Wendy Aron

Sounds Awful

Coming Out of a New Closet

After forty years, a sister confides in her brother

Posted Apr 25, 2013

Nothing made me more anxious than the thought of revealing my secret to Michael. I was sure that my brother, a urologist who lives in Arizona, had never read anything in his medical textbooks or journals about misophonia and would therefore just chalk it up to my general craziness. (I had, after all, been hospitalized twice for major depression, albeit many, many years ago.)

In addition, since he had been dragging himself into his office and working like a dog for the better part of thirty years, my brother was suspicious of the motives of anyone who wanted to work from home.

So, if he didn’t lump me into the “crazy” box, I was sure he would put me in the “lazy” one, when I told him that one of the reasons I wasn’t aggressively pursuing a job in an office again was because of my misophonia.

I decided to start small and build up to my brother by confiding in Marie, a non-judgmental friend I had known for nearly forty years. Over brunch one day, I leaned over the table and whispered my confession.

Marie nodded as she absorbed the information. A quizzical expression came across her face, and she asked: “How come you never told me about this?”

“I was too embarrassed,” I said.

“You needn’t have been,” she said, “I hate certain sounds myself. I can relate.”

Buoyed, I approached Diane, a friend who I had worked in the same office with many years earlier and whose typing had been a trigger sound for me. I picked her because she had a brother and sister-in-law who had adopted four children with emotional and cognitive disabilities and was therefore no stranger to bizarre behavior.

“Hmm,” she said after I had confessed. “That’s interesting.”

I decided it was time to muster all of my courage and talk to my brother.

During our next long distance phone conversation, Michael asked me how the freelancing was going, and I blurted out my confession about the NY Times misophonia article, the disorder, and my aversion to going into an office atmosphere amidst sounds that made me want to kill.

Then, I sat back and waited for an incredulous, dismissive laugh.

“Oh, I have the same thing,” he said.

I was gobsmacked. “What sound can’t you tolerate?” I asked.

“Susan (my sister-in-law) swallowing food.”

“When did it start with you?”

“I remember Dad was a loud eater,” he said.

“I don’t remember that,” I said.

“Susan is a loud eater,” he said.

He went on to tell me that his daughter, my niece, Elyse, could barely stand to be in the same room as her mother while her mom was eating.

I hadn’t known any of this.

I broached the subject of a family link with my mother, but she insisted that she didn’t suffer from misophonia and that my father, who had passed away sixteen years earlier, hadn’t either.

Some preliminary research with my first cousins turned up nothing, so the disorder’s exact genetic origins in my family remained, for the time being, a mystery.

But coming out of the misophonia closet had solved one mystery-- how people can know each other for years, even live in the same house, and still not really know one another.