Slurp, yap, taptaptap
Years ago, I stayed in my sister’s apartment in Boston, and when she kindly asked how I slept, I wailed that I couldn’t sleep because of the [accursed] aquarium.
Her fish aquarium had a filter. It bubbled. You’d think this would be white noise, but it drove me nuts.
The other day she sent me an article from the New York Times that started with the words, “I can’t stand it when someone behind me at a movie chews popcorn with his or her mouth open. I mean, I really can’t stand it.”
The writer, a physician, stated that he has misophonia, in which some sounds provoke, among other reactions, “a burst of rage or disgust.” The condition has been identified only in the last 20 years, and has now spawned websites, Facebook and other pages, forums and conferences.
I read this article in absolute fascination, and laughing all the way, because it is me.
Last year in my office, an intern ate carrots. I am OK with someone munching for a little while, we all gotta eat, but this went on all day. One afternoon she pulled out a massive bag of carrots, crunching steadily through them, and I couldn’t stop listening. She finally put the bag away, and I rejoiced. Then she took out an apple. She finished that, and I was so happy. Then she took out the bag of carrots again. She finally put it away and then she ate another apple.
She was a nice kid and I never said a peep, but I was glad when her internship ended. I did once ask an intern please not to snap her gum.
Fortunately, I do not feel the rage that some experience. Their hearts may race and their fists clench, as described in another NYT article I swiftly found. They may blare, “Shut up!” They create arguments and lose friends. One woman described her reaction to certain noises as “rage, panic, fear, terror and anger, all mixed together.” Another said she no longer eats meals with her husband.
Nor do I, thank God, compulsively imitate a sound (echolalia), but I certainly feel another common symptom: incredulity.
I couldn’t imagine that Carrot Girl wasn’t aware of making a racket in close proximity to five other people in our cubicles. Oh, and she also used to fix a yogurt and cereal dish that she would stir vigorously, dingdingdingdingding, in a big ceramic dish.
As soon as I read the first article, twice, I sent it to my other sister, who also has what we bemoan as “sensitive ears.”
“Oh, my gosh! This is me exactly,” she emailed back. “On a plane now and just asked the man in front of me to quiet down. He was shouting over his cellphone. Particular bête noire that others often seem not to notice much. On the Quiet Car on Amtrak I’m always the enforcer.”
For myself, I look back over the years and see untold instances. The time when I was pregnant, couldn’t sleep, and indignantly told Mike, when he woke for a second, “That [accursed] dog keeps barking!” From far away we heard a tinny yip. Yip. Yip.
“That?” he said, amazed, and went back to sleep.
Or a time, longer ago, in my brother’s then apartment in Cairo, where everyone honks in traffic. Including all night. Oh, I stuffed my ears with toilet paper, but the street sounds rose 10 floors to our window. Only at 4 or 5 a.m. did the traffic — hence, honking — die down enough for me to doze.
Some people hate keyboard tapping; others, pen clicking. I once ran a meeting where an antagonist kept jangling his change.
This syndrome runs in families, and I recall my mother phoning a neighbor at 3 in the morning because his dog Bonesy was barking. Problem was, she called the wrong neighbor, who asked plaintively, “Who’s Bonesy?”
The NYT quoted the woman who can’t eat with her husband as saying her father was always telling her and her siblings they were walking too loudly, and buying them new shoes.
Research is early-stage; not all experts even agree on the existence of misophonia. Meanwhile hundreds of people posting in comments fields are glad and relieved to know a name. Even if they don’t want to hear it typed.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.