I always thought of myself as a squeamish, high maintenance bitch.
There are things I find devastatingly disturbing and may turn my mood upside down within the blink of an eye. And when that happens, it is tragedy: for myself and for whomever may have the misfortune of being in my surroundings.
One of the main sources of these colossal and catastrophic mood swings are noises. Not every single noise, mind you, but certain peculiar kinds of noises. If I were to try hard and be minutely accurate, I would say that what disturbs me – profoundly – is the public display of bodily noises.
I guess you know what I am talking about, right?
No, I am not only just talking about someone burping in your face across the dinner table or farting contentedly while slightly shifting their body weight to the side as they sit next to you in a train compartment.
That’s obviously a thing, quite an unpleasant one, but that’s not the only thing.
I am talking about something much more common, but also much more specific. Like when your classmate has a cold and instead of blowing her nose, she makes those repeated grunts that seem to conjure generations of mucus from the recesses of her guts. And you look at her in disbelief and would very much like to say: “Why don’t you fucking go to the bathroom or in the corner of the room or, if you are too lazy to even get up from your bloody chair, why don’t you just turn your head a little and blow your stupid nose once and forever? Here, take a tissue. Actually, why don’t you just take the entire pack and keep it close to you ‘cause you may need it again in one and a half minutes?” That’s what you would like to say. That’s what you hear your inner self saying, but that’s certainly not what you’re actually saying. You’ve been brought up by your mum and dad with some manners and you can’t fuck up just like that. You can’t just flip out and throw down the drain years of good education for a stupid noise. Right? Right. So you end up looking at her and smile a weak and defeated smile while storms of rage and disgust animate your bowels.
That is certainly not the only instance. It also happens after lunch when your colleague thinks it is OK to talk to you with a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth. And he stops mid-sentence to syphon off from between his side teeth that bastard piece of chicken or spinach that got stuck there half an hour before. And he does that while looking at you with a straight face as if it were a perfectly civil and courteous thing to do. There is also the compulsive gum-chewer that turns me homicidal. Where does he get all that saliva from? Litres and litres of saliva that produce that nchuck nchuck noise that hits straight like a dart at my innermost source of revulsion. Doesn’t it happen to you as well? That churning feeling to your stomach? I swear, my inner eyes can see the twisting and turning of my entrails when these noises happen.
So yeah, because of this aversion to the sounds produced by fellow human beings I often ended up cursing my snobbish self for lacking any empathy, or the ability to adapt and to accept others.
This what I thought until last week, when I realised how blessed is this hyper-medicalised century of ours where everything becomes a condition, a pathology that needs to be acknowledged, recognised and accepted by society after the administration of some doping or calming or soothing kind of overpriced drug. Here’s the thing, I discovered that I am not a squeamish, high maintenance bitch (or at least not entirely, or possibly not in this particular context), but I have a mental condition. God bless the century of million maladies.
As I was browsing aimlessly on the Internet, a few days ago I bumped into an article that totally changed my self perception. I came to know that a university in the UK – which I imagine immersed in acres of green and woods with loads of rain and moss on the bark of the trees – has conducted a study exposing some volunteers to protracted sets of noises like for example the sound of someone chewing loudly. These scientists – I still can’t believe they managed to convince some pharmaceutical company to fund them for this research – observed that on some of the subjects of their study these noises would trigger strong reactions and these reactions were connected to a particular configuration in their brain’s frontal lobe. Obviously, as scientists do, they gave this thing a name: they called it misophonia.
Now, if I am allowed, the name feels a wee bit too strong. The word literally means hatred of sounds, which comes across as being a little extreme a definition. Yes, I admit to the fact that the sound of someone slurping their soup makes me puke. Also I confess that a screaming baby who cries its lungs out for several hours on an intercontinental flight drives me off the wall. But still, a hater of sounds… that’s a definition that makes me feel ill. I got caught up in this new discovery and got sucked in in the World Wide Web blackhole. After some research, TIME magazine encouraged me not to feel alone because there is a community of sufferers out there. I also learned that there is a thing called Misophonia Support Group – do they sit in a circle and publicly confess their illness? – and that on a website in a very unfunny British way, experts warn you that: “We realise that being the family member or friend of someone with misophonia is “no picnic” [no pun intended].” They also tell you that this condition may cause misunderstandings and lead to divorce. In a proper Paulo Coelho new-agey way I found myself drawn into a never ending spiral of self-help and positive thinking where all of a sudden I had turned into a patient who needed to be understood, who needed a friendly word or a reassuring pat on the back. Internet self-diagnosis is the worst. Within hours of my clinical realisation, I ended up ridiculously depressed and on the verge of tears. Will I die alone because all my loved ones will abandon me overnight? Can this be cured? Can I afford the necessary drugs? Maybe I need antidepressants from now on?
Ah the darkness – and the well oiled market set in place to face it…
But wait a minute. I like music, the singing of birds, the lulling of waves by the beach and I even like the very bodily panting noise that my husband makes when we make love. Fuck this shit and this century of medical existence. I am not a hater of sounds, I am a high maintenance self deprecating bitch and you better go make your snorting sounds away from me starting from now.
Francesca Recchia is an independent researcher and writer. Her work focuses on creative practices, intangible heritage and cultural production in countries in conflict.