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How I Deal With Misophonia (Or try to…)

[Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links,and – slightly bizarrely – Game of Thrones spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…]

A couple of weeks ago, I posted this image on my Instagram Stories:

good news / bad newsBecause, yes, folks, the men who came to fit the glass wall on our stair whistled while they worked – much like The Seven Dwarves, in fact. I, meanwhile, spent the entire afternoon wearing earplugs – because, as those of you who’ve read this post might recall, whistling is one of my number one misophonia triggers: only slightly behind thumping baselines and people rubbing their feet together, in fact. And it turns out I’m not the only one, either: that Instagram Story was just supposed to be a quick, throwaway post, but I was amazed – and kind of reassured, actually – by how many people messaged me after it to say, “OMG, ME TOO.”

There’s a lot of people out there who can’t stand the sound of someone whistling, apparently. Not all of those people have misophonia, obviously, but some probably do: which is why I wanted to quickly revisit this topic, and write a bit more, not just about what misophonia is, and what it’s like to have it (I covered those topics in my previous post, so have a quick look at that if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about right now…), but about how I deal with it on a day-to-day basis. 

The problem is, you see, there’s currently no “cure” for misophonia, as such. I know some people have had success using things like cognitive behaviour therapy, or attempting to desensitise themselves to triggers, but, for most of us, it’s just a case of finding ways to cope with it, before it drives us crazy. Here are some of the things I’ve tried…

red polka dot midi skirt outfit01. 
Ear-plugs

You know THAT scene in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones? The one where Daenerys is, like, really, REALLY pissed, so she just – SPOILER ALERT! – burns the entire city to the ground? 

“That’s you when you can hear the baseline from someone’s music playing,” said Terry as we watched it. “If your school had yearbooks, you’d have been voted, ‘Most Likely To Burn Someone’s City to the Ground on a Dragon.'”

“That’s why I have earplugs, though,” I pointed out, and yes, that IS, indeed, why I have earplugs. Lots and lots of earplugs. Yellow ones, orange ones, blue ones. I honestly don’t care WHAT colour they are* (*Not strictly true: I prefer these yellow ones, which I buy in bulk, so I never, ever run out of them. Top misophonia tip for ya, there…): I only care that I have them with me at all times, just in case someone starts whistling in the vicinity, or I realise I can hear the distant THUMP! THUMP! of someone else’s music. 

For many people, these kinds of repetitive or intrusive sounds can be at least a little bit annoying if they go on for long enough. For me, though, they’re pure torture: and the torture starts the second the noise does – so I don’t really have the ability to listen to someone’s pounding baseline, say, and think, “Ah, well, it’s the weekend, after all!” I have to find a way to block out the sound NOW, or it will quite literally drive me to tears. (And yes, I am very aware of how totally crazy that sounds…)

Whistling, meanwhile, invokes the kind of response in me that I can only describe as “nails down a blackboard” – or ‘grima‘ as I’ve just this second discovered it’s more properly known. (It has a name, people! WHO KNEW?) It’s really hard to describe this, but it’s an almost physical sensation inside my head, and while it would be wrong to describe it as painful, it’s certainly uncomfortable – to an extent that made it preferable to me to sit at my desk wearing earplugs while our stair wall was installed, rather than have to listen to that repetitive PEEP! PEEP! PEEEEEP!

(No, asking the man to stop whistling wasn’t really an option, unfortunately. But I’ll get to that…)

For me, then, a set of good earplus are the first, and most important, line of defence against misophonia. I’ll also, however, sometimes use… 

02.
Other noise-blockers

I’m not a fan of ACTUAL white noise – i.e. the kind you get from a white noise machine. It doesn’t give me grima, but I DO find it a bit irritating, so if I’m bothered by some kind of repetitive sound (Music or TV playing from someone else’s house/car/garden etc), I’ll sometimes choose to try and block it out using other methods. If the sound is coming from a TV or radio, for instance, simply switching on my own TV or radio to the same station will solve the problem instantly: because the sound is still there, obviously, but the fact that I can now hear it clearly, as opposed to just a pounding baseline or the murmur of TV, somehow makes it tolerable to me. 

