The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Misophonia

In the case of creative pursuits, I need quiet. No music. Conversations and street noise must be muted. I learned this years ago when I attended college for an Advertising Art Program. While I was in creative mode, designing my projects, I needed complete silence. While I was in technical mode, that is, rendering the piece, I listened to music. The same goes for my writing. While I compose a piece, the room is quiet. Once a post is ready to upload, format, and illustrate, then the tunes come on.

But I am sensitive to noises in another way. In certain circumstances, I am enraged by the sound of chewing. It has always been thus, and I’ve always blamed it on my Dad.

During my early adolescence, I hated family meals. Vehemently. I’m sure there were several factors in play, as typically found in the “coming of age” scenario. You know, the kicking at the traces sort of youthful rebellion, and hormone-induced sullenness.

Then there was the Wilson family dynamic which involved an authoritarian head of state and a mute second-in-command. Dad laid down the law and mother… ate her dinner in silence.

During this time Mom was the sole breadwinner. Dad’s business was on the skids and there were threats of eviction. My parents argued and traded insults. Dishes flew during arguments after we kids had gone to bed. One breakfast, while dad was mixing up a jug of powdered skim milk, he took offense at something mom said and wind-milled the container of water to the floor.

No, meal times were not pleasant occasions of the “Father Knows Best” variety. All we wanted was to eat our meal and get away from the tension as soon as possible.

When I was younger, around the time of the “eat your peas” incident, I sat beside Mom at the kitchen table. A few years later, though, the seating arrangements were changed. Dad was at the head, and I sat to his left and the middle brother sat beside me. It occurs to me that perhaps I was a buffer for my brother who was also sullen, hormonal, and kicking at traces.

Whether it was a conscious decision to seat me next to Dad or not, I hated it. He frightened me, I had no respect for him, and I hated the sound he made when he chewed. He was most often in a mood, and breathed heavily through his nose while chewing his food. It was disgusting to me.

So much did I hate that sound that even today I cannot abide it when someone chews their food in the same manner. I manage to talk myself down from the emotional ledge when those chewing noises trigger a reaction. It’s a learned response, I tell myself, from my childhood.

Besides, I’m a sensitive type. The kind described by Elaine Aron in The Highly Sensitive Person. Loud or sudden noises will startle or otherwise trigger a flight or fight response.

It’s the same old story: nature or nurture?

Or is it Misophonia?

Misophonia, literally “hatred of sound”, is a neurological disorder in which negative experiences (anger, flight, hatred, disgust) are triggered by specific sounds. People who have misophonia are most commonly angered, and even enraged, by common ambient sounds, such as other people clipping their nails, brushing teeth, chewing crushed ice, eating, slurping, drinking, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, whistling or coughing.

Source: explosm.net

Source: explosm.net

 

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Categories: Mom and Dad

Tags: , , ,

64 replies

  1. I can absolutely identify with this, Maggie, though for different reasons. A beautifully expressed piece. xxx

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    • Thank you, Ali – and though this is a day or three late, welcome back to the blogs!

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    • I know what you mean. I had to change professions once I was married so I decided to study to be a bookkeeper. At the same time, my youngest was taking his GCSE’s. He had his ‘music’ blaring in his bedroom whilst I , who needs absolute quiet ,was in the next bedroom trying to calculate and balance the accounts. I did pass , how I don’t know. I hated my father for things I can’t mention and how he terrorised us all. We all left home as soon as we were able , but leaving our poor mother there. She did eventually leave and has been happily married to someone nice now for nearly 40 years.

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      • I don’t know how you did it, either. You paid for it in sleeplessness or anxiety or something, I’m sure!

        Sorry to hear that you had what sounds like a more frightening childhood than mine. I am glad to hear that your mum is happy.

        Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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  2. I learned a new word Maggie. Thanks for that. The cartoon is spectacular. Thanks for that too!

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  3. That comic strip is nice! how did you manage to get one for your article I guess 😛

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  4. the cartoon is freakin’ awesome. Good writing, Maggie. I can so relate to the whole dinner table thing…relive my childhood? Not for all the tea in China. Fuck, no.

