Content note: This article contains detailed discussion of sensory sensitivity, discussion of mental health and anxiety, and a brief reference to self-harm

In a world which is never silent, misophonia is a sick joke. It’s a sensory condition in which those affected experience extreme emotional reactions to ‘trigger’ sounds, and is a blatant and violent infringement of a person’s right to safety, comfort, and feeling at home in their own mind. It is mental agony resulting from unavoidable physical circumstances; despite having borne it for nearly ten years, it has remained one of the most private aspects of my life until now.

When I was about nine or ten, I began to lash out at my brother during mealtimes. This is the first instance I can remember being triggered. Even as a child, the sound of my family’s chewing filled me with anger, panic, and fear - and unfortunately my brother (being the most attackable from the point of view of a young girl) first bore the weight of this. No one in my family, myself included, understood why this was happening. I convinced myself that it must be a release of pent-up feelings from the day, despite being consistently happy in my primary school environment. This reasoning was what I conveyed to my mother, and the issue was put to bed as just another symptom of my hot temper and general irritability.

“Even as a child, the sound of my family’s chewing filled me with anger, panic and fear”

A few years passed, and nothing improved. My reactions worsened, and my shouting fits were no longer limited to being directed at my brother — I often wailed at my father to stop, as I came to realise that his triggers were the most severe. Being a young, teenage girl in an ageist patriarchy did not help with my credibility, and it took until I reached my mid-teens for anyone to come to terms with how serious it was. It was at this age that I first stumbled across an online forum that mentioned the word “misophonia.”

The stories on this platform resonated with me so profoundly that I spent the evening crying with happiness. I couldn’t quite believe that I was neither insane nor alone. I was granted the confidence to talk to my family about it with a sense of authority and, gradually, things began to change. Although it was certainly a steep learning curve for some of them (“For fuck’s sake, stop making such a fucking big deal out of it” was once yelled at me by my father, which has had particular staying power), I’ve been immensely lucky to have such an understanding mother and brother. The adaptations and sacrifices they have made for my sake, especially in recent years, have been astounding.

Misophonia is frustratingly nuanced, and yet hits with a harsh precision that is difficult to put into words. Now, it’s not just eating but anything from typing to breathing to visual cues that will send me into fight-or-flight. Being around others has become steadily more challenging — perhaps the grossest cruelty of this condition is its power to ruin relationships. Spending more time with my loved ones strengthens the association between their trigger noises and my reaction; when even their breathing is a trigger, there begins a ruthless separation. It is brutal that this means the closer I become with someone, the less I can be with them. When I’m at home, I cannot spend more than a few minutes per day in my family’s company — we haven’t had a communal dinner (without guests to create helpful white noise) in around five years. I miss them enormously.

“Perhaps the grossest cruelty of this condition is its power to ruin relationships”

In Lent, the prospect of being trapped at home for the term, surrounded by potential anxiety attacks in the creak of a footstep or the whistle of a breath gave rise to some of the darkest thoughts I have had in recent memory. I applied to return to Clare, and was rejected. My case did not “meet the threshold.” Distraught and terrified of myself and those around me, I immediately replied with the most explicit description of my mental health I have ever given, desperate for my case to be reviewed. Although in this case I was successful, it was far from the first time the validity of my feelings on the subject had been questioned.


Mountain View

ADHD, the Pandemic, and me

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known usage of the word “misophonia” was in 2001 - needless to say, there has been little chance for research and recognition since then. It’s understandable, then, that a confession of this condition is often met by belittling, gaslighting or simply forgetting it was mentioned. There is usually an inclination to think the sufferer is exaggerating (“Oh I agree! Isn’t it annoying when people eat with their mouths open?”). Such a reaction, although semi-justified, is exceptionally draining to deal with. Our understandings of mental health are moving forward as a society, but we must remember to extend this to little-known conditions as well.

I am frequently triggered at Cambridge. I feel exhausted by making the same excuses every day to leave situations that, through no fault at all of my mostly unknowing friends, have made me spiral. I am tired of hitting my head against a wall until “the pressure is relieved.” I hope that this article serves both as a disclosure to my friends of something that is a huge part of me (hopefully a more articulate one than I would have given you otherwise), and more importantly as a love letter to anyone going through the same thing. I promise you are not alone.