What It’s Like to Have Misophonia

Misophonia sounds ridiculous. But I promise you it's for realz. 
Misophonia sounds ridiculous. But I promise you it’s for realz.

I’m sitting in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, angling my entire body toward a wall. Earbuds in to eschew the sound of the two ladies talking wildly and gesticulating next to me.

My husband sits five tables down, alone.

I was sitting with him, but the guy at the next table is a “tall typer”, a term I’ve given to all people who hammer away at their keyboards like an impassioned concert pianist. I can’t be by that. I can’t see it or listen to it. If I do, my brain explodes.

Why? Because I have misophonia.

I didn’t know it even was an actual thing until a few years ago. My friend read this article in the New York Times and forwarded it to me. Molly, I think this is you.

Whoa, that IS ME!

I was relieved. Just knowing I had an actual thing was one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

I’ve spent my entire life thinking I am absolutely nuts.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been ashamed by an issue I have with sounds. It’s without a doubt the thing I dislike about myself most. If a magical genie gave me three wishes, my first one would be to make the misophonia go away (I’d then wish for a billion dollars and for all pizza to be void of gluten and carbs, but still taste the exact same). From going to the movies to working in an office, this disorder makes daily life challenging.

It sucks.

I’d tell you the quick-n-dirty facts about misophonia, but they actually did a pretty great job of that in this TODAY show clip:

But if you didn’t feel like watching the video, the gist is that certain noises (in my case chewing, popping gum, humming, typing or clicking with a mouse) cause me panic and rage. And not in a “that’s really annoying” way.

It’s in a I want to punch you in the face way.

Last week, I literally speed-walked away (while yoga breathing and plugging my ears and shielding my eyes) from the guy checking membership cards at Costco because he was chewing gum with his mouth open. A wee bit extreme, but it’s how I deal.

Like most people with misophonia, I first started experiencing symptoms around age eight.

It began with food.

I hated hearing a spoon hit a cereal bowl, the muffled sound of a hand digging around a bowl of popcorn or slurping soup. I know most people dislike those noises, but it would cause me to act out. Break things, scream, or avoid eating with my family all together.

Twenty-some years later, I’m still dealing with these same noise problems. In a lot of ways, they’ve gotten worse. My list of triggers continues to grow, and over the past 10 years, it’s moved from just sound to sound AND sight. For example, seeing someone across the room chewing gum causes me to panic, even if I can’t hear them.

I know, it’s weird.

However, 20+ years of this ridiculousness means my coping mechanisms are dialed in.

For example:

  • I almost always have headphones with me, perfect for muffling noises at a coffee shop or smacking gum on an airplane. (BTW, if you have misophonia, airports are the absolute worst. Everyone chews gum at the airport)
  • Earplugs. I almost always have earplugs.
  • My radio is always on, which helps muffle annoying noises.
  • I downloaded the White Noise app which I play to drown out distracting sounds.
  • I purposely don’t spend time with people who constantly chew gum. Yes, really. I avoid spending time with people who constantly chew gum.
  • I practice deep breathing techniques to calm myself.
  • I’ve learned the art of subtly plugging my ears– as seen in the photo below.

I look like I'm relaxing, but I'm really just plugging my ear so I can't hear you breathe or chew or type or live.
I look like I’m relaxing, but I’m really just plugging my ear so I can’t hear you breathe or chew or type or live.

However, of all the things I do to manage my misophonia, the most helpful was meeting another person who has it. Long story short, the same friend who alerted me to the NYT’s story introduced me to her friend who also has misophonia. She’s normal and awesome and so funny and empathetic.

It’s a total relief to have someone who gets it.

We live in different cities, but when one of us is having a particularly bad noise day, we will text each other. “The lady on the bus next to me literally won’t stop humming AND she’s chewing gum at the same time. Losing my mind!” Just the act of voicing my frustration is a HUGE relief.

This is precisely why I’m writing this post.

Though misophonia is a neurological disorder, there’s not a lot known about the condition and there is no cure. Some doctors speculate it’s a form of OCD, others believe it stems from some faulty wiring in the brain. What is known is that this disorder is real and it can be very debilitating. Hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy can help (full disclosure: haven’t tried any of these), but I also read just talking about it can ease misophonia.

So here is it. I have misophonia. Whew.

