An Adversity To Sound

Trigger Warnings: phonophobia, misophonia, disability

2016 is coming to a close and I have to say, I’m kind of relieved. It has been a tough year for many people, myself included. I have been trying to change my view of 2016, and see it as a year of personal development and discovery. A lot of that has involved reinventing myself, understanding who I am and what issues I need to work through.

It has come to my attention this year that I have some issues with auditory stimuli, and that has caused a lot more problems than I have realised. I initially thought that I just couldn’t handle loud stimuli because it made me anxious due to the fact that it was just a lot for my ears to take in. Then I thought it was a by-product of a disability, that I have since realised was a misdiagnosis.

Only in the past month or so have I really been able to put my finger on it. I’ve worked out that I have two different issues with sounds, which from what I can tell are severely under-represented. I didn’t even know they existed! (I had to find out from tumblr). And now that I’m aware that I have them, I feel much more confident in my abilities to understand and manage them.

The first thing is something called phonophobia. It is a fear of loud noises. And not like a progressive loud noise, like loud music at a club, but more sudden loud noises. And even then, it’s not the loud noise itself, but rather the anxiety / fear of thinking that a loud noise might happen. For example, I have a few people in my life who have a tendency to randomly make loud noises, like banging on tables, shouting suddenly or stomping. I feel constantly anxious around these people as I know that they have a tendency to make loud noises suddenly, and I have no clue when the next one will be. So I sit with anxiety for the entire time I am with them. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely hate loud noises, and I do react when they happen. I just find the anxiety about when the next loud noise will be much more unsettling.

The second one is called misophonia. It is literally the hatred of sounds. I find certain sounds extremely displeasing, to the point where I will have a physical reaction, and often have to remove myself from the situation. For example, I find the sound of scratching or scraping extremely triggering. Nails scratching skin, metal scraping metal, nails on a chalkboard. (Even the thought of nails on a chalkboard is enough to make me start to panic). Anything that involves scratching or scraping something I immediately tense up and begin having a panic attack. Usually I am able to remove myself from the situation, or ask for the sound to stop before the panic attack really kicks in though. Various sounds like that, usually quite random things as well, will trigger an adverse physical reaction.

One of the hardest sounds to deal with is loud music. I can’t handle muffled music, and I can’t handle really loud music, but I seem to be able to handle the in between. It’s a weird balance, and the line between them is so far, that I often just don’t put myself in a situation where it might be an issue in the first place. But explaining to people that I can’t go to a party, or handle being at a gig is extremely difficult.

It has been challenging trying to figure out how to deal with my reactions to these everyday sounds, and how to approach it in social situations. So far I have learnt that honesty is the best policy. If a sound is triggering for me, I just need to tell the person that it’s an issue and hope they will understand. If they don’t, well, it’s just a matter of removing myself from them in order to take care of myself.

Written and illustrated by Charlie Osborne