As someone who has suffered with various forms of anxiety since my late teens, mental health awareness is really important to me.
I like to read others being open about what they are going through, particularly in a time when social media can display a perfect happy lifestyle. I think it's so important, because what one person may be struggling with, someone else could be too and its often a comfort to know you are not alone or be able to take advice from that person in a way that you can help yourself.
So as its mental health awareness week I've decided to share my journey in the hope it will raise awareness and possibly help someone else.
I have suffered with a condition called misophonia for some time, however, I never knew this was an actual condition until I came across it on Google when I was 30.
When I discovered this was a real thing, it was such a relief. A relief to know I wasn't alone, (in fact it is predicted 1 in 10 people suffer with this), a relief to read more about the condition and a relief to know I could get help for it.
So what is misophonia? The literal meaning is 'hatred of sound'.
If you search the condition in Google the description you get is
Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. Those who have misophonia might describe it as when a sound “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee.
The type of sounds that typically annoy a misophonia sufferer are people chewing loudly, repetitive sniffing, coughing or throat clearing, a clock ticking, someone clicking a pen. I won't mention many more in case these are triggers for you too.
There is a scale for the level of reaction to these sounds, ranging from 1 if you are slightly irritated to 10 if it makes you so angry you could lash out and attack someone for making the noise. Yes this sounds extreme, but for some people they cannot cope with the sensation that this noise brings them. A misophonia counsellor I know once treated a lady who had planned to kill her husband because he ate his food so loudly.
Most people react with anger. For me my reaction was emotional. Also I never felt like I should ask someone to stop making that noise as it was my issue and not theirs. As a result this tension of feeling irritated would build up all day and I would get home and cry to let all the negative energy out.
I have never wanted to open up about this condition as I always thought people might find it strange and also when I approached a manager at work several years ago to tell him I was struggling with noises where I was sitting, his reaction was to ask 'will this affect your work?' I responded 'no, but it will affect me'. He then walked away satisfied that I wouldn't let him down with my work. For me that was when our relationship went downhill. I look back and think he is lucky that he doesn't understand what I was going through and I am glad he doesn't have to, but for me every day going into work was painful to the point my physical health then started to suffer. I'd get terrible headaches, ibs and at times feeling like someone was giving me Chinese burns.
Neuroscientists say that brain scans of misophonia sufferers show that particular sounds, like eating and drinking, cause the part of their brain that processes emotions, the anterior insular cortex, to go into overdrive. The brain treats these trigger sounds as a danger, causing a flight or fight response when there really isn't any danger. It is an unconscious neurological reaction that we cannot control. There is an estimated 95% of sufferers who recognise a physical reflex, such as muscles tightening, an increase in heart rate or a tension in any part of the body.
I found someone online that specialised in misophonia treatment. At the time I could only find 4 people in the UK that had the training to help with this condition so the closest person to me was an hour drive away. The drive was worth it.
I had 6 sessions of hypnotherapy, not entirely convinced it would work but willing to try anything.
I learnt a lot from my counsellor on how I could manage the condition and amazingly I have lost my emotional attachment to these sounds. I still get irritated from time to time but I don't get the overwhelming feeling where I need to cry anymore which is amazing.
Misophonia as a parent.
One thing they say about misophonia is that children and animals tend to trigger you less. I definitely agree with this. I could easily sleep next to my sleeping baby who is snoring away but put my husband there snoring and I want to scream. Put him there snoring after some beers so it sounds like a wild boar has got into the bed and it makes me want to jump out the window. (not that I know what a wild boar sounds like, for all I know my husband could be louder)
Misophonia in lockdown.
I'm sure in some way, lockdown has helped misophonia sufferers. My main place where I struggle is the workplace. Having a set desk area to sit at, you become very aware of the habits of those around you and noises in the environment, whether that be the air con noises or a clock ticking. Being able to choose your own environment at home is amazing as you can easily remove any triggers. I've spent the past year on maternity leave which is even more amazing as I am completely free to do anything I like. Now the lockdown is easing I can take my baby places but I still feel like I have more choice and can walk away from anywhere if I am being triggered.
I have since changed workplaces and work for Johnson and Johnson now. They employ people who will work according to their credo. Physical and mental health of employees is important to them and this is so apparent in their management style. When I shared my condition with these managers, I was met with so much more understanding and compassion. I feel much more at ease sharing any discomfort with my new managers and as much as I would prefer to stay on maternity leave forever, I know I will be OK when I go back.
If you are reading this and feel like it sounds familiar to you, there is help available.
You can read more about it here.
You can join misophonia communities where sufferers help each other. Personally I have avoided these as sometimes you can read other triggers and then get annoyed by new ones.
You can also read about different types of treatment on this webpage too.