We hear with our brains

This weekend marks the third annual conference on misophonia, run by the Misophonia Association. Literally translated “hatred of sound,” misophonia — also Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome(S4) — is a disorder in people that triggers the body’s fight or flight response when certain sounds are heard.

This definition is a terrible one, the kind given by someone who does not have misophonia. And that’s a correct assumption. I do not have misophonoa, but my wife does. Contrary to popular belief, and perspectives seemingly advocated by members of the Today show, misophonia is not a made-up condition, a grab for attention, or a way to remove yourself from uncomfortable situations.

After doing life for more than seven years with someone who has misophonia, I can say that it is a disease and one that challenges many of the assumptions we have about human relationships.

Although misophonia has been a huge part of my life for these past seven years, I still know very little about it and how it truly impacts my wife’s physiology and psychology. Today’s opening conference session was revelatory. Titled something like, “We hear with our brains, not our ears,” the presenter showed me exactly how misophonia manifests itself within sufferers. Simply put, the way we hear is much more complex than most of us give our bodies credit for. Our auditory pathway is responsible for translating sound waves into electronic signals that our brains can process. I may not understand why misophonia exists or what specifically happens during the hearing process, but what I’m unwaveringly convicted of is that anyone who laughs off the idea that a misophonia sufferer is simply making up a disease for the sake of convenience is sadly mistaken.

However, what has been most impactful for me so far is meeting other people who have misophonia or are living with someone who does. Nearly every misophonia sufferer you speak with has roughly the same story, ultimately culminating in, “I thought I was the only one.” These people are suffering quietly because of this isolation, making it difficult for those around the to adjust accordingly.

Every misophonia sufferer I’ve met is suffering to a large degree. The saddest part is that this suffering is heavily preventable if non-sufferers agree to adjust some extremely small portions of their lives when in contact with those with misophonia. More often than not, though, when I hear misophonia sufferers talk about why they don’t open up to their friends or co-workers, they’re more worried about how those people will feel about having to change their eating habits or stop chewing gum. They’re more like to choose to suffer than ask someone to stop one or two simple practices.

And yet, when misophonia is raised as a problem in the workplace or at the home, it’s those who do not suffer who are the least likely to sacrifice minor conveniences for the greater good of a loved one or a friend.

In what world are we more concerned with chewing gum than we are with the physical and psychological health of the people closest to us?

If you’re reading this post, I strongly recommend you research misophonia. You can start by visiting misophonia-association.org and spending five minutes reading about this disease. Knowing it exists will let you be on the lookout for those around you who might be afflicted. If you learn someone near you has misophonia, acknowledge it and change your actions to accommodate their needs. Finally, partner with this person in helping generate awareness and, mor importantly, action related to this condition, how it’s performed, and how policymakers and human resources departments respond to it.

I understand like you how difficult it can be to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Trust me and the seven years of experience I have with my lovely wife. Misophonia is not something you want to have or would ever wish on your closest friends or family.

Please work for change. It’s your responsibility.

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