How we suffer from a symphony of irritation

BY Richard Glover

16th Apr 2024 Humour

3 min read

How we suffer from a symphony of irritation
Misophonia, or an acute sensitivity to certain sounds, affects most of us, I would argue. Sometimes it can become nothing less than a symphony of irritation!
In the 2022 film Tár, Cate Blanchett played a conductor who was affected by misophonia—an acute sensitivity to certain sounds. For Lydia Tár, Blanchett’s character, the clicking of a pen or the beat of a metronome was enough to drive her to distraction.
Scientists say the condition affects about 18 per cent of the population, but I beg to differ. I think we all suffer from some from of misophonia.

The slurping of soup

Who doesn’t have a sound or two that sends them over the edge? For example, who can bear the slurping of soup? My understanding is that you are meant to lift the spoon and tip it, gently channelling the liquid into your mouth.
"Slurping on soup is a very peculiar noise, like the sound of a thief siphoning petrol from a car"
Instead, people hold the spoon a few centimetres from their face, blow on the soup, then inhale sharply, hoping—I guess—to create a low-pressure system that causes the soup to leap through the air. It’s a very peculiar noise, like the sound of a thief siphoning petrol from a car.

Wet chewing

Cineam popcorn
Not that solid food is much better. I’m surprised by how many people eat with their mouth open. The visuals involved are not great, but the audio is worse. The mouth, open wide, serves as a sort of trumpet, broadcasting the sound of wet chewing.
This symphony of eating can now be experienced everywhere you go. As you wait to cross the street, your fellow pedestrians are like lions at the zoo. They attack their food as if it were trying to escape. Liquids, meanwhile, are slurped upwards, by means of a straw, in an aural representation of the challenges posed by gravity.
It’s the same at the movies. I love watching them on the big screen, but how strange that bombs can be exploding and planes crashing, yet the most piercing noise is coming from the guy in row 12 chewing popcorn.

Grinding teeth

I know I shouldn’t criticise others; I have my own flaws. As an anxious fellow, I grind my teeth all night long. Now I have hardly any teeth left—or anyone willing to share a bed with me.
At one stage, the dentist insisted that I sleep with a plastic mouth guard that, when slipped onto my teeth, made a sound so revolting that it caused the rapid departure of my fellow bed user and wife, Jocasta.
"The nighttime mouth guard is the only contraceptive device that is available exclusively from the dentist"
Removing the device also made a stomach-churning sound, reminiscent of a rubber boot being pulled from mud. Sssshloomp. Jocasta, should she have returned to bed, would flee once more.
As far as I’m aware, the nighttime mouth guard is the only contraceptive device that is available exclusively from the dentist.

Crunching ice cubes

Glass of ice
And then there’s ice. After finishing a gin and tonic, I enjoy crunching on the cubes at the bottom of the glass with the few good teeth I have left. This has an electrifying effect on Jocasta: Once again, she leaps up and runs for her life, as you might from a fire.
I have so many bad habits, but this is the one she judges the worst. “It gives me shooting pains in my teeth,” she says. “I imagine what it would be like if I did it myself. It makes me shudder. It really is so disgusting.”
Maybe, like Cate Blanchett’s Lydia Tár, she suffers from misophonia.

Pleasant noises

Are there pleasant noises? Of course. I love listening to the sounds my dog Clancy lets out when he’s dreaming, his tiny squeaks of excitement as he chases some imaginary rabbit in some imaginary field.
There are others: food sizzling on the barbecue; a beer can opening with an inviting pssst and, on a visit to the seaside, the waves crashing rhythmically onto the shore.

Painful sounds dominate

Yet, it’s the painful sounds that stay with us: a knife squealing on a dinner plate, a colleague whistling tunelessly or a neighbour who needs to prove his sexual prowess by loudly revving his car engine as he sets off to work at 6.15am.
"He can roar his engine all he likes—over the sound of my grinding teeth, I can't hear him at all"
He can roar all he likes—it doesn’t bother me. Over the sound of my grinding teeth, I can’t hear him at all.
Banner credit: Illustration by Sam Island
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