My entire life I’ve had a sorted relationship with food, meal time and pretty much just eating in general. But let’s not get things twisted – I love food and adore creative edible creations; I’ll dive head first into Thai Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Burgers, Sushi, Pizza, Pho, Spring Rolls, Sandwiches, Soups and the like. Novel flavor combinations tickle my stomach and ornately decorated delectables are devoured within seconds (but not before I take a picture of it for memory’s sake, of course). But beyond my predilection for mealtime perfection, I’ve also acquired a few less than desirable grievances circulating said meals.
Starting from when I was a little girl (probably around 4 or 5), through Middle School and all the way into this very moment – I’ve thought that there was something wrong with me. From the occasional slurp of the soup (which, I’ve actually learned does help in savoring the flavor and is considered a sign of respect in assorted cultures, from China to Japan) to the sound of popcorn being shoveled down throats in a crowded movie theater, people that chew with their mouth open and – even worse – those who insist on talking with food smaking between their teeth: there’s a nerve that’s struck in my body that can vary from a small, creeping headache at the base of my skull to an overwhelming urge to throw plates and or a temper tantrum. Truth be told, neither of those things have ever happened – but if I had a nickel for every instance I wished or imagined that I caved into my feelings, I’d be wealthy beyond measure and eating off of paper plates by myself for the rest of my life.
When I was in elementary school, my step-mother and father produced a present of sorts – a book on manners ironically titled ‘Don’t Slurp Your Soup.’ What my step-mom had yet to figure out, was that my dad was the worst offender of literally every don’t in the book where as I – I wasn’t really that bad. But when’s the last time that a 7 year old asking her father to eat quieter ever went well? For a while, my parents thought it was a personal attack, doubly so when I’d leave in the middle of meals at my mom’s house so her boyfriend could smack his supper away, while I hid out in the bathroom with my hands over my ears. And so, a tradition started. But dipping out on meals to go and meditate in a quiet room (as awesome as it is) can’t always be achieved, nor is it polite; and after so many years, and different people – from family, lovers and friends to absolute strangers – ‘offending‘ my senses, I know that it’s me and not them (okay, so it’s kind of them…but it’s still absolutely me). My bottomline: I’m turning 30 in a month, and after all these years time for something – anything – to give.
First things first, I’m not crazy – and I’m not alone, either. A few clicks on a keyboard and bam:
Initially excited then freaked out by my two schools of thought (which were, in their exact order: There’s more of us! followed by I have a neurological disorder?!) I did what any slightly obscure person with too much time on their hands and a good internet connection would do: research. Typically starting in childhood, Soft Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (4S) begins with an emotionally significant trigger event and over time becomes part of a negative feedback cycle. Usually, the emotional trigger is someone close to the individual on a personal level – which makes Thanksgiving extra fun for us! Though it’s a neurological disorder, it’s yet to be considered part of the DSM5 criteria. At older onset, Misophonia goes hand in hand with tinnitus and hyperacusis, typically associated with hearing loss or head trauma. On a scale of 0 (no discomfort) to 10 (homicidal) – I rank in at a 6. Okay.
Triggers’come in all shapes and sizes, or should I say – sounds, from verbal to non-verbal – visual and even environmental:
Smacking gum, eating nuts, soup slurping, lip smacking, sucking on lollipops, eating chips, eating ice chips, eating popcorn, snoring, tapping on the keyboard, tapping on the steering wheel, fluorescent lights, honking, yelling, nails on a chalkboard, old clocks ticking, trains, dogs barking, nail biting, muffled talking, whispering, sibilance, etc. Let’s put it this way, if it makes noise – it can be a nightmare. (For the complete list of Misophonia Triggers)
So, what’s a girl to do? I mean, I can’t just avoid eating with people for the rest of my life – right? So, I’ve developed a few tricks that help keep me sane when all I actually want to do is throw a temper tantrum or the occasional plate.
First, try honesty. Yeah. Honesty. If it’s someone you love – like your parents, siblings, significant other or best friend – and you actually enjoy their company, try seeing if they can tone it down a bit. Maybe close their mouth while they chew, or not talk with such vigor with a mouth full of food, or not slurp their soup or tap their fingers so menacingly. But, after mentioning it once…twice…or a few times just for good effect, it’s time to throw up the white flag and accept defeat – and a different course of action.
I discovered that if I mimic the noises, it keeps me from losing my temper while attempting to physically (and passive aggressively) drop the hint that it’s loud and or obnoxious. But moving from the solution side of the equation to the problem side isn’t always the best route. If things start getting testy, I’ll volunteer to play DJ and inspire some tunage and in extreme times of strife, I leave the room; clear the table, clean a dish, go to the bathroom, read the newspaper in the bathroom – you name it, if you’re a loud eater I’ve probably done all of the above while you were none the wiser, stuffing your face at the table.
Did you just have an Ah-Ha! Moment? How do you cope with unbearable noises? Let me know in the comments below!