By Lynne Malcolm and Tegan Osborne.
Melissa was in her early teens when she first began to sense something wasn’t quite right with her hearing.
When her father was eating, the munching sound of his mouth made her feel anxious and upset — to the point where she would need to escape the room.
This and other sounds, like chip packets crumpling, or chair legs screeching on the ground, made her body tense and tighten, and her breathing quicken.
And they still do today, years later. If anything, the problem has gotten worse.
Melissa has a condition called misophonia — which put simply, is a severe hatred of certain sounds. It’s a condition only described by scientists and psychologists in the recent past, that doctors still understand very little about.
“I feel a fight or flight response kick … a lot of adrenaline. I can feel angry at the person making the noise, even though it’s just a normal thing for them – obviously, they’re trying to eat or sneeze. I usually need to get away from the situation because I can’t handle it,” she said.
“I was fairly young … when I [started] noticing it and there was no literature about it then. I’d never heard of anyone else having something like that, so you do think it’s all in your mind.”
Misophonia discovery ‘a relief’
Years after her symptoms began, Melissa noticed a small article in a magazine about misophonia, which described exactly how she was feeling.
It was a discovery that brought with it a mix of emotions.
“A mix of joy and sadness I guess … it tells me that it is real and it’s probably not going to go away. It’s a thing. But definitely relief that I wasn’t just going crazy and there were other people like me.”
In a recent ABC article about groundbreaking research on misophonia, we posted some examples of sounds that can be annoying, and asked people to vote on how they felt about them.
The most annoying sound by far was people eating with their mouths open, according to the poll. And the article also prompted manycomments on Facebook, from people who wanted to share their own experiences:
“Chewing with the mouth open, scraping knives and forks, and the hushed tones people use to lead people in meditation are triggers of major fits of rage for me. I found out about misophonia a few years ago and it explained everything.” – Maria
“What, you’re kidding, it has a name? And it’s not simply me being driven crazy? Get out of here!” – Karen
“Sudden but randomly timed loud noises. Like sheet metal workers riveting.” – Ben
“Trust me, living with it can be absolutely horrid some days. Earplugs are my friends. It’s not just eating and coughing sounds, I can’t deal with vacuums, crying sounds, tapping, whiteboard markers, chalk on chalkboard, noisy areas. Some days are better than others.” – Kate
“I hate with a passion the sound of a bouncing ball. It drives me crazy.” – Kay
“Scraping at the bottom of a yoghurt tub for the last gram of yoghurt. It’s yoghurt, not cocaine!” – Karrie
“I cannot stand metal scraping on concrete. It’s hard to even write about it, the thought is hideous. It makes me feel ill.” – Belinda
“Once I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper from my son and threw them out of the car window because I couldn’t stand the sound of his drawing.” – Carolyn
“People who chew with their mouth open. Slurping of drinks.” – Steve
“My teeth clench when I hear high heels clacking behind me. I have to stop walking and let them pass me. I also hate squeaky balloon noises.” – Monica
More than just feeling irritated or annoyed
But while it’s common to find certain sounds irritating or annoying — misophonia takes such feelings to a whole new level.
For Melissa, each new day brings a fresh set of potential triggers, depending on where she’s going and what she’s doing. She can never be sure she won’t hear something that will stop her in her tracks.
“I feel my breath quickening, I’ll be clutching my hands, it’s all I can focus on … that noise is spinning around in my head and it’s like nothing else is existing in that moment,” she said.