For as long as I remember, I’ve had a hard time with people making certain sounds.
A healthcare worker on the train incessantly popping her gum. The man behind me in line jangling the change in his pants’ pocket. A toddler at the grocery kicking at the back of my shopping cart. Some street vender guy whistling on the street.
These have the capacity to drive me crazy.
I am not talking mildly bothered. I mean, they make me feel homicidal.
(Disclaimer: I have not nor would I ever act on those impulses. But I do have them.)
What is it about these sounds that gets my goat? I mean, I am a singer, after all. I love music. I am an actress. I love and study voice and vocal expression.
I have very acute hearing, and I process quite aurally. My sense of hearing is a very rich source of sense memory for me in my work. Having the sense of a person’s voice will flood me with my experience of them. Recalling a song will take me back to all the sensations I was having at the time when I was first living with it.
I believe in the healing powers of sound and have benefited from and used them in my healing work.
With such a powerful connection to sound, you’d think that I would love ’em all. Nope.
There’s something about a repetitive sound that is out of my power to affect being generated by someone else that just gets to me.
Sometimes I think it is because I am the youngest, and grew up in a household with a workaholic, rageaholic father. I learned to listen to the house to pick up on cues and signals so that I could navigate the often-dangerous waters of our family dynamics.
I have a strong need for freedom as a result. It is way up there on my needs list. I need to feel free to express myself and to act freely over just about anything else. Cannot stand to feel suppressed or contained.
So you would think I’d applaud the free sound-making of others. Live and let live!
But, well, no. Just no. To certain sounds. The repetition doesn’t have to be steady. It can be slow and constant, like Chinese water-torture. It can be an intermittent or random pattern. (That can be worse!)
Having to hear someone else’s music on the subway, either when they blast it from their phone (without ear buds!) or so loud that you can hear it through the earbuds isvery aggravating for me.
The worst is the sound of slurping soup or smacking eating sounds. (Chewing or crunching for some reason is OK.) I had a dear ex-boyfriend who loved soup and loved to slurp it. It gave him such joy. I could not stand it. It was one of a few deal breakers. He offered to change it, but I didn’t want that. He got such pleasure eating it that way. Just because I happened to have a problem with it didn’t mean he should give it up. It was sad, but we were not to be.
There’s a song in the musical “Chicago” called “Cell Block Tango” where the women in jail sing about why they killed their husbands/boyfriends. One does it because he popped his gum. “He Had it Coming.”
“You know how people
have these little habits
That get you down. Like Bernie.
Bernie like to chew gum.
No, not chew. POP.
So I came home this one day
And I am really irritated, and I’m
looking for a bit of sympathy
and there’s Bernie layin’
on the couch, drinkin’ a beer
and chewin’. No, not chewin’.
Poppin’. So, I said to him,
I said, “you pop that
gum one more time…”
and he did.
So I took the shotgun off the wall
and I fired two warning shots…
…into his head.”
I so get it.
I have done a bit of research, and apparently there are others like me. There is something called misophonia that unfortunately sounds a bit too close to home on this.
Misophonia: “also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, starts with a trigger. It’s often an oral sound — the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, chew, yawn, or whistle. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause — someone fidgets, jostles you, or wiggles their foot.
Interestingly: “This lifelong condition usually starts between the ages of 9 and 13 and is more common with girls. It comes on quickly, but isn’t related to any one event. Doctors aren’t sure what causes misophonia, but it’s not a problem with your ears. They think it’s part mental, part physical. It could be related to how sound affects your brain and triggers automatic responses in your body.”
I’ve never sought a diagnosis or treatment. I assume if I do have misophonia, it is pretty mild.
I always have choices. I can move away, change cars, practice breathing exercises, put on headphones and listen to music myself to drown out the other’s.
I try to remain curious, compassionate with myself and others, and also find some humor around it.
After all, the making of the sounds is out of my control in the end, isn’t it? All I can control is how I choose to live with my response to them.
In the words of good ole Autry:
“I got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle
As I go ridin’ merrily along
And they sing, ‘Oh ain’t you glad you’re single’
And that song ain’t so very far from wrong”