My greatest fear in regards to this used to be that people would make fun of me, purposely smack their gum, or write me off as hysterical or overly-sensitive.

Today, my fear is different: I don’t want people to feel self-conscious eating/breathing/living around me. I’m already aware that some friends and family do feel self-conscious. I’m sorry guys! To be clear, I don’t have a fight-or-flight reaction EVERY time some one is eating around me. If I’m in a place with a lot of stimuli (a busy restaurant or fun party), I don’t notice a lot of the eating noises.

I do, however, always notice the gum.

Always.

Even if you’re not not smacking and think there is no way I noticed (I did notice and I am just not saying anything). I can even hear it over the phone. Not so fun fact: The first thing I do when I walk into a room is scan it for gum chewers. If I see anyone a-chewin’, I do everything in my power to not talk or look at them until they spit out the gum.

I can’t help it. It’s so dumb.

But I digress.

I am already feeling pretty good about sharing my story. Writing this was oddly therapeutic. I’m trying to get over that feeling of shame and embarrassment and I think this a step in the right direction.

I’m happy to go more in depth on all of this, so if you have any questions about misophonia, please use the comments section! Other coping strategies or treatment ideas are obviously welcome.

But if you could spit out your gum before commenting, I’d appreciate it.

* * *

P.S. Two other things I was initially embarrassed about, but ended up being okay: doing stand-up comedy & putting air in my tires.

STUCK IN A RUT?

SIGN UP FOR ACCESS TO THE #HEYELEANORCHALLENGE!

(plus a FREE copy of 107 Ways to Expand Your Comfort Zone)

Like this post? Share it on Pinterest!

Misophonia sucks.
Misophonia sucks.

Sign up with your email address to receive news and updates.

I completely respect your privacy.

You might also like

Comments (32)

  • Melissa Joulwan 3 years ago Reply

    You’re the coolest. That is all.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    That is definitely a compliment coming from a badass like you!

  • Diana 3 years ago Reply

    Why are people chewing gum in social settings anyway? rude. Spit it out before you get out of the car or whatever.

    That sounds very, very tough. I had never heard of it, I’m glad you shared!

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    Diana, I could not agree more! I recently went to the dermatologist and literally every person there INCLUDING THE DOCTOR was smacking gum. It’s so unprofessional, and I am glad a non-misophonia person thinks so.

    Confession: I do chew gum sometimes, but almost only when I am alone or need to get a taste out of my mouth (and then it’s like a 3 minute thing). Sometimes I have to spit it out because I can’t the sound of myself. Ha!

  • shhh! 3 years ago Reply

    Me too!! I make my husband eat with chopsticks because I couldn’t take the sound of the fork touching his teeth. It has seriously saved our marriage.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    OMG chopsticks! So smart!

  • April H 3 years ago Reply

    I was going to ask if you ever chewed gum (out of curiosity, not to be smart-alecky), but I saw your earlier comment that sometimes you do briefly. I doubt we will ever meet, but if it so happens that somehow we do I will be sure to not be chewing gum! 🙂 Also, funny story about people who hit keyboards with uncalled for gusto- while in college I worked at Petsmart as a cashier, and there was this crazy lady who worked there (also a cashier). She would get really mad for no reason and pound on the keys of the cash register really hard. Like beat on them. One day the thing finally crapped out. The monitor LITERALLY started smoking. She finally killed it with her key-beating. It was hilarious.

    molly mogren katt 3 years ago Reply

    YOU BETTER NOT CHEW GUM IF WE MEET. 😉

    Love that Petsmart story. I can just see the computer smoking. Hysterical!

    PS You should send me your address– you won one of my scary movies! heyeleanorproject@gmail.com.

    April Hill 3 years ago

    Really?! Yay! Stand by for address!

  • Jenny 3 years ago Reply

    As a super young kid I used to wrap clocks up in several layers of clothing and hide them in a drawer at night because the ticking was literally driving me insane! I have to sleep with a fan now to drown out all night/dog noises. And if the fan is making any weird noises itself I will get out of bed 20 times to adjust it until it stops. Open-mouthed chewing makes me so angry I could scream (but usually I just lash out at the poor offender). People clapping (outside of group applause) drives me nuts, too. Oh, and whispering! Whispering drives me absolutely batty. And the closer the whispering is to my ears the more I want to harm people. I’m so sorry you’re suffering but I’m so glad to know there’s a name for this!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I don’t have that clapping thing, but I totally see it! Whispering can be so annoying, too. I am a huge fan of white noise… machines, apps, fans, whatever!

