My experience with misophonia

Over the last ten years or so I’ve discovered that I’m intolerant to certain sounds. Sounds that other people might find a little annoying, can trigger a full-on flight or fight panic response in me.

Turns out this response to sound has a name: misophonia.

According to the website WebMD, “misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance.”

Different people have different triggers, they might find chewing, breathing, tapping or even dogs barking provokes this reaction.

For me it centres on my home, as it’s somewhere that should feel safe and a place you can relax. My neighbours TV, them shouting and their dog barking triggers this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m at home a lot, I mean we all are at the moment, so there’s no escape from the noise. If they decide to blare their TV for a couple of hours, there’s not much I can really do about it, as I don’t feel able to bring it up with them face to face.

My mental health has taken a nose-dive recently as they seem to have ramped up the amount of noise they are making, their TV is louder and sometimes they wake me up early in the morning with their shouting. I’ve spent the last month or so feeling on edge. I’ve bought some earplugs that do help me get a better night’s sleep, but I’m still finding things a struggle.

I’ve sought a bit of solace on an online support group. I read other people’s posts and feel grateful that my neighbours don’t throw parties that go on till the early hours, but still the panic is there. I think it’s awful that so many people don’t care about the impact they have on others.

I’ve been ruminating on whether my neighbours are trying to ‘send me a message’ that I’ve upset them in some way, but I suppose I won’t know unless I talk to them about it.

I’ve wanted to write a post for a while but haven’t been able to summon the energy for it, as my reaction to the noise has taken up a lot of energy. Would be interesting to hear if any of you can relate to this, or if you have ever lived next to noisy neighbours.

Is your anxiety a fear of fear itself?

Fear is a funny thing. You might experience it often in your day to day life but not understand why certain situations scare you so much. Or you might know perfectly well but find yourself unable to stop it.

The people closest to you might not understand either, even if you painstakingly try to explain where you’re coming from. I’ve had many conversations with my family, and they’ve asked me, exasperated: “but why do you feel so anxious, you know that nothing bad will happen!” Yes, I do, but how I feel isn’t rational!

I sat down one day and gave it some serious thought. What was it that made me feel so awful – what makes me want to avoid so much of life? Suddenly it hit me; it’s the feeling of fear itself. The overwhelming pounding in my chest, the rapid breathing, the derealisation and the feeling that I was about to lose control. For me, what started as social anxiety evolved into something else.

Anxiety is normal

And as I’m sure you know; anxiety can be all consuming. If someone were to ask me what I wanted above all else, it would be to feel free. To know that I could simply feel calm and never be fearful again. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that! I’ve come to accept that I will always experience anxiety because anxiety is normal, the thing that needs to change is how I relate to it.

This fear of fear is known as ‘anxiety sensitivity.’ Noam Shpancer Ph.D writes on: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/insight-therapy/202002/anxiety-sensitivity-when-what-we-fear-is-fear-itself “Research suggests that stressful life events, specifically those related to health and family discord, are associated with increases in anxiety sensitivity. These stressful events contribute to the emergence of anxiety sensitivity by leading to the formation of distorted, dysfunctional beliefs about the meaning and consequences of somatic sensations.”

You can break the cycle

My reaction to feelings of anxiety, was that it was unbearable, and I might lose control so it must be avoided at all costs. By thinking this I set myself up in a cycle of fear that has been difficult to break. But the cycle can be broken.

In my experience, mindfulness has been a valuable tool in accepting fear. Observing your anxiety, without attaching judgement to it can give yourself much needed space to think clearly. “This too shall pass” and “fear is just a feeling” have become mantras of mine!

I used to think that I was weird for feeling like this, or unable to change, but actually – it’s normal. A normal human behaviour that lots of other people experience. This anxiety sensitivity is a reaction, a coping mechanism to the experiences you have had in your life. And by gradually changing your relationship with fear, and seeing it for what it is, you can reduce its intensity.

Celebrities that share your anxiety struggles

Anxiety is a difficult condition to live with, it can take over your life and trick you into believing that things will never get better. You might even feel like anxiety will prevent you from becoming successful. But it doesn’t have to! There are many people in the public eye that have found success while dealing with their own personal anxieties. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few of them here.

Fearne Cotton

Fearne has opened up over the past couple of years on her brilliant ‘Happy Place’ podcast about her battles with anxiety, panic attacks and an eating disorder. She found that things improved for her when she took a step back from her busy lifestyle and focused more on self-care and a better work-life balance.

Adele

She’s a successful singer-songwriter and has won five Grammy awards, but she also suffers with panic attacks and stage fright. Yet she has still managed to perform confidently to huge live audiences! She told Rolling Stone that she deals with it by telling jokes and talking a lot to keep the mood light.

Michael Phelps

Well-known for his competitive swimming. He’s the most successful Olympian of all time; winning 28 medals! But he’s also lived with anxiety, depression and substance issues. Like many of us he’s been finding the new COVID world difficult, and in a recent interview with ESPN said: “The pandemic has been one of the scariest times I’ve been through. I’m thankful that my family and I are safe and healthy. I’m grateful we don’t have to worry about paying bills or putting food on the table, like so many other folks right now. But still, I’m struggling.” He encourages people to reach out to others and talk about how they are feeling.

Harrison Ford

Would it surprise you to discover that the superstar Hollywood actor suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. When he won the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, he told the Los Angeles Times that he felt grateful, but “the greatest fear in my life is public speaking.” His acceptance speech can be viewed on Youtube; you’ll notice he is fighting to stay calm and control his breathing. He’s notorious for being a bit grumpy, but I think this shows him in a different light.

Kristen Stewart

Most famous for playing Bella Swan in Twilight, Kristen has experienced OCD, panic attacks and found it difficult adjusting to fame. I remember watching her interviews and thinking how uncomfortable she looked. In an interview with Elle she said: “’I went through so much stress.’ The pressure of being a young star contributed to serious physical anxiety: ‘I had panic attacks. I used to puke every day.’ She has learned to cope better as she got older and went on to say, “I had gone through so much that did not kill me… sorry, I know that sounds dramatic … I realise the anxiety just ran out. I didn’t have the energy to do that anymore.”

I found it fascinating that these are successful people, vastly different from each other and in how they’ve dealt with their anxieties, but they’ve all gone through similar experiences. Just like you and me. It just shows that if you’ve got a dream or a goal in life, anxiety doesn’t need to stand in your way.