I Suffer From Misophonia — And You Might Too

Photo: Jacob Lund / shutterstock
woman annoyed

By Emily Bernstein

You know when you’re sitting in class and you hear someone chewing their gum and, for just one second, it’s all you can focus on?

Or when you’re sitting in a pretty quiet room and then someone starts gulping water and it makes your skin prickle?

Or how about when your friend is congested and their constant sniffling and loud swallowing make you feel irrationally angry and for just a quick minute, you hate them?

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It’s not because you don’t care about them, or that you wish they would just stop making noise altogether. Trust me.

In fact, this is a pretty common occurrence, and yes, it does have a name: Misophonia.

By definition, misophonia is a selective sound sensitivity syndrome that has a trigger. Triggers can be loud swallowing, loud breathing, yawning, clicking of pens, bouncing of knees, chewing gum, etc.

I’ve been suffering from this since I can remember, but the instances that stand out to me are from high school and beyond. When people, in their test anxiety or boredom, would start clicking their pens, I would honestly start to fidget.

God, how I hated that sound of that pen — in and out, in and out, in and out. I would leave that class glaring at my classmates, wishing them horrible fates. But I’m not the kind of person to wish terrible things on people (most of the time), so I was constantly left wondering what was wrong with me.

It got worse.

When I would be sitting at lunch with my friends and there were lulls in the conversation, my friends’ chewing and breathing and swallowing would make me angry.

Thoughts like, If he swallows like that one more time, I won’t be responsible for my actions, and, Was she raised in a barn or does she just chew with her mouth open and mouth-breathe to torture me?!

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It would make me feel guilty because I loved my friends and would never wish any harm on them. And this isn’t something I outgrew. I’m in college now and it’s even worse.

When people I know and love dearly start to hum random tunes, I have to leave the room. I shoot lasers through my eyes at my roommates when they eat too loud. I cringe when my friends are congested and they sit next to me in class, breathing through their snotty noses.

I hate when I have to listen to people coughing, hacking, and swallowing through whatever is in their throats during classes. All of it makes me twitch and angry and anxious and spiteful.

Misophonia is generally self-diagnosed, so when I tell people I have it, they don’t always believe me. They claim I’m just being a “hypochondriac,” when really, it’s me being honest with myself.

Some people’s natural noises make me feel violent. Some people’s swallowing makes me anxious. Loud gulping of water is enough to make my hands twitch. Snoring and heavy breathing is enough to make me want to stuff my ears with cotton and never take it out again. My peers’ pens clicking during an exceptionally hard test makes me want to cry.

And all of this is natural.

And yes, before you ask, I know that these sounds don’t bother other people. I know that most people don’t really even hear when others are loudly chewing or mouth-breathing.

I am aware that a lot of people don’t suffer through their day, aching when people click their pens or snore or swallow water. But this is what I live with every day, and I’m okay with that.

So trust me, if you’re eating, and I look mad — it really isn’t you. It’s me and my misophonia.

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Emily Bernstein is a writer whose work focuses on mental health, pop culture, love, and family. Her writing has been featured in Nature, The New Yorker, Interview Magazine, Healio, Five O'Clock, among others. Follow her on Twitter for more.

This article was originally published at Unwritten. Reprinted with permission from the author.