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  5. Next. Friday is the Fourth of July. Are you going to be ready for the fireworks?

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    • You see Don, fireworks and rocket engines and thunder and runaway locomotives don’t trouble me! As a matter of fact, these noises have a certain appeal… As long as they are not sudden. I know. I’m an enigma. 🙂

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  6. I’ve never had a problem with sound, though I can never stir a cup of tea without thinking how often an argument sprung up between my parents when mum stirred the wrong way. And one of my siblings cannot stand the sound of someone using the toilet in the quiet of night.

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  7. Maggie, this is an amazing piece of writing. I could feel for you all the way. Just loved ‘…windmilled the container of water to the floor.’ Wow! no wonder you hate those noises.

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  8. In that dinner setting, I’d have had permanent indigestion. Your descriptions are very vivid and disturbing. Sorry you went thru that.

    I’ve found that music can be inspirational when writing. But I usually don’t have any on just so I can focus. Otherwise, I’d be dancing or singing rather than writing. 😉

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    • Hi Judy!

      “I’ve found that music can be inspirational when writing.” So I have just discovered!

      When I’m working on the computer, doing “no brainer” stuff, I’ll have the tunes blaring, dancing in my seat. But to do “deeper” thinking, or creative stuff, music is a distraction.

      BUT! The other week, I responded to a writing challenge here where we were asked to “free-write” for twenty minutes. I loaded the music player with 20 minutes worth of music and wrote away. I suppose that’s a sort of “no brain” writing – the kind that simply records the thoughts as they present themselves. No judgement required.

      Thanks, too, for your comments about the meal times. I appreciate it.

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      • When I worked at a newspaper in Utica, N.Y., we had a writers’ workshop led by one of our editors. He played various types of music and asked us to “free-write” scenes that were inspired by that music. It was fun and energizing. There is certain mood music I’ve played to get me into the scene. So I do understand the desire to either include it or work in silence.

        Never heard the word “misophonia” before. Good one, Maggie. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I can relate. When I’m writing a post or documentation I need general quiet. At least no other words in the air. But when I’m writing computer code, I prefer listening to music. That might come from years of using headphones at work to drown out nearby conversations.

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    • Interesting… music OK, lyrics not so much…
      People will talk passionately about songs they like – they’ll ask do you know “Such and So” from Singer du Jour and I will draw a blank. “Oh sure, you must know it. It plays all the time.”

      Well, that’s just it. Sure, in a lot of cases, who the heck can understand the lyrics them youngun’s sing today, right? But that’s not really what’s going on in my synapses. I have somehow managed to tune out lyrics. To tune out words. I think that might explain my preference for orchestral music, or if there are words, they are in a language that is foreign to me.

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      • I’m the same way. Some of the pop songs to which I listen I will later find to have not-so-nice lyrics, even if I enjoy the instrumentals or timbres.

        It is so true how tension can cause ordinary experiences to be avoided like the plague.

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        • Hi Noah – interesting to hear that you share the same tendency music-wise.

          Regarding the tension leading to avoidance… it’s funny, isn’t it, to think that someone would respond so strongly to something as benign as clipping toenails or slurping soup. It’s fascinating from the safe distance of an outsider looking in, but not to the one in the throes of an emotional reaction.

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      • It does seem like the lyrics are often buried these days (and I’m not the only one who’s noticed that in movie dialog), but I was born with a severe hearing defect, so I’ve never heard lyrics. And I rarely pay much attention to song titles, even among all the tunes I own.

        But mom was a music teacher, and she taught me to play at an early age, so I totally recognize the tunes. Both parents were big fans of orchestra music, so naturally I went a different direction. My music era is mainly from 1960s up to about the 1990s, with some jazz going back further. Most of the really current stuff sounds “all the same to me,” so apparently I’m turning into my parents. 🙂

        http://logosconcarne.com/2012/09/07/my-parents-music/

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Very well written – I suspect many of us empathise with the teenager versus domineering dad scenario. I veer wildly between needing lots of sound and total quiet but my general mood is for silence. My biggest peeve is the phone ringing. I can’t abide it. Mrs. Ha warns me if she knows there are incoming calls. Very odd and I have no idea why. Perhaps it is just old age. Top cartoon 🙂

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  11. Huh! My youngest sister was misophonic growing up – maybe still is, although she hides it well now. We just learned not to make the noises that set her off, and she played loud music to drown us all out.
    I’m with you when it comes to silence when I need to concentrate. Excellent post!

