The thoughtless tapping of your roommate's nails on his desk as he's studying. The cacophonous chip-crunching from the girl sitting behind you at the movies. For most, these sounds are minor annoyances. But for me, they cause an uncontrollable panic -- one that puts my very well-being in danger. This is a classic symptom of misophonia.
I can't remember a time ever living without this innate, inexplicable "fear of sound." For years, I would skip meals to avoid eating with my family, fearful of the way my brain would fixate on their constant chewing noises. I dreaded classrooms with blackboards, excusing myself to go to the bathroom the second the teacher picked up the piece of chalk. I felt deeply ashamed, isolated by the thought that I was the only one with these adverse reactions. I didn't even think to wonder why these sounds bothered me so much. For much of my life, I was certain of two things: that there was something terribly wrong with me, and that the only survival option in a world of trigger noises was to run as far away as I possibly could.
In my junior year of high school, I reached one of my lowest points yet. I felt defeated by my condition, discouraged by the fact that I would never be able to open up about what affected me so greatly on a daily basis. But one day, something changed.
I was eating lunch with my high school friends, listening to their usual banter about AP classes and the Trump administration. When they started talking with food in their mouths, I plugged my earbuds into my computer, as usual, trying to pass it off like I was working on homework. Although I normally went unnoticed, this time my friend tapped me on the shoulder.
"Alyssa, do you think you have misophonia?"
"Wait, what's that?"
As she explained to me what she meant, it was like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, I had an answer to so many of the questions I had been asking myself my entire life. I knew what was happening to me. And I didn't feel so alone anymore.
According to WebMD, misophonia occurs when seemingly reasonable sounds trigger extreme physiological responses. These sounds, specific to the individual, are as mundane as the whirring of a vacuum or the tapping of a keyboard. As one would imagine, misophonia can be a significant impediment to social interaction; just a chat over coffee and pastries can easily send sufferers into an emotional spiral. But, though the condition is lifelong, it is manageable.
Ever since that day, I have striven to learn as much about misophonia as possible. I've scoured the web for every tidbit of information, noting historical tracks and newfound research. I've joined online communities, interacting regularly with misophonia sufferers worldwide. Through it all, I've gained a more thorough understanding of my condition and my approach to life.
Despite how far I have come, coping is a day-to-day process. Starting college has presented many new challenges, as the crowded nature of campus means that people will always be around to make noise. Still, I have found solace in listening to ambient noise on YouTube and turning up the volume on my favorite playlists. I've striven to commit to a healthy diet and regular exercise - essential when it comes to lowering my stress levels and reducing my reactions. And sometimes, when visual triggers kick in or the sounds are impossible to drown out, my best option is to take a deep breath and walk away. Learning how to remain calm at the moment and remove myself from the situation has been an invaluable skill, and has helped me to face the challenges of university environment head-on.
If you have a friend who struggles with misophonia, the best thing you can do is to speak up. Approach your friend, ask what their trigger noises are, and do your best to avoid making said noises when your friend is in the vicinity. Speaking from experience, your friend will likely avoid asking you to stop making trigger noises due to fear of judgment and immediate onset of panic. The condition is difficult, but your help makes more of a difference than you know. We don't look to blame people who make common, everyday sounds. We only ask that you see us, validate us, and support us.