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Coping with the torment of misophonia


My daily train ride to and from work fills me with dread. I don’t worry about delays, being crushed by strangers, or even the prospect of having to stand when I’ve paid a small fortune for a seat.

No, I’m terrified that someone will eat or drink in my carriage.

I know that many people find the sound of overenthusiastic chewing and slurping somewhat annoying, but for me the volume of eating sounds is really, really high.

Grinding, smacking, rustling packages and glugs are to me like nails being dragged across a blackboard, the deafening whine of a dentist’s drill or the wail of a very upset baby. These trigger what I can only describe as a visceral response that either makes me want to run or lash out.

I’m 56 now, but for most of my life I thought everyone experienced this reaction to the sound of other people eating.

For misophonia sufferer Claire Cisotti, 56, the volume of eating noises is painfully high

My husband, Max, and our two kids, Mimi, 19, and Zac, 22, rolled their eyes when I insisted that all the chips that made their way into our house (I refuse to buy them) had to be decanted from the bottle. their noisy packages and in bowls of cereal, and not eaten until after I left the room.

The kids grew up thinking that every mother teaches their offspring that chips should be licked and sucked, and never crushed in public.

But about ten years ago, a good friend who is a child psychiatrist overheard me complaining about the proliferation of eaters on my commuter train and told me that I suffered from a condition called misophonia.

The word translates from Ancient Greek as “hatred of sound” and is defined as a strong emotional response to certain sounds. Misophonia used to be considered very rare, but new research from King’s College London and Oxford University, published last month, found that 18.4 percent of the UK population suffers from it.

That’s almost one in five of us. Trigger sounds can be snoring, sniffling, coughing, teeth sucking, keyboard tapping, loud breathing, and joint creaking, but for me and millions of others, it’s the incredibly noisy way people eat their food that causes problems.

We don’t just feel that nagging sense of annoyance you might experience when someone talks too loudly on their cell phone. This is a true neurological response that causes our brain to misinterpret certain sounds as toxic or threatening, triggering the fight-or-flight survival response.

On the first crunch, my heart rate goes up and a sense of panic begins to rise through my body

I’m not normally a highly sensitive person, and when I talk about this problem, people often think I’m exaggerating, but misophonia really puts a big strain on my life.

At the first crackling sound, my heart rate will rise, I will struggle to breathe properly, and a strong sense of panic will begin to rise through my body.

The sound becomes all-consuming and it fills my head, so I just can’t think straight.

When the panic is really bad (Kettle Chips, for example, sound like a dinosaur chewing an oak tree to me) I’ve learned to use breathing exercises to calm myself down. I’ve actually never been locked in a room with a rowdy eater, but I have no doubt that if I couldn’t escape for some reason, the feeling of panic would rise to the point where I would throw up.

I recently listened to a podcast in which the actor, Richard E. Grant, confessed to having misophonia. A big trigger for him is poppadoms – he considers that crunch “unacceptable” and it results in a “red fog of anger.”

TV star Kelly Osbourne (daughter of Ozzy and Sharon) has also revealed that the sound of chewing – especially men chewing – makes her knees buckle and cause her to break into a sweat. She has admitted to walking up to people she doesn’t know and pulling the gum out of their mouths.

When Kelly told her mother about her misophonia, Sharon said she suffered from it too, and I’ve read about a possible hereditary link.

I think my dad, Charlie, had it. He had an unbreakable rule that no one was allowed to chew gum in his car. If he heard the slightest sound of chewing, or the crackle of a bubble gum, he pulled over to the nearest parking lot and his pockets were expanded. If someone came into our house chewing, he sent them right back out. The anger was real.

My psychiatrist friend told me that sometimes her misophonia makes her so angry that she wants to hit the perpetrator, and every now and then my condition evokes feelings of anger.

I feel horrible to admit it, but the thought of my husband noisily ‘sipping’ Lemsip while covered in the cold evokes the kind of rage that makes me want to throw his precious hot drink in his face.

Fortunately, I’m usually not that confrontational, but I seem to spend an extraordinary amount of my time running away – moving to another carriage, getting up from my desk, leaving the room. At parties I have a radar sensor for the crunchy snacks and I position myself as far away as possible – or leave.

For decades I thought everyone found eating noises intolerable, but it wasn’t until I discovered my misophonia that I realized my entire life was dominated by my attempts to avoid listening to other people.

I recognize the “anticipatory anxiety” I get when I walk to the train station at the beginning and end of each day. If I can, I’ll sneak the length of the platform and scan the windows until I find a carriage with no sign of a cup or food wrapper.

The thought of hopping on a train as it leaves the station makes my heart beat faster because I know I’ll have to endure hell walking through successive carriages of slurpers and munchers until I can find a place to get in sit in peace.

I mean, when did it become acceptable to eat a three-course meal on a train? Why does everyone have to carry a takeaway coffee cup that they have to drink noisily from? How can people be so oblivious to the food they are making? Doesn’t anyone have manners anymore?

I would like to go back to the days when it was inappropriate to eat in public and for me a ‘benefit’ of the pandemic was that wearing masks naturally reduced the amount of food or drink you could do around other people , limited.

But now the deafening chewers are back. Food is available 24/7 and we seem to have acquired a culture of multi-tasking, suggesting that flight spotting is a convenient way to save time that might be wasted quietly digesting a meal in private.

It’s like face-pushing fast food on the go comes with a “two-in-one” efficiency bonus that tells the world you’re winning at life. But you are not. It’s rude!

A chocolate bar is one thing, but a full meal? Why can’t you wait to get home?

I’m a quiet eater, I quietly sip my drinks, I barely make a sound when using a keyboard, I’d rather blow my nose than inflict hell on someone else by sniffing repeatedly.

Noise nightmare: Claire gets so anxious she wants to run away or even lash out

Noise nightmare: Claire gets so anxious she wants to run away or even lash out

Like me, Richard E. Grant says if he eats an apple he will move to the farthest corner of a room so no one has to hear him, and if he nibbles on popcorn during a movie he will sit in the front row . his own to avoid annoying anyone else.

That’s the right way to behave, isn’t it? I wish I didn’t have misophonia, but I also wish other people could learn to eat in peace, like me. Or at least choose the kind of snacks that melt in your mouth, like Wotsits.

Life would be so much better for us misophones if the ‘silent’ carriages were truly silent and could provide a refuge from the tyranny of food and drink.

Nothing would make me happier than a complete ban on chips on public transport, just as cigarettes are banned.

In the meantime, all I have to do is plug in my headphones and turn up the music.


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