Wendy Aron

Sounds Awful

How My Shrink Cured My Misophonia for Free

A satirical send-up of neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, and rare disorders.

Posted May 19, 2014

Since I began writing this blog about a year ago, media coverage has increased awareness of misophonia, and some serious international efforts are afoot among researchers, clinicians, and health care app developers to discover more effective treatments for this rare disorder.

In that spirit, I put a temporary halt to hounding Kelly Ripa to be our celebrity spokesperson in order to conduct my own lay investigation into what I wanted: a reasonably priced, effortless, and invisible cure for my case of misophonia.

This quest began as I was walking through a local mall on the way to an Apple store to rectify a small problem with my iPhone. My husband was beside me, explaining that this was a dire emergency and that our government's entire technological infrastructure would have to be reconfigured so that I could hear a notification sound when a new email arrived on my phone. At the time, in a mall crowded with female shoppers, it felt like I was being assaulted by a million hissing misophonia sounds.

When we got into the mobbed Apple store, I felt like I was being stabbed to death by the hissing "s." Soon after, however, we were greeted by an Apple tech support "genius" in his 20s who was so laid back, he instantly put me at ease. He fixed the problem with my iPhone in seconds, and we got into some joking around about how Google and Apple were fighting in the Cloud for world domination. He departed, and as we were leaving the store, I noticed an interesting thing: although the store was as crowded as it had been when we'd entered, the hissing s wasn't really bothering me.

When I got home, I pondered this. And it occurred to me that at the diner where my husband and I frequently ate, whenever we were having a grand time making fun of the weirdoes at the surrounding tables, I hardly noticed my trigger sound. However, during those times when my husband was playing with his smartphone while we were eating and appeared to be ignoring me, I became acutely aware of my trigger sound.

So, I deduced, laughter must be a key ingredient in making my brain relax which, in turn, reduced my rage reaction to triggers. On the other hand, being ignored seemed to stress my brain out and make me more sensitive to rage-provoking trigger sounds.

I began Googling obsessively to find any journal articles connecting mind relaxation with misophonia, and I came up with several seemingly relevant studies conducted by neurosurgeons, cognitive neurologists, clinical psychologists, neuropsychiatrists, and animal psychics. However, with a liberal arts degree, I could make neither heads nor tails of such medical terms as “cranial electrical vagus nerve stimulation,” “attributional component,” and “nosological entity.” Lost, I decided to consult with my brother, an Ivy-educated M.D. and misophonia sufferer himself, who lives in Florida but was scheduled to come visit us in New York soon.

When my brother arrived, we had him over for lunch, and I brought up the subject of misophonia and mind relaxation. My eyes lit up when he told me that a psychologist friend of his had lent him a device called a “cranial electrical stimulator” and that, because of it, his mind was now relaxed enough at bedtime for him to pass out without taking sleep medication (unless his misophonic daughter called with an emergency). He was unsure, however, of the stimulator’s impact on the masking of trigger sounds because, for him, this mind event usually occurred only at mealtimes.

Nevertheless, I thought I was really on to something big, so I pressed for more information. The first dismaying tidbit was that this device hung from each earlobe and, as a result, when worn, it made one look like a space alien. So, I deduced that wearing the stimulator out in public could raise eyebrows. Also, he told me that although one did not need a prescription from a health care professional to obtain this device or an advanced degree of any kind to apply it, if not calibrated properly for individual tolerances, the stimulator could make one dizzy enough to faint while wearing it. I decided that for me, personally, this could also be a source of public embarrassment. The kibosh was that on the open online market, this device cost more than the 50 cents I had been able to set aside for medical emergencies. So, I concluded that while it might be all right for his insomnia purposes, for my misophonia purposes, it was a risk I was not willing to take.

Totally deflated, I took my misophonia case to the only other doctor I trusted—my shrink—and asked him to sort it out. First, he told me that I was capable of using my liberal arts degree to come up with my own solution to my misophonia problem but that he would be happy, over the weekend, to carefully consider the pile of trash (aka medical research literature) I had foisted on him.

That weekend, I did my own thinking, and I concluded that I’d had several personal experiences with supposedly mind-relaxing activities, including intense exercise, marijuana smoking, piña colada drinking, cognitive behavioral therapy, and transcendental meditation. I quickly determined, however, that none of these approaches were now practical for me because they either took too much effort, wore off too quickly, cost too much money and were not covered by my insurance, or could result in turning into one of the Beatles.

Somewhat deflated from my sole stab at scientific inquiry, I arrived at my next session with my shrink hopeful that he had come up with some more uplifting answers. When I asked him if he had looked into the matter, he said that he had contacted every single one of the medical researchers, both in the United States and abroad, who had contributed to the pile of trash I had left for him and that he believed he had solved my case of misophonia.

I sat on the edge of his couch.

Then, he opened his magical drug sample cabinet and pulled out a small white plastic vial. He told me that it contained special earplugs that he used to block out the sound of the wind under his helmet when he rode on his motorcycle at high speeds, and he demonstrated how I could easily insert them into my ears in seconds. He then showed me how, when inserted properly, they would be invisible to companions and that I could engage in a normal conversation for hours feeling only potentially faint from boredom.

“How much does this miracle cure cost?” I asked him.

“75 cents,” he said, “but for you, today, it’s free.”

The next day, I inserted these earplugs and wore them to the diner. And guess what? This simple, free cure worked. Without any additional medication!

So, I decided to forget about all that scientific research nonsense and get back to the much more important task of stalking Kelly Ripa to be misophonia’s celebrity spokesperson.