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  12. I cannot abide a certain type of gum chewer. The type who chews with open mouth, and breathes audibly and talks while chewing. I want to do bad things to those people. I can’t point to anything in my past that made me this way, though. I think I was just born this way. Nature, I guess. Not nurture.

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  13. Excellent. Best of all informative. I can’t remember many of my teenage moments of angst, largely owing to EST when I was 23 (for postpartum depression). However, my aunts told me I “was always fighting with my Dad.” My dad was a lot like yours I think. However, I am 72 and he has been gone for over twenty years so I work on remembering the good memories. These are scarce after I turned six years old.

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  14. This is so interesting! When my dad had cancer and I was taking care of him, I was told by his wife that noise made him nervous and I was to keep the house completely quiet. Personally, I didn’t appreciate silence until just last year so back then it was absolute torture for me. This has given me something to think about. And perfect timing. Thanks Maggie! 🙂

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  15. Just as I started to write this comment, my middle son sat down to eat a bowl of crunchy cereal at the kitchen bench behind me. Aaargh!

    I, too, cannot stand the sound of people chewing. Not because of any trauma (I’m so sorry your childhood was so difficult), just because. Youngest son has just had an orthodontic device installed that makes it difficult for him to chew with his mouth closed. Meal times are tense.

    I’m less bothered by noise when I write than I am by company. I find it hard to write when the house is full of people (more specifically, boys). I get self-conscious. I don’t have a room that’s all mine so I’m always nervous I’ll get caught or watched. However, I love to write in cafes, as long as I can get a seat with my back to a wall. Go figure.

    Husband has now started eating toast. Time to go do something else for a while…

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    • Hi! Thanks for your great comments. I’m glad and I’m sorry that you can relate to the distraction of chewing noises, though I have to say your opening and closing statements made me smile. I haven’t tried writing in a coffee shop. I assume that it will be agony. (Such hyperbole, eh?) I do understand the need to sit with your back to the wall.

      I’m usually OK with writing at home if Reiner is in the same room. It only becomes a bother when he wants an audience for his random observations on whatever article or webpage he might be reading at the time.

      According to Wikipedia, researchers suggest “that abnormal or dysfunctional assessment of neural signals occurs in the anterior cingulate cortex and insular cortex. These cortices are also implicated in Tourette Syndrome, and are the hub for processing anger, pain, and sensory information.” In other words, we who are troubled by innocent noises are getting our wires crossed.

      The article goes on to say that the prevalence of the condition is unknown in the general population. However, in the 4 – 5% of those with tinnitus, misophonia occurs in between 10 to 60% of the cases, depending on which study you read. I have tinnitus.

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  16. I loved living in Broken Hill because there was so little noise. Like you, I never play music when I’m working (and I have to turn off the radio in the car when I’m trying to park). Are you also sensitive to perfume? I can’t abide any fragrance that has an artificial or chemical component – and I can spot it straight away – but essential oils are fine.

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    • Hi Deb!

      I completely understand the need to turn off the radio while parking. The radio usually remains silent in my car. If it’s on, I feel compelled to remain silent myself, because somehow, it feels rude to talk with my companion if someone else (the radio) is holding the floor.

      My sensory overload does not include fragrance. Interestingly, I am “blind” or anosmic when it comes to certain fragrances. I am told that freesia smells divine. I register nothing. Zero.

      BTW, I recognize the name of your town through my mineral studies. It’s famous for mineral specimens. I assume that mining operations are either quite remote or closed?

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  17. Would you be surprised to hear that I too have issues with sound?

    I get very agitated, heart rate goes up, stomach clenches, not to mention the blinding headaches … no, I definitely need quiet surroundings. Loud sounds are bad, but so are sounds with a high pitch … some people’s voices are like finger nails on a blackboard.

