Cada cabeza es un mundo is a Spanish saying which translates to: each head is a different world. It also explains why every person has their own unique brand of crazy (mine is trademarked, so hands off). The human brain is a fascinating and complicated thing with many different ways to go on the fritz. For example, if nails on a chalkboard make you cringe or a fork scraping an empty plate makes you squeal, then you can start to grasp what it means to suffer from misophonia, literally, the hatred of sound. People with misophonia don't hate all sounds, just the hateful ones. And those sounds can send them into a rage…
Like you, I'd never heard of misophonia (also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome), until I learned about it the hard way. Who knew that one little piece of chewing gum could cause so much trouble? Foolishly, I thought that getting gum on your shoe or in your hair were the worst possible scenarios, but I couldn't have been more wrong. One day when I was clothes shopping with a friend while happily chewing (not snapping, popping, or cracking) a piece of gum, she almost took my head off.
"Do you HAVE to chew your gum so loudly?"
"Um…I guess not," I said, taking a few steps back. "Sorry. Hey, are you okay? You seem to be overreacting just a tad." (I couldn't say what I was really thinking: Are you a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers?)
She apologized, but continued to glare at me as if her mouth were independent of her brain, which hated my guts at that moment. It was freaky, to say the least. She had not yet diagnosed herself through the ever-handy internet and therefore couldn't explain her bizarre behavior. It wasn't until months later when she called me, gleeful, to say that she wasn't a head case after all, she had a real syndrome and, even more exciting, other people had it too! Now she could understand why she loathed the sound of people chewing, couldn't stand to watch her mother-in-law fidget with her hands, and wanted to kill people to stop them from making noise. She had found an online community of kindred spirits, tortured souls who couldn't stand the sounds of clicking pens, ticking clocks, clacking keyboards, whispering, whistling, singing (especially bad singing), slurping, yawning, sniffling, snorting, snoring, sneezing, throat-clearing, paper rustling, leaf blowing, corduroy rubbing, change rattling, and dogs licking. Just to name a few.
"That IS exciting," I said, being the supportive friend that I am. "What's the cure?"
"Oh, there isn't one," she said. "Except habituation, training yourself not to mind. If you mix in sounds you enjoy--like waterfalls, or classical music, you can get used to the bad sounds eventually."
"How's it going?" I asked.
"Terrible," she confessed. "I just leave the room when people chew too loudly, before my head starts spinning around like in The Exorcist."
"Smart move," I said.
"Thanks! You know, it's been a while since we got together and I'd love to see you. Want to do lunch?"
I laughed. "Not on your life."