I tear at my hair. In my hands, I grasp my head. The beat of my heart rapidly increases as a large knot forms in my stomach. This dark feeling will follow me through the rest of the day, even though desperate breathing exercises try and calm it. Anger and sadness well up inside me and threaten to manifest into tears. I plug my ears, digging my fingernails deep into the canals until they hurt. And from the corner of my eye I hear a loud “pop” as if a gun has been fired into my skull, and smacking of lips to follow it.
What is this grotesque, ugly feeling you ask? It has symptoms of anxiety and depression but is actually: the invisible illnesses of misophonia. It is defined as being, “when certain sounds may provoke strong emotional reactions in an individual (e.g. if the sound of somebody chewing may cause someone to feel enraged.” I first noticed this condition when I was around 14 years old, and soon searched the internet for what it was. When I told my dad about it he realized he had it as well. But when I told my therapist about it, she had no idea what it was.
The problem with misophonia is that nothing is known about it, and almost no one is aware of it. There is very little research done about it, and it was only proposed as a medical condition in 2000. The link between my dad and I seemed to propose and idea of a genetic cause, but research on this is also very vague as well, researchers have identified one genetic marker associated with feeling rage at the sound of other people chewing. This genetic marker is located near the TENM2 gene, which is involved in brain development.
This causes misophonia to be a very difficult thing to live with. If you want to ask politely for someone to stop smacking their gum, or chewing with their mouth closed, you first have to explain to them a concept foreign to them. Along with that, the rage induced by what is commonly referred to as “trigger sounds” is often so overwhelming that you can not bring yourself to speak.
Living with misophonia is an everyday struggle, especially as a student. In my school, the no-gum rule is not enforced, as many teachers chew gum as well. Eating in a cafeteria in close quarters with hungry teenagers is a recipe for disaster. As of late, my misophonia has increased in intensity as well. Visual triggers have developed related to my trigger sounds. This symptom has grown over time because my association with certain actions had gotten to be so negative. So when I see someone chewing gum or food, I get that anxious feeling as well, even if they are not making a particularly irritating sound. It makes focusing in class extremely hard and school days are often torture to get through.
It is time to be aware. The more people know about misophonia, the more can be done to help those who struggle with it. There is no cure for misophonia– it sticks with you for as long as you are alive. It is extremely hard to take measures to help create safe spaces for those with misophonia, but I know it can happen.
So this is my open letter to you: if you think you may have misophonia, you are not alone. And if you don’t have it, please be more mindful of your actions and think of those around you. For with so little known about it, many people may be, ironically, suffering with misophonia in silence.