In the case of music I can’t replicate myself (I mean, I’m willing to put on some tunes if I have to, but if you’re listening to Celine Dion or any kind of power ballad, really, you can count me out…), I can sometimes try to drown it out with music of my own. This isn’t always a solution, though: it can be hard for me to concentrate with music playing, for instance, and I also have a 16-month old son, so if I’m trying to write, or if Max is trying to sleep, it’s not always practical to crank up the music. In those cases, other solutions are called for: so it’s either back to the earplugs, or it’s, you know, burning down their cities. I know which one I’d prefer, but, we’ll, gotta keep it legal, you know?

03.
Avoidance techniques

Because I get all the luck, some of my worst misophonia triggers are visual ones rather than audible ones: foot rubbing is the worst for me, but any kind of repetitive movement (hair twirling, foot jiggling etc…) will make me want to claw my eyes out, basically. It’s obviously not possible to avoid these triggers altogether, but it’s become second-nature to me to do things to reduce my chances of being exposed to them: so, for instance, if I’m in a room with foot jigglers, I’ll make sure I position myself in such a way that I can’t see the repetitive movement, or will place a cushion or something on my knee, to block it out.

When we go on holiday, meanwhile, I always request a room as far away from the pool bar/entertainment area as possible, to reduce the chances of the music from the bar forcing me to wear earplugs every time I’m in my room. On our last trip, I struck gold, and found a hotel with no poolside entertainment: lots of the reviews I read were from people complaining about how quiet it was, but it was my idea of heaven – peace, quiet, and no thumping baselines!

This doesn’t, however, always work. I’m currently writing this post, for instance (Or editing it, rather: I wrote most of it before we left the UK…), in the kitchen of our rental house in Florida, while the rest of the family sit out by the pool, not even slightly bothered by the pounding baseline coming from the house directly behind us. It’s 9:30pm, and still ninety degrees outside: I’d love to be outside sipping wine and enjoying the end of my holiday, but that relentless THUMP! THUMP! is driving me absolutely crazy, so here I am, feeling totally stupid and embarrassed by my reaction to it, but still not willing to go out and subject myself to it. Just to make matters worse, this is the second time this has happened now: I spent a couple of hours of week one shivering in the freezing aircon indoors, thanks to the neighbours directly behind us, who decided to play loud music outdoors all day. These neighbours are residents, not vacationers, and the noise from them has been habitual (So not just because of Memorial Day…): none of the reviews I read of the house mentioned it, though – probably because, to most people, something like that just isn’t worth mentioning. I’m really, really aware that my reactions to it aren’t normal, which is why I’ve had to find coping strategies to stop myself storming round and demanding silence from people who are just going about their normal lives, totally oblivious to the fact that the redhead in the house behind them is quietly plotting their downfall…

(*Update: its now 10pm, and the rest of the family have also been driven indoors by the thumping music, so maybe I’m not QUITE as mad as I’m making myself sound here. Probably not, though.)

contact Forever Amber04. 
Talk to people.

I’m one of the least confrontational people you’ll ever meet (Seriously: I once apologised to my dishwasher for opening its door mid-cycle…), but if you’re playing loud music at a time/in a way I consider to be objectively unreasonable (As opposed to just unreasonable by my own, misaphonia-influenced standards, I mean. I didn’t, for instance, ask the man who installed our stair wall to stop whistling, because, as much as it bothers me, I know it’s MY problem, not his, and it’s up to me to find a way to deal with it, rather than expecting the rest of the world to pander to my whims, like I’m Henry the Eighth or something.  I haven’t complained to the noisy neighbours here in Florida, either, because, well, they live here, and I’m just a stupid tourist, so I don’t expect that would go down well…), I WILL knock on your door and ask you to turn it down. (By which I’ll really mean OFF. Turn it OFF.) I will try my best to do this politely, but, somewhere deep inside, this will be me:

via GIPHY

That’s not actually what I meant by “talk to people”, though. No, when I say “talk to people” I mean, “talk about misophonia“. Not to the person whose door you’ve just knocked at 2am to ask them to turn down the music, obviously, but in general, and particularly to the people who know you best, and who are ALSO being forced to live with your misophonia – which, let’s face it, can come across simply as, “being a complete asshole.”

