A couple of weeks ago, I posted this image on my Instagram Stories:
Because, yes, folks, the men who came to fit the glass wall on our stair whistled while they worked – much like The Seven Dwarves, in fact. I, meanwhile, spent the entire afternoon wearing earplugs – because, as those of you who’ve read this post might recall, whistling is one of my number one misophonia triggers: only slightly behind thumping baselines and people rubbing their feet together, in fact. And it turns out I’m not the only one, either: that Instagram Story was just supposed to be a quick, throwaway post, but I was amazed – and kind of reassured, actually – by how many people messaged me after it to say, “OMG, ME TOO.”
There’s a lot of people out there who can’t stand the sound of someone whistling, apparently. Not all of those people have misophonia, obviously, but some probably do: which is why I wanted to quickly revisit this topic, and write a bit more, not just about what misophonia is, and what it’s like to have it (I covered those topics in my previous post, so have a quick look at that if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about right now…), but about how I deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
The problem is, you see, there’s currently no “cure” for misophonia, as such. I know some people have had success using things like cognitive behaviour therapy, or attempting to desensitise themselves to triggers, but, for most of us, it’s just a case of finding ways to cope with it, before it drives us crazy. Here are some of the things I’ve tried…
You know THAT scene in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones? The one where Daenerys is, like, really, REALLY pissed, so she just – SPOILER ALERT! – burns the entire city to the ground?
“That’s you when you can hear the baseline from someone’s music playing,” said Terry as we watched it. “If your school had yearbooks, you’d have been voted, ‘Most Likely To Burn Someone’s City to the Ground on a Dragon.'”
“That’s why I have earplugs, though,” I pointed out, and yes, that IS, indeed, why I have earplugs. Lots and lots of earplugs. Yellow ones, orange ones, blue ones. I honestly don’t care WHAT colour they are* (*Not strictly true: I prefer these yellow ones, which I buy in bulk, so I never, ever run out of them. Top misophonia tip for ya, there…): I only care that I have them with me at all times, just in case someone starts whistling in the vicinity, or I realise I can hear the distant THUMP! THUMP! of someone else’s music.
For many people, these kinds of repetitive or intrusive sounds can be at least a little bit annoying if they go on for long enough. For me, though, they’re pure torture: and the torture starts the second the noise does – so I don’t really have the ability to listen to someone’s pounding baseline, say, and think, “Ah, well, it’s the weekend, after all!” I have to find a way to block out the sound NOW, or it will quite literally drive me to tears. (And yes, I am very aware of how totally crazy that sounds…)
Whistling, meanwhile, invokes the kind of response in me that I can only describe as “nails down a blackboard” – or ‘grima‘ as I’ve just this second discovered it’s more properly known. (It has a name, people! WHO KNEW?) It’s really hard to describe this, but it’s an almost physical sensation inside my head, and while it would be wrong to describe it as painful, it’s certainly uncomfortable – to an extent that made it preferable to me to sit at my desk wearing earplugs while our stair wall was installed, rather than have to listen to that repetitive PEEP! PEEP! PEEEEEP!
(No, asking the man to stop whistling wasn’t really an option, unfortunately. But I’ll get to that…)
For me, then, a set of good earplus are the first, and most important, line of defence against misophonia. I’ll also, however, sometimes use…
I’m not a fan of ACTUAL white noise – i.e. the kind you get from a white noise machine. It doesn’t give me grima, but I DO find it a bit irritating, so if I’m bothered by some kind of repetitive sound (Music or TV playing from someone else’s house/car/garden etc), I’ll sometimes choose to try and block it out using other methods. If the sound is coming from a TV or radio, for instance, simply switching on my own TV or radio to the same station will solve the problem instantly: because the sound is still there, obviously, but the fact that I can now hear it clearly, as opposed to just a pounding baseline or the murmur of TV, somehow makes it tolerable to me.
In the case of music I can’t replicate myself (I mean, I’m willing to put on some tunes if I have to, but if you’re listening to Celine Dion or any kind of power ballad, really, you can count me out…), I can sometimes try to drown it out with music of my own. This isn’t always a solution, though: it can be hard for me to concentrate with music playing, for instance, and I also have a 16-month old son, so if I’m trying to write, or if Max is trying to sleep, it’s not always practical to crank up the music. In those cases, other solutions are called for: so it’s either back to the earplugs, or it’s, you know, burning down their cities. I know which one I’d prefer, but, we’ll, gotta keep it legal, you know?
Because I get all the luck, some of my worst misophonia triggers are visual ones rather than audible ones: foot rubbing is the worst for me, but any kind of repetitive movement (hair twirling, foot jiggling etc…) will make me want to claw my eyes out, basically. It’s obviously not possible to avoid these triggers altogether, but it’s become second-nature to me to do things to reduce my chances of being exposed to them: so, for instance, if I’m in a room with foot jigglers, I’ll make sure I position myself in such a way that I can’t see the repetitive movement, or will place a cushion or something on my knee, to block it out.
