A co-worker enters our meeting room where we will take up residence and hash out important matters for the next two hours. In one hand, she has a bag of peanut M&Ms. In the other hand, she has a Costco-sized bag of almonds. Others may see this and immediately think to themselves, “Snacks! And she plans to share! It’s my lucky day!” I, on the other hand, do not share this joyful sentiment. Instead, I immediately feel a tightening in my chest and a clenching of my jaw. I let out what feels like a loud, involuntary sigh, and although I can’t see it, I imagine I have a grimace on my face. I have an immediate and enduring response that I want to flee the situation. This two hour meeting has just turned into my version of a private hell.
For years I have known that I have a high sensitivity to noise. It’s not just any noise, though. The noises that are most bothersome to me are those that are subtle and repetitive. I remember sitting in a room with my boss on a hot, humid August day last summer. The air conditioning was running full blast – a fact for which we were all thankful. My boss was talking about items of great importance, no doubt. And all I could hear was the click…click…click…of the blinds hitting against the window pane from the forced air of the air conditioning. I could barely concentrate on what she was saying to me. It’s the kind of thing that most people don’t even hear, and yet it is enough to drive me mad.
Then one day a little less than a year ago, I was out to dinner with a friend. On her own, she brought up her own sensitivity to noise, but she had a name for it: Misophonia. She went on to explain that this is a neurological disorder that affects up to 4% of the population, and in literal terms means a hatred of sound. We spent the next hour venting about all the sounds we hate and laughed ourselves silly because anyone listening in our conversation would either think we had lost our marbles or that we were snarky little bitches. I would argue that neither are true; others may say that both are true. Either way, it was incredibly validating to find one of my people. I’ve since found many more – I can spot Misophonia in someone else a mile away.
The unfortunate news is that the only remedy for my problem requires other people to change their behavior. I have learned to just let people at work know about my noise sensitivity and I usually do it with bold, unrelenting humor. I guess I have this luxury, because I’m the boss. Over time, and enough jokes made about how I will cut a bitch who brings an apple to a meeting, the crunchy food consumption seems to have dwindled in our workplace. Go figure. Now I need to find a way to deal with all of the pen clickers in the world.
When my fellow Misophonic friend and I got together recently, we made a list of foods that are acceptable in a meeting. The list included yogurt, applesauce, string cheese, cuties, bananas, and our favorite food of all: “How about if you just eat your fucking snacks when you are by yourself?”
So the next time you are headed to a meeting with a snack in tow, you may want to stop yourself and think about people like me. While I don’t believe there has been a Misophonia legal defense made just yet, I do believe the day will come. Someone, somewhere, will crinkle a bag, clip their nails, eat some pretzels, slurp some soup or gulp their water in just the wrong way and all hell will break loose. My advice? Don’t take any chances. Really. Please. On behalf of myself and everyone else with Misophonia, I am begging you. Leave your baby carrots at home.