    Gilles complains that my voice is too soft and he can’t hear me most of the time (God, I hate repeating myself). I’ve tried to explain that my voice in my ears is really loud.

    I can’t say my childhood was as tumultuous as yours, but my dad was a chomper. Drove us all crazy. I’d say it still does!

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    • LOL – no, does not surprise me in the least!

      It sounds like [no pun intended] that your response to sudden and/or loud noises is physically painful. Sorry to learn that!

      When I was in grade 5, I was assigned the job of ringing the school buzzer to announce it was time to come into the building from recess, or in the morning and lunch times. One time, when I returned to the classroom, my teacher’s face was flushed red, his eyes were watering. He took me aside and pleaded that I not lean on the button so long. He explained that it hurt his ears. I felt like a schmuck.

      The next time I returned to class after finishing my buzzer duty, he was laughing. I had depressed the button only long enough to barely register a “bip”.

      Now, at the risk of repeating myself: as for speaking softly – ditto. Rarely can Reiner and I have a conversation without at least one, “What?” He is getting hard of hearing. And I speak softly. Plus he insists on having conversations from one end of the house to the other. Which I do not like at all. When I need to speak loudly, it comes across to me as angry. Which is not my intention.

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  18. I love the cartoon, makes me laugh. I need silence when I write. But most of the time I like having a tv on in the background. That being said, since we had kids and I’ve been working from home, I do value complete silence more, when it happens. I’ve been reading a lot lately and able to turn the tv off which has been a good experience.

    I’ve never noticed eating sounds before so I’m fortunate in that regard.

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  19. Your mealtime descriptions were so vivid; I could absolutely envision it. I am so sorry you went through that. I am really easily distracted by noises, and they can make me nervous. Sometimes I long for it to just be sooo quiet. . . .but not all the time. And I do have a little tinnitus, so if it is TOO quiet, I hear that ringing sound and have to put on a small fan or other white noise. When I write, I am better with a little music. But all through college if I was studying, I needed it quiet, like really quiet. Thank you for the great post, new word, and fun cartoon!

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  20. Chewers’ Anonymous, LOL! 😃

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      • My wife hates the sound and sight of chewing gum. I mean hates it. I didn’t understand it until I met her father who chews and smacks everything that goes into his mouth. It is disgusting. She also happened to grow up in an authoritarian household as you did. Maybe there is a connection between authoritarianism and loud chewing…I bet Mussolini was a disgusting dinner guest.

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        • Hey! Nice to hear from someone new, today. Thanks for reading and commenting. There very well may be a connection, as you suggest. Myself, I don’t recall being offended as strongly by anyone else’s chewing/smacking. (Though I was curiously aware of grandma’s mouth noises. She was on a medication that had “dry mouth” as a side effect.) So, what might have been a mildly annoying tic turned into a deeply offending case of misophonia due to the connection between me and my dad.

          As for Mussolini? I’d like to think he was a brute at and away from the kitchen table. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he was the epitome of good table manners?

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  21. So deep are the scars made by emotional injuries, especially when they’re repetitive like ingrained family dramatics are, that very slight sensory triggers can recall the pain to its original depth in an instant. I’d never heard the term misophonia, but it seems fitting for such a misery. I have a tendency to be a little oversensitive to sound myself, but not to such a painful degree. I just make good use of earplugs pretty often! As the world gets noisier, it seems that my inner world sometimes gets louder to compete. Hmmm. This was a powerful piece, Maggie.
    xo,
    K

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    • “triggers can recall the pain to its original depth in an instant” – I suppose that this is a survival trait, a design feature that helps us avoid peril and live to eat another day. I get that. But MAN, do I wish there was a way to program in an override!

      Thanks for reading and for your kind remarks, Kathryn. 🙂

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  22. My misophonia issues:

    1. Sheets of polystyrene sliding against one another.
    2. The classic: fingernails on the blackboard (is that the politically correct term? – dunno).
    3. Any and all utterances of self-consciously exuberant people (I am not a misanthrope).
    4. Jingles/radio ‘idents’ (don’t watch telly – probably would apply there too).

    er . . . that’s it.

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