04 March 2015

You Know That Sound When...

There is this thing called misophonia.  In short it is an extremely strong response to certain sounds.  I don't mean like "hey we all hate the sound of snowblowers" I mean like "if you do not stop slurping your coffee I will leap over this table and punch you in the face." Because, honestly, that is how I sometimes feel. I hate to self-diagnose, lest we fall into the "labeling every little quirk OCD when OCD is really a complex and debilitating mental disorder" trap, but I will say that I have major misophonic tendencies.

Honestly though, it explains a lot about my quirks and upbringing.  My mother, who also appears to be a sufferer (for lack of a better word), was militant to the point of extremism about table manners.  You chewed with your mouth shut. You chewed as quietly as humanly possible. You didn't slurp or gulp. You didn't clang silverware...basically meals happened in a police state of good manners. Big picture, I am actually thankful for this.  Having even quasi-decent table manners is a really easy way to look like you know what you are doing.  The bar for basic politeness is set so low, that mastering these skills has been really helpful. But at the time? I thought she was just being the goofiest Mom in all of Momdom.

Now I get it. Oh sweet mother of mercy, I get it. She honestly couldn't handle the noise of 7 people around a table all going to town on the food and cutlery.  I am now my mother and she is me.

Of course, this did create some conflation of the issue when I was suddenly out in the world as a quasi-adult.  Chris' family did not get this kind of training.  They are soup slurping, coffee gulpers who often wield utensils like Viking warriors once handled axes.  So, in midst of culture shock, I assumed that my feelings of not enjoying the meal-sharing experience were just because I was being the most stuck-up bitch who ever bitched. I told myself to get over it, not to be so judgy and just roll with it. (This is actually solid advice, and had the misophonia not come into play, this would have been the end of it. I am not the table-manners avenger after all.) But that idea did nothing to soothe the honest-to-goodness sense of physical discomfort that eating around them (and many other people) caused. I had one- first, last and only- Thanksgiving with his extended family and just realized that...NOPE. No can do.  I love his big, loud, wonderful family, but we can not eat together en mass with my sanity intact. My problem, not their's, but there you go.

As it turns out, that may be because I am having a real-deal physiological response to the sounds. That feeling that I have to leave right now or risk yelling at my child for eating an apple? That is a real thing.  My reluctance to make Pad Thai, not because we don't love it, but because the sound of Chris eating the noodles makes me contemplate investment schemes for his life insurance pay-out? Also a real thing. Dear goddess, the random gunfire of first person shooters? The tedious unmusical "soundtracks" to games? This is why I can't play many computer games. Well, also my tragic spacial and directional skills, no motor control for buttons and general sense of vertigo from first-person perspectives, but the sounds don't help.  Improvisational jazz? I will end you.

I am fortunate. For me it isn't really a crippling issue.  I have, to date, been able to merely think about kicking someone in the throat for gulping a glass of water.  So, for that, we thank the universe. My relatively low-key life of privilege also helps...I don't have to expose myself to many situations where it is an issue. Not having to deal with endless co-workers or clients generating the general cacophony of daily-life saves me no end of heartache.  I also can have the TV or radio running so as to create a non-offensive set of background noises...this as it turns out has been key.  Chris always wondered why I liked having something running in the background, even if I am reading or working. Well, now you know.

However, I can totally see how this could be a huge issue in living one's life. I know for sure that I can never go to a Panera ever again now that they offer noodle-bowls, but I can't say for sure I could cope if avoiding that was not an option.  It is also hard to have people respect this issue because really, you can't ask them to not breathe/drink/eat.  Some stuff sure. I mean we all hate the sound of nail clipping because for fucks sake, that is not meant to be done public! The general decline of public politeness has created many more triggers, but still, accommodating all my sound sensitivities is just a lot to ask of a world.

So, if you see me in headphones at the bus stop? I do want to talk, I just can't listen to the neighbor's chainsaw for one more second. I am not watching the TV, put on whatever you want, I just need to not hear the un-rhythmic clang of a zipper in the dryer.  I am not cringing away from my spouse or children because I don't like them (and holy hell this one is the hardest to mask!) I just can't deal with the frequency of your breathing right in my ear.  I will handle it, you all just carry on, but know, it is totally me, not you.