It’s dinnertime… we usually eat our meals, when it is just my husband and I, at the coffee table, sat on the sofa. It’s not that we don’t have a dining table and it’s not that we are lazy but, for me, the sofa is the most comfortable place in the house to eat. Why? Because in front of our sofa and coffee table, is the TV.
When eating, the TV provides two sources of comfort for me. Firstly, it is a distraction and secondly, it is a noise. And most importantly, it is a noise that masks the sound of my husband eating his dinner.
Now… this is not specific to just my husband. It also applies to my family, to my parents, my work colleagues, my friends and to strangers. It could be the person I love most in the entire world, who I choose to spend my days and nights with for eternity, or it could be the person behind me on the bus sucking on a sweet or eating a bag of crisps. The reaction, in my mind, is the same.
I need to get away. As far as possible and as fast as possible. Where anxiety in general will often have me ‘freezing’ in one spot, Misophonia will trigger the other fear response each and every time: flight. With a little bit of fight, thrown in for good measure.
Because what I feel is akin to rage. I am a pretty calm person generally, I have never been in a physical fight, I am fairly rational, I’d much rather talk things out that get hot-headed and fight it out with words. I don’t even really like graphic scenes in films or on TV which show people being overtly aggressive – but if I hear someone crunching, chewing, swallowing, nibbling, masticating… something happens within me and if I cannot get away or mask that noise then my instinct is to get massively angry. I have never lashed out at anyone and I hate the thought that I one day might, but all my panic sensors are up. I get hot, my breathing quickens, I cannot think straight, my words, along with my own appetite disappears and I need to get out of that situation as fast as I possibly can.
It is not simply the dislike of the noise of other people eating, it is the fear and panic that surrounds it. It is not a ‘oh, thats not very nice…’ reaction, it is a ‘I need you to stop or I will be in a heightened state of panic for the rest of the day’, kind of affair. It is frustrating, isolating, worrying and also not anyone’s fault. I know that this intense visceral reaction is something within me and that people make noise when they eat. I am intensely aware that I make noise when I eat.
I’m no expert in the causes, only the effect. Sometimes I wonder if it is closely linked to my own anxieties around food, other times I figure it must be one of the downsides of being ‘too sensitive’. I am also highly sensitive to smells, other noises (such as breathing), the energy of the people around me and in order to really feel something, I must touch it – this allows me to find its place within my mind, see its colour, feel what emotions are attached to it, and so on. I am very sensitive and attuned to everything around me, so in some ways it feels in a way, logical, that sound is one of those things.
However, I am also aware that it is very much not logical, how can it be? Just because I can hear someone else eating, does not mean any harm is going to come to me, so why does it evoke such a strong ‘fight or flight’ reaction? I once broke up with a guy over the way he ate a burger – sat opposite him, in a busy and garishly lit fast food restaurant, all I could focus on were his lips, and not in a good way. I watched how he chewed, how he spoke still with food in his mouth, I could hear the noise of him eating and I knew I could not be in a relationship with him. The following day, those images and sounds playing over and over in my mind, I finished with him. Because it is not only in the moment, these things will lodge themselves somewhere within my mind and they will play on a loop, over and over again, gaining in intensity each time. I can still vividly recall that moment in Burger King 17 years later, but I have no recollection at all of what else we did that day. I hate having hiccups, but I hate it even more if someone else has them, because that noise in my head makes me envisage them being sick – and I was a carer for a long time, I can deal with blood, faeces, urine… in fact anything the human body can throw at me, but vomit? That is a big, big no. I once spent all day cooking a four-course Christmas dinner, only to not be able to eat any of it because I had become so focused on how much food once of our guests had helped himself too, and how he was just forking it into his mouth, and talking at the same time. I wanted to stand up and scream and scream until everyone left – but, y’know, that would not have been a very good idea…
I think it is also really hard to deal with because no-one likes to be told to eat, or breathe, quieter. And why (and how) would they?! I know I am asking a lot when I ask my husband to take his bag of crisps into the next room to eat them, or to make sure there is something else going on to drown out the noise when he’s dunking his biscuits into his tea. I will tell him time, and time, and time again it is not him, because it is absolutely not, but that doesn’t make the request for silence any easier.
Some really good and useful information can be found here, whether you have this, or know someone that does. I didn’t even know the name of it until a couple of years ago, sometimes just having that and knowing that it is a recognised ‘thing’ can help work wonders.