For over thirty years, I suffered from an affliction I was convinced was confined to me alone and was so indicative of my individual mental instability that I dare not utter a word about it to even my closest friends and family.
That all changed when I read an article in The New York Times which gave the curse a name: misophonia. For me, just learning that what I had was not some bizarre psychological aberration, but a physiological condition that many others battled, was an immense relief.
For the uninitiated, simply put, a person with misophonia hears the world differently.
We find ourselves tortured by the types of seemingly innocuous vocal blips that barely register with most people. For instance, the sound of someone eating a peach can trigger a rage so intense that we actually momentarily consider killing the offender. Then, we realize this isn’t socially acceptable, so we flee.
Like most misophonics, my first trigger sound manifested in childhood. As a young girl, listening to my mother on the telephone was unbearable because of the hissing sound she made when she said the letter “s.” It got to the point where every time the phone rang in our home, I would scream angrily and then run to my bedroom and slam the door shut to escape the sound.
Ever since then, I’ve been unable to tolerate listening to women who sibilate. Much to the chagrin of my husband and girlfriends, when I am in public spaces, like restaurants or trains, and am exposed to strangers who make this hissing sound when they pronounce the letter s, I insist on moving my seat.
Another sound that I can’t endure is rapid typing on a computer keyboard. This has had a direct impact on my profession, as I have literally turned down jobs that would have advanced my writing career simply because I felt I was going to be surrounded by co-workers furiously tapping away.
In some of the offices I’ve worked in, I have been able to drown out the sound of keyboard tapping by donning headphones and blasting music. But my inability to hear anything over that sound has often annoyed supervisors and co-workers.
Currently, I work from home as a freelancer, which is a great comfort to me in one sense because home is the only place where I know I can avoid the stray sounds that torment me. On the other hand, my employment options are severely limited.
I’m hopeful that this is going to change as more and more research is conducted on the exact causes and effective treatment of misophonia, and the media gets the word out about it. Many neuroscientists believe the condition is genetic in nature, so perhaps one day, it will be as widely known and commonly accepted as a defect like color blindness.
In the meantime, I know that I am neither totally crazy, nor the only one who suffers in the absence of silence.