Jimmy Duffy: Silence is golden for sufferers of misophonia

Noisy eaters make Jim Duffy and his fellow misophonia sufferers miserable ' and angry. Picture: Eduard Titov
Noisy eaters make Jim Duffy and his fellow misophonia sufferers miserable ' and angry. Picture: Eduard Titov
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CLICKING pens, eating crisps, and even breathing noisily can make Jim Duffy want to kill you, thanks to the little-known disorder

As I sit on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I watch the person opposite me intently. He has just produced a bag of crisps from his satchel and purchased a can of cola from the drinks trolley. I’m watching him very closely now. Everything has been just fine up until now. He was reading a book quietly and I was reading emails on my iPhone. Just two travellers, two commuters in a quiet 11am train. But he has now changed the rules of the game. I’m acutely aware of every move he makes as he noisily and awkwardly opens his bag of crisps. It seems to take forever as he struggles to pull the pack open. But, then he succeeds and I know we will never be friends.

My nervous system is on overdrive as it gets ready to deal with what is to follow … and follow it does: crunch, crunch, crunch. I really despise him now as his noises grind through me. I want to reach out and take the crisp packet off him and shout. I lose all sense of reality and proportion as I want to holler: “Will you shut up please!!”

For many of us, the slurping, guttural, crunching noises that human beings make – some more distinctly than others – cause us great angst. For years, I thought I was just a bit intolerant. When I was young I would shout at my sister for eating her cornflakes noisily (I’m not actually sure there is a quiet way to eat cornflakes to be honest). I would have to go to another room as my uncle slurped his morning coffee. God, it was awful. And as I grew up, I would have to listen to people munching, lip-smacking and swallowing hard, with no regard for others or any decorum. Or so I thought.

But only recently – as my eldest daughter has developed this same intolerance to the sounds human being make when they eat – have I investigated this further.

A small percentage of the population, and I am one of them, suffers from misophonia. It quite literally means “hatred of sound”. Negative emotions, thoughts and physical reactions can be triggered by specific sounds. Hence why I want to kill you when you chew your chewing gum with your mouth open and make little clicking sounds.

Misophonia is primarily associated with, and related to, sounds to do with eating or pen-clicking, and even breathing. Alarmingly, these sounds don’t just annoy sufferers of this syndrome, they actually cause extreme distress and anger.

It can be quite debilitating as times. As I read up on misophonia – and why both my daughter and me want to verbally and physically assault you when you disturb our peace on a plane, train or in a coffee shop as you munch and slurp – it appears there has been some significant research into what is now being discussed as a new psychiatric disorder. Sufferers like me will avoid certain situations, look for quieter seats and use headphones with music to block out offending sounds. I take my headphones everywhere now as I travel around the UK – this simple intervention of blocking out your noise keeps me sane and out of the jail.

Let me give you some examples of how this syndrome can affect your life. I recently sat eating lunch with my team. There were eight of us and we had all just grabbed some sandwiches and crisps from a shop. We all sat around a table. I noticed that my team had given me at least two chairs between us on each side and that two of my team had moved to the top of the table. They have been with me for more than two years and were plugged into my syndrome, hence the distance. However, one of my team, a new starter, had no idea and was munching and crunching right in my earhole. As I stared at him, he was blissfully unaware that I was about to set upon him – I didn’t in this instance, as I self-checked and distracted myself. At which point the other members of my team commented on how well I had learned to control my affliction. We all laughed and the new starter knows the error of his ways.

But, just how amazing was this? They had adapted their behaviour as they had experienced and were aware of what “got on my nerves”.

Whether misophonia is related to obsessive compulsive disorder or sits as its own recognised disorder really makes no difference to me. All I know is I suffer from it and it is up to me to take steps to negate its influence and any negative consequences it can lead to.

With me it’s people eating loudly or talking loudly in situations where everyone else is quiet and the context suggests we should be quiet. My headphones usually do the trick, but there are times when I can’t wear them when in fact I really need them.

I can no longer go to the cinema, as when I am concentrating on the movie, the person behind me is munching popcorn loudly, scrunching the bag and chatting.

How little do they know how close they could come to being murdered at the matinee… For now, I’m happy to wait for the movie to hit my iPad on Netflix where I can plug in my earphones in complete bliss.

• Jim Duffy is soon to be Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark