by Elin Kramer, UWCM
16th of December, 2022

May I please leave the classroom? 
My neighbour is typing and the sound makes me want to peel my skin off.

“People with misophonia are affected emotionally by common sounds — usually those made by others, and usually ones that other people don’t pay attention to. The examples above (breathing, yawning, or chewing) create a fight-or-flight response that triggers anger and a desire to escape.” (James Cartreine, Harvard Health, June 24th, 2017)

I grew up in a household that strongly valued consideration for others in every sense. From clean spaces and emotional codependency to sound levels. Smacking during dinner would get you 15 minutes on the doormat, and when the pool was out in the summer, our games would be done in silence. “Think of the neighbours!”

Now that I’ve realised the damage of prolonged codependency and people pleasing, I don’t deliver nor expect it as much anymore. However, I’ve run into a problem that I did not consider when moving to a boarding school. See, besides the delicate cultural and personal differences that require constant consideration, it can feel a little overbearing to have to hear your roommate explain that when you eat something crunchy, or type an essay in the room, they want to swing every piece of furniture at your head, and that they’d like you to be so silent they can hear a needle fall. 

When James Catreine says “fight or flight response”, he is not exaggerating. The visuals and insults that have gone through my head, when someone smacks a little too loud during dinner, don’t necessarily align with the UWC values. When a pen is clicked two times too often, my common sense and frustrated instinct have an internal debate on whether it’s unreasonable to ask them to stop breathing, to scream in their face, or to grab my stuff and continue life on an abandoned island. The last option has been favoured the most.

Sadly, I fear some people might perceive me as a bitter gremlin with no patience (which is not entirely untrue), by the amount of frustrated sighs, sudden departures or killing looks I’ve thrown around. Especially when people have also been conditioned to read the room and adjust accordingly, I’m sure my non-verbal communication has not always been pleasant. To all the people who might have been the subject of my passive aggressive comments on the way they unwrap their candy, I sincerely apologise. The truth is that my mind does peculiar things in states of annoyance, all of which have everything to do with the biological composition of my brain, which I’m sure a neuroscientist could explain. So without outrageously expensive specialised cognitive behavioural therapy, my bitch-face will most likely remain when you type in a specific rhythm. 

Besides the impact misophonia has on how I compose myself in an environment shared with others, the worst part is probably the exhaustion. Fight or flight responses drastically increase your adrenaline levels, and when that’s not utilised, it generally just turns into stress. I lose all concentration for half an hour, get heart palpitations, and recently ticks (which will hopefully give me really strong neck muscles in the future). Misophonia is commonly associated with ADHD. In very simple terms this means a lot of hypersensitivity stacked on top of eachother, and quite a differently regulated brain function from the norm. I don’t really like diagnosis or categorical labels, but you can imagine that being uncontrollably hypersensitive to all the stimuli around you can get really *cuss word of choice* annoying. Especially in a society that is built on certain neurological standards and where the social norms function accordingly, hypersensitivity can feel like a “disorder”. However I refuse to address it like that. I hope you can see the damage of this too, and refrain from it. 

With that I’ll give my last argument of the day. Everyone is neurodiverse to a certain extent. Every brain has little quirky reactions that people might suppress and hide from you, or maybe you’ve had the privilege to experience their vulnerability. These reactions, responses, symptoms, whatever you want to call them, can range in diversion from the “norm”. Maybe they’ll surprise you, but the last thing they deserve is your judgement and inconsideration. 

Obviously I don’t expect you to let your snot drip down your chin, just so I don’t have to hear the sound of you blowing your nose, but you might see me twitch and throw you a disgusted look, then you can tell me I’m being a judgemental bitch and I’ll assure you it has absolutely nothing to with you as a person. This is a conflict between sounds and my lovely brain. 

Now may I please leave the classroom? Because my neighbour is typing and the noise makes me want to peel my skin off.