Imagine yourself sitting with your group of friends at a restaurant, talking to them, laughing, having a good time. Then, one of your friends chows down on some soup. They’re chewing, slurping, clearing their throat, and you can hear every little sound their mouth makes. Your heart rate quickens, you have a tight and uncomfortable feeling in your chest, your breathing becomes staggered, you feel your face get hot and red, and you have an intense urge to scream and storm out of the restaurant. Instead, you take a deep breath and head to the bathroom to calm down. You now have the urge to punch the bathroom stall to let out your anger, and you want to cry, but you can’t because you’re too angry. You dig your nails into your arm and try to slow your breathing and your heart rate. Trying to calm down. You try to take as much time as you can before going back out there because you’re anxious about this happening again. When you walk back out and someone asks you, “What happened?” You probably won’t tell them what really happened. You might say that your stomach hurt, or you were about to have a coughing attack.
What if this situation happened–the triggering–in an office setting? Let’s say you walk into a meeting and sit down. You’re ready with your notebook and pencil to jot down important information. You’re actually looking forward to the meeting, perhaps because it’s only been a week, and you are loving your job. Then the boss walks in with a large bag. When the boss sets the bag down they say “There are lollipops for everyone here.” To your absolute horror, everyone gets up to get a lollipop. You’re anxious now, to the point of sweating even in a nicely air conditioned room. The people sitting on either side of you unwrap their lollipops and start sucking on it, and slurping, hurting your ears and your brain in ways you never thought possible. It almost felt like they were doing this on purpose. And, if it couldn’t be worse, you didn’t bring your headphones because you have been feeling great, almost giddy because you haven’t been experiencing any triggers, this week. Except, of course, until this moment. When one of your coworkers asks if you’re ok, you nod and resume trying to pay attention to your boss, all the while clenching your pencil and being unable to write anything down.
What about being triggered in the classroom?
How about being triggered by your best friend? Boyfriend/girlfriend?
By your family? Children?
If you haven’t already noticed, in none of the scenarios described above did I mention anything about the sufferers telling their friends or coworkers the truth. Why is that? I believe it’s because those with misophonia are afraid of how people will react when they say “I have misophonia, a hatred of sound”. Saying that doesn’t feel right to a lot of us. Doesn’t feel valid.
As I began to spread more awareness about misophonia, I’ve noticed myself not telling people exactly what misophonia is when asked. Sometimes I don’t even say I have misophonia. I feel as though I became afraid of telling people why I wear headphones all the time. Sometimes I say “I get distracted by sounds so in order to concentrate I have to dull the noises around me.” Or, I try to explain what misophonia is, but I stutter and sound like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I presume this is because I fear a lot of people might not believe me and consider misophonia illegitimate. Because they can’t see that there’s anything wrong with me, they’re going to think I’m fine and dandy.
Some of the reactions I’ve gotten from people when I talk about misophonia usually aren’t bad, but there are a few bad apples. For example, one guy said “Let me alone with your first world problems” (Grammar, dude). And “Sounds like you just don’t like a few noises, everybody has noises they don’t like”. As you can probably imagine, I was a little annoyed by his ignorance, but I explained it was more than that, and citing from Misophonia International on what misophonia is (which you can find a link to in “Resources”). I didn’t get a reply after that. Other responses I’ve gotten ranged from “Oh you’re going to be fine!” To “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.” and “How can I help?”
Furthermore, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety tend to get brushed off, considered illegitimate because there’s nothing physically wrong with the person. I read an article recently that explained very well what it was like to have anxiety, and the things that go through a person’s mind. It gave an example about a person missing class because of anxiety, and I quote:
I just got back to my room after a failed attempt to go to class. I’m sitting here, writing this, trying to think of something to email my professor to sugarcoat what I’m feeling, to really drive home the point that class today was unbearable for me. You see if it was the flu or a bad head cold this would be easy. I would simply relay the symptoms and be excused with a general “feel better” and a hidden relief that I wouldn’t be getting anyone else sick. To send an email saying I just had to take a breather on a 4th Ave. step because my lungs felt as if they were collapsing and my body was shaking so badly I could hardly walk doesn’t do the trick. -kelly_wynne http://www.justcutthebullshit.com/home/2016/10/20/anxiety-is-an-invalid-excuse (Anxiety Is An Invalid Excuse)
Misophonia is pretty darn similar to this, and even worse when coupled with anxiety and/or depression. It’s hard to explain misophonia to others because of the fear that it will be written off as nothing. Which leads me back to the original question: Is misophonia an illegitimate excuse? For work? For class? For anything?
Here’s my take: Illegitimate? No. Definitely not. But I’m sure you already knew the answer to that, as I like to keep this blog positive. There are good days, ok days, bad days, and horribly bad days where going out and being productive is the equivalent to carrying the entire world on your shoulders (like the Greek god Titan Atlas). And there are probably more ok, bad, and horribly bad days than there are good. This applies to any mental illness. But again, this does not make misophonia or any mental illness illegitimate. It just means it might take more time to get things done, to progress. Society says you have to be able to do things well, complete certain things at a certain time, be able to get out of the house and do stuff, talk to people, don’t do things alone, and countless other things. It tends to write off mental illness, but glorifies it at the same time. It tends to misunderstand, and sometimes it judges others. But no two people are the same. Misophonia makes things difficult and we need certain accommodations, but we can still have a successful life. You are a wonderful work of art, and you can do this.
See you next week!