When we go on holiday, meanwhile, I always request a room as far away from the pool bar/entertainment area as possible, to reduce the chances of the music from the bar forcing me to wear earplugs every time I’m in my room. On our last trip, I struck gold, and found a hotel with no poolside entertainment: lots of the reviews I read were from people complaining about how quiet it was, but it was my idea of heaven – peace, quiet, and no thumping baselines!
This doesn’t, however, always work. I’m currently writing this post, for instance (Or editing it, rather: I wrote most of it before we left the UK…), in the kitchen of our rental house in Florida, while the rest of the family sit out by the pool, not even slightly bothered by the pounding baseline coming from the house directly behind us. It’s 9:30pm, and still ninety degrees outside: I’d love to be outside sipping wine and enjoying the end of my holiday, but that relentless THUMP! THUMP! is driving me absolutely crazy, so here I am, feeling totally stupid and embarrassed by my reaction to it, but still not willing to go out and subject myself to it. Just to make matters worse, this is the second time this has happened now: I spent a couple of hours of week one shivering in the freezing aircon indoors, thanks to the neighbours directly behind us, who decided to play loud music outdoors all day. These neighbours are residents, not vacationers, and the noise from them has been habitual (So not just because of Memorial Day…): none of the reviews I read of the house mentioned it, though – probably because, to most people, something like that just isn’t worth mentioning. I’m really, really aware that my reactions to it aren’t normal, which is why I’ve had to find coping strategies to stop myself storming round and demanding silence from people who are just going about their normal lives, totally oblivious to the fact that the redhead in the house behind them is quietly plotting their downfall…
(*Update: its now 10pm, and the rest of the family have also been driven indoors by the thumping music, so maybe I’m not QUITE as mad as I’m making myself sound here. Probably not, though.)
Talk to people.
I’m one of the least confrontational people you’ll ever meet (Seriously: I once apologised to my dishwasher for opening its door mid-cycle…), but if you’re playing loud music at a time/in a way I consider to be objectively unreasonable (As opposed to just unreasonable by my own, misaphonia-influenced standards, I mean. I didn’t, for instance, ask the man who installed our stair wall to stop whistling, because, as much as it bothers me, I know it’s MY problem, not his, and it’s up to me to find a way to deal with it, rather than expecting the rest of the world to pander to my whims, like I’m Henry the Eighth or something. I haven’t complained to the noisy neighbours here in Florida, either, because, well, they live here, and I’m just a stupid tourist, so I don’t expect that would go down well…), I WILL knock on your door and ask you to turn it down. (By which I’ll really mean OFF. Turn it OFF.) I will try my best to do this politely, but, somewhere deep inside, this will be me:
That’s not actually what I meant by “talk to people”, though. No, when I say “talk to people” I mean, “talk about misophonia“. Not to the person whose door you’ve just knocked at 2am to ask them to turn down the music, obviously, but in general, and particularly to the people who know you best, and who are ALSO being forced to live with your misophonia – which, let’s face it, can come across simply as, “being a complete asshole.”
My parents, for instance, are both chronic foot rubbers, and I spent a large part of my youth, er, being a complete asshole about that – or so I (and they) assumed, anyway. It wasn’t until I found out about misophonia, and was subsequently diagnosed with it (I should probably just add here that my diagnosis came from a psychologist, by the way, not just good ol’ Doctor Google…) that I started to realise that ‘being an asshole’ might be ONE reason for my inability to deal with things like foot rubbing, but that it might not be the ONLY reason. I think reading about the condition has helped all of us understand it a bit more, and that understanding makes it a little easier to deal with it.
Talking about it to other misophonia suffers, meanwhile, has been hugely helpful to me, too. When I posted my Instagram Story, for instance, I really wasn’t expecting much of a response, so the fact that so many people – and nice, NORMAL people, into the bargain – took the time to message me saying they knew exactly how I felt, because they have the same issue, was really comforting to me, and helped me feel like a bit less of a freak. I know there are still plenty of people out there who think misophonia is just another made up condition, and I’m not here to try to convince them otherwise: in fact, I’ve trashed this post at least twice since I started writing it, for fear of the reactions it’s going to get.
For those who DO get it, though, it can be quite an isolating thing to have to deal with: I’ve spent most of my life feeling horribly embarrassed by it, and like I must just be a horrible, horrible person because of the way I react to some of my triggers. And, I mean, maybe I AM: it’s definitely one of the possibilities here. At least writing about this topic has helped me realise I’m not the only one, though, so if you’re a fellow sufferer, one of my best pieces of advice to you is to FIND YOUR PEOPLE. And then you can rant all you want to them, without fear of judgement…