  • Sadie 2 years ago Reply

    I have this condition, but it is only when people fold paper. It causes physical pain and I want to slap and murder people when they do it.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Now THAT is an interesting trigger. Lucky for you it seems people don’t fold paper all that often, but I’ll bet it’s more often than I think. I’d say I’ll pay more attention, but I really don’t need one more noise annoying me on a day-to-day basis ;). Thanks for your comment!

  • Emilie 2 years ago Reply

    I have misophonia, too. God help my poor husband who has a deviated septum and, you know, breathes.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I can’t believe you let him breathe. 😉

    It always seems those closest to us feel the brunt of everything. It’s so hard to explain how you can love someone so much except when they’re doing a select few human functions. Like eating and breathing!

  • Misophonia 2 years ago Reply

    Great post!

    Let’s start a misophonia awareness courtesy campaign to reduce gum-chewing and open-mouth chewing in public. If more people were aware that they may be hurting someone when they make chewing sounds, perhaps they would take more care to chew with their mouths closed in public and at work.

  • Libby 2 years ago Reply

    I have misophonia, too. It’s the worst. Great post, everything you wrote is so true.

    (Came here from a link on Mel Joulwan’s blog.)

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Nice to meet you, Libby! It is the worst.

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only weirdo out there literally running away from the lady popping her gum every 8-12 seconds at TJ Maxx. 🙂

  • Liz 2 years ago Reply

    my friend amber told me about your blog, and I’m so glad she did. I can totally relate to everything you said!
    I have had misophonia since I was a kid. my brother and I used to get into physical fights over him cracking his knuckles, etc. I’ve tried wearing earplugs, but I can hear my hair move and it makes me want to shave my head (I like my hair too much to shave though). my husband and kids are very understanding about it, which helps a lot! but like emilie said, my husbands breathing, poor guy.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    So funny about the earplugs… I can totally relate. I can’t stand listening to myself eat a banana. Yuck yuck yuck, ew, ew, ew!

  • Carrie 2 years ago Reply

    "Mom! Jeff’s making the noise!" – I can’t even tell you how many times I yelled that when I was growing up. I could not handle my brother making any kind of noise with his mouth. Now I have to restrain myself when my secretary chews ice. I didn’t realize that misophonia was a thing until about a year ago. I couldn’t believe that there was something out there that explained why I want to stab people in the eye who smack gum, chew ice, bite forks, chew with their mouths open,or an assortment of other things that drive me to the edge of insanity. I read that it is common in people with tinnitus, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I’m glad to read some of the comments from others who suffer with this as well. Thanks for the post!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Oh god, the chewing ice at work sounds like absolute torture! Be strong!

  • Polly 2 years ago Reply

    I’ve never heard of this and I relate so much to what you’ve written – I have noise-blocking earphones because public transport is so stressful for me (people talking on phones, people who breathe loudly through their nose, gum, food chewing, hoicking, swallowing loudly…) I’ve declined dates when I realise that the other person is a nose breather, I can’t cope with that in our silences for the rest of our life. My father is deaf and chews gum and food with his mouth open and it makes me want to throw my plate across the room or burst into tears, and I’ve always thought I’m just being sensitive and should get over it because it’s not his fault. I can’t be in a room with a ticking clock, it drowns out all other noise. And it drives me mad when other people don’t "notice" what I notice. I relate so much to what you and other people have written here, thank you for sharing and reassuring me I’m not totally mad.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    You are not crazy at all! Or maybe it’s more like we’re all crazy together! I literally don’t hang out with people who chew gum regularly. It’s just a fact of my life. Hang in there and maybe one day there will be a coping strategy that works better than just running away.

