• My priority is to rest - well, as much as a mother to three small kids can rest - and reduce external stress. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
It wasn’t until I came across the term 'misophonia' — a condition that produces a strong emotional reaction and a ‘flight or fight’ physical response to certain ‘trigger’ noises, that I understood what was happening.
By
Raidah Shah Idil

25 Oct 2021 - 9:07 AM  UPDATED 25 Oct 2021 - 9:45 AM

My mother loves to tell this story. “When Raidah was in high school, she was studying early in the morning and got interrupted by loud birds. She got up and started yelling at them!” First, she told my very amused husband. Now she’s told this story to my 4-year-old nephew, who laughed. When I finally get to see her once this pandemic ends, she’ll tell my children. I always thought it was perfectly reasonable to get enraged by loud, grating birdcalls. Apparently, this is not commonplace behaviour.

If the bird story wasn’t enough to indicate something else was going on with my hearing, my mother is also very familiar with my other auditory nemesis - clocks. The sound of a ticking clock, no matter how quiet, used to keep me up at night. It would grate on me and make it impossible for me to fall asleep. Once, I think I may have carefully stepped over a sleeping sibling in the middle of the night to remove the offending clock, only to stun them when they woke up to see what time it was.

The sound of a ticking clock, no matter how quiet, used to keep me up at night. It would grate on me and make it impossible for me to fall asleep.

Thankfully, about six years of child-rearing and the resultant sleep deprivation has cured me of the clock-ticking issue, at least. Sadly, everything else is worse.

It wasn’t until I came across the term 'misophonia' — a condition that produces a strong emotional reaction and a ‘flight or fight’ physical response to certain ‘trigger’ noises, that I understood what was happening. Finally, I thought, an actual name that described my invisible struggles. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why nobody else was bothered by the sounds that either stressed me out or disgusted me.

When I’m more anxious than usual (thank you, pandemic), I notice that I’m a lot more sensitive to my auditory triggers. These can include the sound of chewing (even my own!), slurping, the scraping of chairs on the ground, and the beeping of phones.

This might explain why I sometimes prefer eating with my earplugs/earphones tucked securely in my ears. This way, I can make polite conversation and not hear anyone else chew and swallow. Even the low battery pinging alert on my cordless house phone can drive me up the wall. It feels deeply irritating. I’m also pretty sure nobody else can hear it.

Lockdown has amplified everything – my anxiety, misophonia, overall stress levels and feelings of being cooped up with no end in sight. I am so grateful I have a large garden my three kids can run around in and burn up their energy. It’s not the same as them being at preschool in the mornings, but at least it’s something. Sitting in the garden while listening to birdsong, the rustle of leaves in the wind, and soaking in sunlight is an instant misophonia relief for me. There’s just something soothing about being in the great outdoors. Well, until the loud noise of grass cutting and barking dogs start up.

Sitting in the garden while listening to birdsong, the rustle of leaves in the wind, and soaking in sunlight is an instant misophonia relief for me.

Just as some sounds can fill me with despair and disgust, other sounds can send joyful tingles through me. Something about the constant, soothing sound of rain instantly relaxes me. This is why rainymood.com is my favourite website. The sound of rain and thunder comforts me, while the sound of a dripping faucet irritates me. Why? It’s just how my brain is wired. My latest favourite sound is the playing of a bamboo gamelan — go figure.

Misophonia online support groups have been game-changing for me. On these Facebook groups, I have a veritable treasure trove of like-minded misophonia sufferers who share triggers and solutions. Reading their tips helps me design for success. When I’m about to have my period, I know that this is when all of my chronic pain and misophonia tends to flare up. This is when I warn my husband and kids, ensure I have my heat pack and ear plugs in order. This is also a time when I clear out my schedule to ensure I have no pressing deadlines. My priority is to rest – well, as much as a mother to three small kids can rest – and reduce external stress.

Having misophonia has taught me a lot about modelling self-compassion and compassion for others. I talk to my kids about my misophonia struggles and explain that I’m not angry at them. I just need to step away, or use my earplugs. When my kids are busy playing, I sit alone in my room and decompress, until they come looking for me. On tough days, I have the self- awareness to not sit at family meals when I know I cannot handle the sound of chewing. I model for my kids how to chew with my mouth closed, in the hope that they’ll grow up and be considerate chewers! 

On truly difficult days, after all three of my kids are asleep, I sit at my Macbook, close my eyes, and play the sound of rain. This instantly soothes me. Well. Until I hear the sound of my ticking clock.

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