I’m sitting in the balcony at Farley’s East Café at a “Shut Up and Write Meetup” attempting to block out the buzz. I could have stayed home. Here, though, I can’t dodge work by starting a load of laundry or suddenly deciding to vacuum. I’m fighting a largely hidden war between creative avoidance and noise intolerance. Today, I decided to write for two hours amid other humanoids – and challenge my misophonia.
That’s a five-dollar word for extreme noise sensitivity. The misophonia website offers a haven for people who suffer from flashes of rage or lapse into depression when people crunch Doritos, munch an ice cube, smack their lips, or chew with their mouths open. Other kinds of noise can be equally triggering, but food noises top the list for the noise-sensitive.
For years, I’ve applied denial, deflection, or distraction to tamp down my response to noise. Now, I’m coming out of the closet. Brothers and sisters, take off your noise cancellation headphones! Stand up for freedom from mindless noise!
As one sufferer writes on the site, “I feel like my overall health is in jeopardy because my adrenaline is going all the time, due to the noise, noise, noise. I just want to scream ‘Go to the lunch room for Christ sake.’ Why, oh why, do they have to eat at their desks?”
I was an offender, at times, munching on carrots and celery at my desk. But always with my mouth closed, aware that I was a potential perpetrator with trapped victims on the other side of the partition. With misophonia, even your own sounds drive you crazy. I eat with NPR newscasts or calming music in the background.
The same person who laments her clueless office mates, also acknowledges that for the misphoniac, personal responsibility is key. “The rest of the world is not out to get me, they have a right to eat all the bleepin’ Dorito’s they want to,” she writes.
Yes, and. People with extreme noise sensitivity are literally tortured by life in the modern world, where mobile phone conversations in elevators or BART trains are routine, and people frequently chow down in public or professional spaces.
Another sufferer writes, “When I hear a trigger noise, my body engages in a knee-jerk reaction, such as flinching or tensing up… I have fight-or-flight reactions, ranging from rushing out of a room to remaining there as tears stream down my face.”
I have fled from restaurants where noise bounces off the walls, gone to the restroom for a moment of silence, or rushed out of the restroom when the decibel levels are too high, asked for music volume to be lowered in cafes or dentist offices, and generally avoid large crowds where random screaming may break out. I’ll watch the NBA playoffs in my own living room, thank you. People with this condition, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, must find workarounds, and I’m constantly looking for new ones.
Writing is one of them. When I write, I’m listening to my own voice. Most of the time, I write in a quiet environment. These days, I do most of my writing in a shared work space, The San Francisco Writers Grotto, where the need for quiet concentration is respected and lunch table conversations are so lively I don’t notice food sounds!
Hey, thanks Farley’s peeps. I was concentrating so hard on this post, I barely heard the noise.