  • Kathy S. 2 years ago Reply

    My 18yo son also has misophonia. I wrote about it here: http://saltycrunchybitterfresh.blogspot.com/2011/09/hatred-of-sound.html

    By way of update (because that was 4 years ago), we eventually had to pull him out of school because of it. This was in his junior year of high school and fortunately he was academically advanced so he was able to get a diploma online, but then the Texas AG shut down the place where he got it, so … we’re not sure whether he even has one now. The idea of him sitting for the GED is pretty daunting because of the possibility of gum chewing, sniffling, throat-clearing, etc. In my son’s case there’s definitely a relationship between misophonia and anxiety so since no one knows what to do about misophonia specifically, we’ve been attacking the anxiety and it has helped tremendously. He has been to various therapists and even tried biofeedback/neurofeedback therapy. Everything helps for a little while, until it doesn’t. Anxiety medication has helped the most dramatically and with the most staying power so far. He now takes 15mg of Lexapro and 10mg of Abilify daily. He’s able not only to have conversations with his father and sister, when he couldn’t even be in the same room as them a couple of years ago, but to ride public transportation and to occasionally sit in a coffee shop or even at the table with his father and me while we’re eating — without earbuds. This is HUGE compared to where he was when I wrote that post linked above. I am extremely hopeful that if we can continue to manage his anxiety — and we take that day-by-day with whatever works at the time, whether meds or therapy or exercise/diet — that he will be able to attend college or work around other people at some point. Or sit for the GED, haha. He’s not there yet, but I’m hopeful he will get there!

    Thanks so much for writing about this! When I posted my original article, I was blown away by how many people told me they have this, or their child or spouse or someone they know has it, and they never knew it had a name. We need to get the word out and let people know they’re not alone, they’re not weird, and there’s hope!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I was so saddened by your son’s story, but glad to hear that you’re finally figuring it out. It’s so hard to explain to people, but it is truly a debilitating condition. Honestly, working from home has been a godsend in that regard– I didn’t even realize how much noise in my workplace was affecting my day-to-day stress level. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Nanette Jula 2 years ago Reply

    Long story short, but I also had misophonia but my triggers were white-noise type things…bathroom vent, oven fan, vacuums, etc. and then my son, who had sensory-processing disorder and adhd, started a program called brain highways. Parents were required to go through the program, too, unless they showed that their lower and mid brains were more than 75% developed. Mine was not, so I did the exercises with him. Guess what? Misophonia, along with a host of other things I’d been suffering for years, issues I had no idea were resolvable, started disappearing. I used to be highly sensitive to touch, too, especially lite touch, and would have the same visceral response. And now that I’m done with the program, noise and touch no longer anger me. I’ve also vastly improved my sense of balance, my sense of direction, my peripheral vision, I no longer get car sick, etc. Neuroplasticity is an amazing thing.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Interesting! I am going to look into that… I would do almost anything to make this craziness stop. Googling this immediately. Thanks for sharing, Nanette!

  • Julie 2 years ago Reply

    This is me to a "T". My issues started when I was eight-ish as well. The sound of my own mother eating. I HATED HER. Isn’t that awful? My wonderful, beautiful, single mom who raised me in spite of every odd imaginable, and who I loved without measure, sitting there innocently enjoying dinner and I wanted to throw my fork into her face. So glad I found your blog! Lots of good stuff here 🙂

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story, Julie! It’s awful when those closest to us bear the brunt of this stupid misophonia. Maybe it’s because we know they’ll always love us, flaws and all.

  • Lynn Wagner 1 year ago Reply

    I have had this for as long as I can remember. I was lucky though that my mother was plagued by it as well and we can laugh our way through it together. Over the years I have learned to cope, but still have to remove myself from certain irritating situations. I was in a restaurant the other day and focused/stared/obsessed with this woman who was chewing with her tongue, (I am sure you understand what that means) I could not hear her, but I could see her. Then a few days later driving in a car, she was there again, it was like my eyes immediately picked her through the traffic and focused on that ‘sound’ I couldn’t even hear all over again. It is a problem, but it is good to know we are not alone.

  • cc 10 months ago Reply

    Yes! I and my spouse have this and it is great to have a partner who understands my brand of crazy, but it can make our household kind of mystifying to our two children (I hope they never develop it!) Also, i make attending movies in public theaters impossibel for all around me. Work situations (meetings in small conference rooms) seem particularly tricky and I have even gotten in trouble for "not looking engaged" in a topic when I was trying to keep from vomiting and running out of the room in a rage whilst the woman next to me cracked every bone in her body…
    Solidarity, though! it does help to know you are out there!

Leave a Reply