wish I could explain this condition in a way that made sense. I want to be “normal.” I want to be able to sit in a room without having my day ruined because I heard a clicking pen. But I am not alone. There are others. I just wish people knew I can’t control my emotional response to sounds. I am constantly living in that 30-second interval before the next kick to the back of my chair.

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Originally published: March 14, 2017
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