Mouthing Off: Woes of Misophonia
It’s a regular Saturday night. I’m headed to the cinema to watch a movie with my parents. About 20 minutes in, I start to feel really uneasy. There’s a tightness in my chest. I feel a rage bubble forming, as I look to my right, and find a man munching non-stop on his popcorn as if he was chewing stones!!? The next thing I know, I’m in a puddle of tears making my way out of the cinema. And did not return for well over 4 months.
What is this craziness, you ask? It’s called Misophonia. Not to be confused with phonophonia (fear of sound), misophonia literally translates into the ‘hatred of sound’. But is it really?
Dr. Marsh Johnson, an audiologist says “These people like sound, the louder the better. The sounds they object to are soft, hardly audible sounds.”
Which stands true for me, I am completely fine around kids screaming and crying, but the moment I hear someone whispering in the library or breathing too loudly, the rage bubble is reborn.
What science says
People suffering from misophonia are essentially emotionally unequipped to deal with a specific set of triggering sounds like chewing, heavy breathing, pen clicking, foot tapping and much, much more. When encountered with such sounds, people often feel intense emotional reactions, most commonly aggression and anxiety.
Recent studies have shown that in addition to auditory triggers, other specific movements such as, swinging legs, hair twirling, etc., can also induce feelings of distress and irritability.
Earlier believed to be non-existent, it has finally been accepted as a real, potentially chronic condition. I’m not sure how true that is, because my Microsoft word is still red underlining it.
Despite the skepticism around the legitimacy of misophonia, there has been a spike in people’s interest towards it. Which has encouraged a lot of research. Many of which have suggested an overlap between misophonic symptoms with other conditions. These include, paediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorder.
Dr. Kumar, a researcher at Newcastle University, conducted a study on 42 people (20 misophonics and 22 non-sufferers). He studied their reactions to various sounds which were either neutral, unpleasant or triggering, and found misophonics’ heart rates increased, along with heightened activity in areas of the brain that conducts emotion regulation and determines where we pay attention.
The results also suggested the presence of greater amounts of myelination (insulation for the brain) in misophonics, indicating towards a physical difference in the brain.
The causal underpinnings are still under investigation along with treatment options.
What people say
People with misophonia, myself included, are well aware of our reactions being irrational and exaggerated, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to punch the wall when you go *sluuuuurp*, *slurp*, *gulp*, *aah*.
We’re apologetic, but we can’t help it. Don’t believe me? Here’s what Dr. Johnson said: “This isn’t their fault. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t make it up. They don’t outgrow it. They structure their lives around it.”
Sometimes these ‘irrational’ reactions can be controlled by actively suppressing them using multiple coping mechanisms. The most common one is mimicking, used to cancel out the triggering sounds. Self-distraction, avoidance and leaving the distressing situation are some of the others.
Due to the diverse nature of misophonia’s presentation and triggers, it’s not surprising that there aren’t any treatments yet. But, it is in the works.
But until that happens, do us a favor, accept that we are not being annoying, and this is as real for us as a headache is to you. And maybe, don’t make us stay away from the cinemas for 4 months.
Dive in further:
Allergic to Sound: A website created by Tom, a misophonia sufferer in London
Miso Manic Mom: A blog by a mother who has a child suffering with misophonia
Misophonia International: A news website by Shaylynn Hayes helping to bridge a gap between researchers, advocates and sufferers.
The International Misophonia Research Network: Founded by Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, an information website focussing on research around misophonia