That Annoying Clicking Pen
Does pen clicking drive you crazy during meetings? Looking around, it does not seem to be bothering anyone else. For you, the continuous “click” “click” “click” is slowly unraveling your nerves. A panic attack is coming on, you can feel it rising up. Leaving the meeting is not an option; it is an important meeting. The more you try to ignore it, the more you feel the anxiety raging in your skin. You try to sneak a look at the person to give them a gentle facial expression that something they are doing is driving you nuts. It does not work. They just smile at you as if your eyes accidentally met. Finally, you are faced with only two options: (1) Ask the person to quit clicking their pen (I have done this many times) or (2) Get up and leave the meeting (I have also done this many times). This is a condition known as misophonia. It is a separate condition from anxiety disorder but many people with an anxiety disorder also have misophonia.
Is it Me or is she just being Rude
The first time I recognized something was different for me was in my 10:00 AM college accounting class, my favorite class. I usually sit up front, in the middle because I do get distracted easily and I love soaking up all the knowledge being offered. Someone sat behind me chewing gum. This gum chewing was steady with smacking and tiny bubble popping. She never stopped. Just “smack” “chew” “pop” “smack, smack, smack” “chew” with the mouth open and rotating like an old front loader washing machine. Every now and then an intentional bubble was blown with a louder “pop” that scared the crap out of me. Fifteen minutes into the class, I gathered my books up and left the room so mad and frustrated. Why should someone’s rude stupidity make me have to leave my favorite class. Why didn’t the instructor make her stop? He clearly could hear the chop, smack, chew. I went out into the courtyard and tried to calm down, but this was in my early years and I actually got madder and stomped off to the local pub to ease my anxiety with some drinks.
Not ALL repetitive Sounds Irritate Me
Since those days, I have identified several repetitive sounds that are triggers for me. The strange thing is that not all repetitive noises bother me. A neighbor’s lawnmower drives me nuts but the sound of a train running along its tracks calms me. A loud fan soothes my nerves but I hate feet tapping, water dripping, dog barking, bass music throbbing, someone eating crunchy chips with their mouth half open and people who bite down on ice cubes. I am not on any medication for misophonia and really don’t want to consider that option. Wax ear plugs are now a staple in my purse and in my night stand. I have been known to put in ear plugs to drown out a neighbor’s barking dog and then turn up my TV. I will continue to look for ways to manage this condition. Asking someone in a gentle, humble way works for me most of the time or I leave the area. As I manage my anxiety, it does not bother me that people might think I am being trivial. I know I have a real, medically recognized condition and I don’t feel I have to explain it when I ask them to stop.
Misophonia is a REAL Condition
Finally, there are studies being conducted to better understand misophonia and how to treat it. Currently, the belief is that it is NOT a problem with the physical part of the ear or a hearing problem. Rather, the cause is thought to be associated with how sound affects the auto response system in the brain. Misophonia is sometimes misdiagnosed as PTSD, an anxiety disorder or even bipolar. Last month, I attended a family counseling session with my son and as we sat down on the couch, the “therapist” smacked away with her chewing gum making those little popping sounds. I was offended. I could not believe a therapist, treating my son who has an anxiety disorder, would come to a therapy session, not softly chewing gum but all out smacking gum. Other people should not have to make concessions for our condition, but I do feel this was highly inappropriate. Let’s all strive to be respectful, kind and professional no matter which side of the illness we are on. Many years, my friend, many years.