My parents, for instance, are both chronic foot rubbers, and I spent a large part of my youth, er, being a complete asshole about that – or so I (and they) assumed, anyway. It wasn’t until I found out about misophonia, and was subsequently diagnosed with it (I should probably just add here that my diagnosis came from a psychologist, by the way, not just good ol’ Doctor Google…) that I started to realise that ‘being an asshole’ might be ONE reason for my inability to deal with things like foot rubbing, but that it might not be the ONLY reason. I think reading about the condition has helped all of us understand it a bit more, and that understanding makes it a little easier to deal with it. 

Talking about it to other misophonia suffers, meanwhile, has been hugely helpful to me, too. When I posted my Instagram Story, for instance, I really wasn’t expecting much of a response, so the fact that so many people – and nice, NORMAL people, into the bargain – took the time to message me saying they knew exactly how I felt, because they have the same issue, was really comforting to me, and helped me feel like a bit less of a freak. I know there are still plenty of people out there who think misophonia is just another made up condition, and I’m not here to try to convince them otherwise: in fact, I’ve trashed this post at least twice since I started writing it, for fear of the reactions it’s going to get.

For those who DO get it, though, it can be quite an isolating thing to have to deal with: I’ve spent most of my life feeling horribly embarrassed by it, and like I must just be a horrible, horrible person because of the way I react to some of my triggers. And, I mean, maybe I AM: it’s definitely one of the possibilities here. At least writing about this topic has helped me realise I’m not the only one, though, so if you’re a fellow sufferer, one of my best pieces of advice to you is to FIND YOUR PEOPLE. And then you can rant all you want to them, without fear of judgement…

Any other misophonia sufferers out there? How do you deal with it? 
How to cope with misophonia

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23 Comments
  • Emerald
    May 28, 2019

    I HATE lots of noise, which may seem strange because my favourite music is heavy rock and metal. And I used to live next door to a pub that had bands playing a few times a week and that was fine. But music has a rhythm – it’s unexpected loud noises, especially lots at once that compete, that drive me up the wall. Plus loud, drunken voices in my ear at gigs and pubs. Again, weird for an extrovert but unnecessary noise just makes me anxious – it’s a huge reason I’m happy I left central London where it was impossible to avoid.

    I haven’t tried them yet, but my dad suggested Bose noise cancelling headphones. They’re pricey, but they definitely sound worth it if they work!

  • Denise Chatham
    May 28, 2019

    I once screamed “Shut that f% dog up!” out my front door at the top of my lungs because my neighbor’s dog just Would. Not. Stop. Barking. And it wasn’t even that loud, just one of those little yipping dogs with the high pitched bark at a low enough level where I could still hear him with all the doors and windows shut, but that was enough to literally drive me crazy. Repetitive noises, particularly deep bass and high pitches, will send me into a crazed state akin to Daenerys in King’s Landing. My current neighbors should be grateful I don’t own a fire-breathing animal. They have three dogs. Sigh.

  • Myra
    May 28, 2019

    As a fellow mosphoniac (I like that word, that I’ve probably just invented lol) I know my triggers that result in the “screaming ab dabs” for me. However, I’ve just discovered that I am a joggler, I am hoping it is temporary because I don’t think I’ve ever done it before. While waiting in hospital for an appointment with my very ill husband, he put his hand on my knee and said, “Stop jiggling”. What me! I felt the pressure of his hand and my involuntary movements were halted. A couple of minutes I was doing it again; jiggle, jiggle, jiggle. What the **** was going on? Constant rhythmic movement that really was involuntary. I’m putting it down to anxiety, and really hope it is temporary. I’d rather not think I’m going to be the person who triggers other misophoniacs. Help!

    • Myra
      May 28, 2019

      *jiggler (I hate predictive text)

    • Amber
      May 28, 2019

      Aww, Myra, I think jiggling is totally understandable under the circumstances ❤️

  • Jennifer
    May 28, 2019

    I don’t have this but my husband and daughter do. My husband’s main triggers are fingernail biting and barking dogs–as a previous comment mentioned, those little, yipping dogs that can still be heard when all the doors and windows are shut. He has started to go a bit deaf and he is actually pleased because it dulls some of the annoying sounds. My daughter can’t handle the sound of people chewing. They don’t have to be chewing with their mouths open or anything, it is just the sound of chewing in general. Oh, and sniffing. They both hate sniffing. I didn’t know this had an actual medical term for a long time. Reading about it has helped us all. They try to control their seemingly irrational reactions and I try not to get upset with them for noticing sounds that just, for me, go in one ear and out the other. The weird thing is, now I am starting to be irritated by barking dogs and sniffing!

