Snap, Crackle, Pop: Secret Thoughts of a Misophonic

I have snapshots in my head of moments in time growing up. They are faded color from the ‘70s and ‘80s because for some reason my memories were processed by Kodak.

One of the early images is of the back of the front passenger seat in my parents’ car. We were stopped at a gas station. Dad was pumping gas.

It was quiet. Dad was taking a long time. Pops and cracks broke the silence. Mom was torturing a piece of gum – and me at the same time.

Why were we in the car and where were we going? I have no idea. But I do know this was my first misophonic memory and the first time I wanted to explode and yell, “Dear God, woman, would you throw out that gum before I jump out of this car and run to a new family of people who hate gum?”

But saying something would have been rude and disrespectful so I bottled my anger for forty years.

Misophonia is “the strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds” according to WebMd. It really is a thing but I’m referencing WebMd because it’s easy; Neurology Times, Harvard and others address it also. To be clear: when they say misophonia is a “strong dislike or hatred” we’re talking anger. We’re talking, the desire to kill the source of a common sound, or flee altogether.

My mother is still alive today. I didn’t kill her. I thought about it, but I didn’t do it.

I also thought about smothering one of my college roommates. It was senior year. I was in my small dorm room with Marcia and we were studying. She was studying; I was plotting her murder that night. As far as I know, she’s still alive today. I couldn’t go through with it. She was nice.

But I did have to tell her that her gum-cracking was making me crazy in our small space and if she didn’t stop, I couldn’t promise not to hold a pillow over her face while she slept. Marcia handled it better than I would have. If memory serves, she started studying in the library – and then moved to another dorm the next semester. Marcia and I didn’t keep in touch after that.

College was particularly tough. If there was a student across the room chewing gum, I knew it and laser-focused on the perpetrator until I bore an imaginary hole into her head. Gum chewers are responsible for many a sub-par test score and the reason I couldn’t pass the foreign service exam and am not a diplomat serving in a country where gum is illegal. In retrospect, diplomacy wasn’t a good match.

Triggering sounds like gum chewing, open-mouth eating, snot-snorting and adenoid-clearing made me hot, and not in the good way. Growing older I realized this wasn’t normal so I decided I would do something about it. I scowled at gum chewers, open-mouth eaters, snot-snorters and adenoid-clearers. I was growing as a person.

They didn’t take the hint though so I took the humor route and made jokes:

Hey, your gum sounds tasty, can I have a go at it?

Mind if I join you on that crunchy, juicy apple?

One early career boss of mine was a gum chewer and I handled it pretty well until I couldn’t ignore it from my office next door any longer. I started walking into his office with my hand out asking him to spit his gum into it. He didn’t but he did put it in the trashcan. Winning! Luckily, he was good natured and I was later able to leave the job on my own accord.

Over the years I’ve learned coping skills that keep me from acting out on my homicidal thoughts: my own gum-chewing (oddly), reminding myself that a bag of popcorn can’t last too much longer can it?, manipulating space and time, and praying for a targeted asteroid strike. Yet, sometimes I can’t ignore it.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a co-worker lead a two-hour call while he ate a salad into the microphone. It seemed to be a salad of only celery and carrots from what I could determine without asking.

I have no idea what the call was about but I found a kindred spirit in cyberspace who was also listening and we IM’d about the celery, the eater’s complete lack of self-awareness and our superior social etiquette.

Conference calls are particularly bad for misophonics. I finished a call today with static clicking the entire time that morphed into a physical presence reaching through the phone to tap on my temples. I could have sworn on a separate call someone was eating another salad, but this time out of a Styrofoam container the consumer was moving across a table. I remember these experiences in vivid detail but have no recollection why I was on the conference calls in the first place.

Speaking of salads, my husband stabs his with a fork like the lettuce will get away if he doesn’t move fast enough, leaving me to ask the question: What did that salad ever do to you? I usually move to another part of the house while the massacre takes place.

I remember breaking up with a guy many years ago for the partial reason that he ate spaghetti with his mouth open; yet, I was totally willing to give my future husband a chance after our first meeting when he was chewing gum like he was auditioning for a Doublemint commercial.

Two kids later and he isn’t dead yet. I really am growing as a person.