(This image has nothing to do with this post. I just like it. And felt like using it. Taken on my birthday. Back when I used to have fun and drink beer.)
I have talked about my strong aversion to certain noises. It was a long time ago, but you may remember that the sound of people chewing, swallowing, slurping, crunching, licking, and breathing can fill me with revulsion to the point of rage. Last year my friend Tarrant found an article in which this quirk* of mine was given a name: misophonia.
I love it when things that have been an obnoxious part of my life get names. I love things having names. Words that sum up a whole experience. Yesterday my friend Sid sent me a more detailed article about Misophonia and it made me laugh all the way through because it’s like they were writing the article about ME. It’s like all the people being quoted were actually ME. And the whole thing is so ridiculous sounding and yet – there are very few things in this world that can fill me with actual rage and to have those things be the sounds of people eating and my dog licking herself and people slurping at coffee – it’s been an obstacle impossible to get around completely. The world is stuffed with people eating and sleeping and breathing. We all have to do these things or we die. Well, maybe we don’t have to slurp coffee. (Listen up, people, it’s possible to sip the coffee without making that noise. Practice it!) It’s a horrible aversion to have because you can’t tell people about it without making them feel attacked and then self conscious. You just can’t.
Here’s the article from the New York Times about Misophonia:
“Hey hon, I love you to bits but could you please stop breathing so much?!”
You can’t ask people to stop chewing. I know I certainly can’t control how loud my chewing is beyond doing it with my mouth shut (seriously, do it with your goddamn mouth SHUT, people) and I can’t control how loud the sound of my swallowing is. For fellow sufferers of misophonia my chewing and swallowing could be complete torture. Of course, if they told me about it I wouldn’t feel defensive or self conscious, I would laugh and laugh and laugh – and then tell them I’m sorry and then hug them.
Does it impact my life in any significant way? Yes it does. I admitted publicly before that I used to say that Max is the only reason we don’t eat at the dinner table as a family. Then Philip pointed out that I have plenty of my own issues around food and it was an epiphany to realize that Max had simply given me a perfect excuse to escape from what I found to be a daily discomfort – eating with other people at a dinner table. There are exceptions, with enough people at a dinner table (like, at least 6) there is a lot of chatting to mask the noises of eating. Or if there is music playing loudly enough it’s okay. Eating with people in front of the television is okay because it also masks the eating noises.
I most prefer to eat alone. I truly do. I love cooking for people I love and I love going out to dinner with the people I love (restaurants are an awesome way to break bread comfortably as the ambient noises cover all rage-making noises) but I prefer to eat by myself. My son is essentially the same way but for him it’s the sight and the smell of other people’s food that he will go a long way to avoid.
Sometimes people will be trying to talk to me while they are eating and I’m not. I can’t actually hear anything they’re saying and I fill with internal shudders and then rising panic and then I just want to scream at them to STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT! I will sometimes make excuses to leave the room and come back when they are finished eating.
I kick myself every single time I put croutons on Philip’s salad. Anything crunchy is going to end up torturing me because I will hear it from three rooms away. Mostly I avoid saying anything to him about this stuff. Mostly I try to pretend I’m not sitting next to him wanting to pick everything crunchy off his plate and throwing it away. I don’t tell him that I’m putting the television volume up louder so that I am less tempted to box him around the ears.
The curious thing is that Max’s eating rarely bothers me unless he is chewing with his mouth open. I wonder if this is a survival mechanism ensuring that I don’t murder my own child for his natural noise making?
I can still remember, 33 years later, sitting at my family dinner table having lost my appetite because all around me my family was making smacking and slurping and crunching noises. I remember snapping at my sister telling her to chew with her mouth closed and wanting to tell my mom to just stop eating and my dad to stop burping between bites. I remember that those noises were all I could hear and I wanted to run away from the table, but I wasn’t allowed to.
I already have a hard time sleeping but one thing that can keep me up for hours unless I can shut it out with music or white noise is the sound of Philip sleeping. He’s a loud breather when he sleeps. I’m not talking about snoring which can also keep me up. I’m just talking about his breathing. The rhythm of it, the way it’s the only thing I can hear when I can hear it. And he always sleeps with his head as close to mine as possible and most of the night facing ME. So it’s right there, in my ear. But what can you do? I have sat there in the middle of the night trying not to listen, trying not to hear, filling with rage, wanting to shout at him and then feeling like the worst person on earth and hating myself because I know that this is my problem, not his. What the fuck is wrong with me?!!
Severe misophonia is what’s wrong with me. And I’m not alone by a long shot.
*Quirk is too gentle a word for this. But “madness” is too strong a word. That’s why it needs its own more specific word.