    • Karlie
      May 28, 2019

      My husband hates chewing also. I thought I just chewed loudly but he says it is everyone.

  • MarieP
    May 28, 2019

    I have hypercusis/recruitment which has brought miso phobia along with it. I was checking out at a drugstore, when the manager moved a display of wind chimes just a bit. I held it together until he gave it a good push, then burst into tears, shoved my wallet at my husband (like he didn’t have his own money?!?), and fled. The poor manager felt awful and came to the car to apologize after my husband explained why I completely lost it and I said, “no, no, it’s not your fault”, while shaking uncontrollably. This came on twenty years after he married me but I really feel badly that he didn’t know this would happen to me while we were dating, so he could’ve made a truly informed decision. I mean, I annoy myself with this high maintenance behavior; what must others think?!!

    • Morgan
      June 7, 2019

      I don’t think we ever make truly informed decisions about the people we marry or partner with long term. People change and grow, and life happens! I’m not going to say “don’t feel bad” cause like that’s useless, but maybe think of some of the ways you have changed for the better in your marriage and some of the ways your husband has changed. He signed up for a life with you knowing that life in uncertain and complicated and messy, and it sounds like he is still on board for that life. I have IBS and an anxiety disorder and there is no way I could ever explain or describe every way it affects my life or way it might affect my life, and my partner has to be okay with that. 🙂 I hope you find some peace.

  • Susanna
    May 28, 2019

    I find giving people the death glare swiftly gets them to stop doing The Annoying Thing and retreat.

    But somehow I’ve managed to rustle up a reputation of being “scary”… 😀

    Miso is THE WORST and compounded with people not knowing about it makes it worse. People tell you you’re imagining things, that you’re making it up or “are on your period”. Like, I might be on my period but that’s not the reason I want to kill you.

    When it comes to coping strategies? Avoidance and mimicking works the best. I’m most triggered at work during lunch so I leave for my hour when The Loud Chewer brings their lunch in. Or I make sure I’m eating my lunch at the same time. I just don’t get that bothered when I’m doing the same thing…

    Earplugs just never worked for me. I don’t like the feeling of not being completely alert and SOMEHOW they seem to amplify the noises that do annoy me. Like, it’ll be complete silence and then this echoy noise of the husband inhaling food when it’s too hot. Dude, GIVE IT A MINUTE and you won’t have to do the chtlholulchtl noise when you shovel food in your gob.

    Bose QC35s though? Lifesaver. Honestly, if I could marry a pair I would.

  • Anna
    May 28, 2019

    I have misophonia too, and I also hate whistling with a passion! I usually deal with it by taking noise canceling headphones wherever I go, which helps a lot.

  • Tasha
    May 28, 2019

    Out of curiosity, how did you cope with Max’s crying when he was little? My daughter’s crying god’s through me, if my partner’s trying to settle her and she won’t start crying I just can’t cope with the sound I just want to take her off him!

    • Amber
      May 28, 2019

      Babies crying isn’t a trigger for me, for it was never an issue – although, to be fair, he was never a big crier, thankfully!

  • Vita
    May 28, 2019

    Snoring. Omg SNORING. I can not bear it. I’ve never been able to bear it. I am reassured by your experiences that it’s not just me being fussy and awkward and precious as I thought for so many years. So thank you!

    Related: the man upstairs in the flat my boyfriend lives in snores so loudly that I can hear him over the audiobook I use to try to drown him out *and* when I strop off to the living room. It is horrendous. (sobs)

  • Tom
    May 28, 2019

    So for me I think mine is very mild. As in, I can usually block things out and just not “notice” them, unless, someone else mentions it to me.

    For example.

    In my office we have an open office set up. We have 8 people in a very small space with nothing between us all. Frank is the problem child. Lots of slurping and loud food eating. I hadn’t noticed it until Alan and Tina mentioned it to me, and now that’s all I, and they, can hear. Problem is usually solved with ear buds and some background music.

