Can noises ruin lives? Well, if you have a medical condition called misophonia, then yes, some noises can ruin your life. It can drive you totally up the wall when you hear some noises. It can even make you go to extreme ends to remove yourself from that “noisy” situation; even if it requires punching someone in the nose.
Misophonia, literally means ‘hatred of sound’, is not to be mistaken with phonophobia when an individual is afraid of loud sounds. Misophonia is very different indeed. It is an unfortunate syndrome that rarely gets diagnosed. It is also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome. A reason why it is rarely diagnosed could possibly be to the fact that many individuals do not know they have one or that it is not a widely known syndrome in the medical communication world. Perhaps doctors around the world knows about it but not many actions are taken to make it widely known amongst the general public. Misophonia should not be misinterpreted as hating all sounds, but rather, hating only a certain set of sounds.
One sad individual of this “unfortunate” syndrome is moi. The first time I recalled asking a close friend of mine to stop chewing so loudly is back when I was in my teenage years. I can distinctively recall her chomping away her burger and how sloppily she eats. Now, mind you, she was a close friend of mine and in my eyes, I have withstood her loud chewing for years. Hence one day I, just for some reason, could not stand her loud chewing any longer and exclaimed “Can you please chew with your mouth close?!” My friend obviously took it the wrong way.
And my annoyance towards noises did not stop there. I can not stand lip smacking, tongue smacking, dragging of shoes, loud breathing, sniffling, arrhythmic tapping and arrhythmic anything for that matter. Other misophonia sufferers may have a more elaborate list of noises they cannot stand. Some may have less. One thing researchers know is that these sounds are considered our ‘trigger sounds’. Misophonia also includes visual triggers. For example, I can not stand if the person I am sitting with can not sit still. When they keep fumbling with the junk in their bag etc, I feel like telling them to “Can you just please sit still and shut up and enjoy the MRT ride please?”
It was only in the last 20 years that misophonia was discovered. And only in the last few years that more research and study are focusing on the syndrome. And whilst the mechanism is not fully understood, scientists discovered that it is not a hearing problem (thank goodness) but it is a neurological problem (err, that is no better.) When unpleasant sound is heard, it is triggering the limbic system of the brain; the part which controls emotions and many more. When an unpleasant sound is heard, it activates the auditory and limbic system which in turn cause discomfort and could lead to extreme negative attitude. Within the limbic system, we have the amygdala and the hippocampus which are known to be the main parts that involve our emotions. In individuals with misophonia, there is a stronger connection and activation between the two systems when ‘trigger sounds’ are heard.
The unfortunate thing is that because it is not widely known, a lot of people think that I am being too petty or sensitive over little things. What they don’t realise is that I was wondering and was so confused as to why something that was so loud, rude and offensive did not bug them at all. Why is it that I am the only one seemingly frustrated and annoyed at those offensive behaviours? Everyone was taught to chew with their mouth close, and yet not everyone does. Shouldn’t that be considered socially unacceptable especially if it’s making a loud racket?! And when commented politely that the chewing is too loud, they make an even louder noise. They do not know or realize that their actions are upsetting the sufferer. This in turn makes the sufferer more upset, frustrated, anxious that could or might lead to a panic in some extreme cases.
What sufferers have gone to do are to literally flee from the noise, wear a pair of really great noise cancelling ear phones and some even resort to ear plugs. My favourite amongst those listed, is the “death stare” method. Unfortunately, this will create an anti social stigma about that individual, in this case, me. Our fleeing method have caused arguments between friends, breakups amongst couples and even divorces. Unfortunately, it is a neurological disorder that we have no control of. I can try to tone down my anger, but there is no way to tell my brain that the sound I”m hearing is not irritating.
Unless and until there is a cure for misophonia, what the Singapore health board should do is to widespread the disorder and create awareness as much as possible so that the general public are aware of such a condition and could perhaps be more understandable when approached to
STFU be quieter. If there is a research study on this, I will gladly volunteer. My dream for this would be that it be acknowledged as a disorder and that it was never a choice.