  • ML
    May 28, 2019

    People chewing, nail biting, finger/knuckle cracking, loud swallowing (gulping liquids, etc.), scraping fingernails repeatedly on fabric, all make me very anxious and agitated. I am married to a chronic nail biter and jiggler and it drives me crazy. He bites his nails when he’s nervous or anxious, so it’s tough. I usually ask him to stop, please(!) but sometimes I just have to leave the room. Same thing when he or our kids are chewing or swallowing loudly (which is hard because I’m trying to not make them feel bad for just eating.) Sometimes playing some background music during meals helps to distract me and cover up the sound of their chewing and swallowing, but oy. You’re right, people who don’t have misophonia just don’t get that you’re not just being overly-sensitive and intolerant. I just discovered my mother has some visual misophonia (people playing with their hair and also jiggling, although she’s very much a jiggler herself), so maybe it’s inheritable? My daughter has also expressed that she thinks she has it too.

  • Barbara
    May 28, 2019

    Ok, I genuinely thought I’m simply people/noise/music hater- now I know it has a name! My poor husband loves music and plays guitar! Me? It gets on my nerves! I feel awful but it does. Worst way to wake up- hearing that my husband is watching anything on tv that involves people laughing, clapping or singing- then my day is a write off… of god- I probably sound totally mad… I’m not, I promise!

  • May
    May 28, 2019

    There’s definitely some noises I *cannot* stand. I’ve been under a lot of stress and generally a bad place mentally lately and my hate for them (I don’t want to call it misophonia because I haven’t been diagnosed) has just grown exponencially. The other day I was in 40 minute bus ride with a girl that kept popping her gum and it made me feel so bad I nearly had an anxiety attack. I just usually leave the space or focus on anything that isn’t that noise- not always possible sadly

  • Cassidy
    May 29, 2019

    Foot rubbing is also a HUGE trigger for me! And chewing (mouth opened or closed doesnt matter), the sound of muffled tvs/music or a heavy base in the distance (seriously the worst), or people whispering or muffled talking in other rooms. My old coworker used to listen to CBC radio (which has a lot of interviews) on a irritating volume that was loud enough for me to hear but soft enough that I couldn’t understand what they were saying and it drove me WILD! I really enjoy your posts about misophobia- it does help to know there are others out there and that I’m not just an asshole lol. Cheers!

  • Jennarose McKee
    May 29, 2019

    I have never heard of misophonia but alot of what you have said has resonated with me. I absolutely can’t stand chewing, high pitched noises, metal scraping on teeth when people eat, or any type of high pitched noises. It feels like I’m in physical pain and all I want to do is set fire to them too. I have had this since I was a child but everyone has just labeled me as weird or particular. My step mom thinks it’s because of all the ear aches I got as a kid but I have always been this way. I am married now and it takes all my strength to hold it together when he eats, just thinking about it makes me cringe. Dogs barking also bothers me, especially the high pitched ones. My ear feels like it is dying but whistling and knee jiggling have never bothered me. I am a compulsive knee jiggler “sorry”.

  • Angie Silver
    May 29, 2019

    I have it too but it’s more related to bodily sounds especially mouth sounds like lip smacking, loud swallowing, jaw clenching, the clacking sounds people make when they speak with a dry mouth. Even breathing can set off my grima. And trust me my husband particularly loves when I tell him his breathing is annoying!

  • I had no idea this was a thing so it’s been interesting to read about this and something to be aware of going forward. Not that I can whistle though and I don’t generally listen to music in public. When I can hear the base of someone’s music through their headphones on the train, I find it very annoying but I can usually tune it out or distract myself. However you mentioned the fingernails on a blackboard comparison and that noise goes right into my head and is almost physically painful. I also can’t stand the sound of frozen ice in our freezer on the inside door when it scrapes against something.

  • Candice
    June 11, 2019

    Im not sure if my husband suffers from misophonia per se, but he is very sensitive to sounds. Like, if he can hear a clock ticking or his favorite, music in the distance. He CANNOT deal. And also instantly gets very agitated by it. Like the time he drove to the bar across from my moms house in his pjs, barefoot and simply unplugged the DJ or the time he threw a raw egg into our neighbours house because they were being absolute jackasses about their loud music. We also HAVE to sleep with the fan on every night so that outside noise can be drowned out.

    I find it very amusing though and always support his plots 🙂

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