A grandfather clock stands in the entryway of my parents home. It’s the first thing guests see when they’re all through the door. When it arrived, my dad showed my brother and me how it works, telling us to be mindful never to overwind it. We were fascinated by the mechanisms and I looked forward to watching the dial change from a smiling sun to a smiling moon as day turned to night.
However, my excitement was soon replaced with irritation. My bedroom is above the entryway and even with my door closed, I could hear the “tick…tock…tick…tock” of the clock diligently performing its duty of marking the hours. Despite my best efforts, I could not sleep as long as the repetitive noise continued. I finally learned I could creep down the stairs, fighting any fears of the darkened stairwell and entryway, and slowly open the door to reach inside and stop the brass pendulum from swinging. My mission complete, I could slide back into my comfy bed and drift off in peace.
There are a number of sounds that illicit a similar reaction from me:
The rattle of a ceiling fan whose screws have loosened over the years
The sound of people chewing, of particular offense are: open mouths while eating, breathing heavily while chewing, and smacking gum
Any rattle in the car as I truck back and forth delivering kids to school and running errands – I can forget finding peace if there are stacked coat hangers or styrofoam present
The nervous sound of someone clicking a pen open and closed
The constant hum of the hood over the stove, particularly heinous if it has turned itself on and will not yield to any efforts to turn it off
If you have read my essay, “Discovering Answers Because of my Kids,” you will know I received an ADHD diagnosis earlier this year. Since then, self-discovery continues, often in surprising ways. For instance, I didn’t know “T-Rex” arms were a thing until I learned they’re a typical symptom, especially during sleep. I’ve worn wrist braces on and off for years as I sleep to train me not to bend my hands and tuck them under my chin.
My friends in high school learned never to smack gum around me. I remember one instance when we were juniors, they sat us in the lunchroom for a standardized test. It was one of those meant to prepare us for…something…and which I find both entertaining and tedious. I don’t agree with the administration of standardized tests but as a kid I found them fun. I know…I’m a nerd. I just enjoyed feeling like I had discovered the correct answers and filling in the bubbles. I think it’s really because I love logic problems and that is what many standardized test questions are. Also, I like digging my way into other people’s mindsets and ways of thinking. Hacking this type of testing is more about understanding how the creators of the test think rather than answering according to what you think is correct. But I digress…
On this particular day in high school, I was seated next to a classmate who notoriously chewed food with his mouth open. It became a running joke for our class that both he had this proclivity and that it absolutely aggravated me. As we began taking the test, I realized “Ronnie” had gum in his mouth. I didn’t even look up from my paper. I placed my open palm under his mouth and simply said his name. He leaned over and sheepishly spit the gum in my hand like any little kid who had been found out. And I dutifully stood and threw it in the trash like any mom who had found her kid out and needed to correct his behavior. Not another word was spoken until after the test when the whole class, including Ronnie, howled about the whole exchange.
Remembering it now makes me laugh, some at my audacity for behaving in such a way and some at his utter compliance!
You might be thinking at this point that these sounds simply are annoying, as they would be to many people. In my, they elicit a visceral response. The longer I hear the sound, the more the response builds in my body. Every tick or click shatters the nerves between my skin and my muscles. It is as if a ball-peen hammer strikes a network of glass that starts in between my shoulder blades and spiders outward, down my arms and feet, up my neck into my cranium, and ending at my toes, fingers, and top of my head. Each recurrence of the sound strikes a new blow and the effect builds on itself.
If it is a constant sound, like the fan of a hood above a stove, the stealthy infection of noise creeps in slowly. I don’t realize it has begun sometimes until I realize my body is humming. It builds until there is too much sound and I cannot ignore it or close it out.
The final result in every case is a heightened emotional response. First I become cranky and irritable. But if the sound continues and I fail to identify its impact on me, I can grow very angry and even explosive. Sometimes a deep yell that begins in the middle of my chest is the only thing that will quiet it. I know that sounds extreme, but it has happened now and again.
When I was younger I didn’t understand any of the reasoning behind my need to physically push back against these noises. I didn’t know my reaction was a symptom and not some lack of discipline or self control on my part. Instead I felt outside of myself when I needed to react, then felt shame for behaving in such a manner.
Today I know that misophonia is a real thing and merely a part of my ADHD. I no longer feel apologetic about being irritated by a noise and am more proactive in either eliminating the sound or removing myself from its vicinity. The result of this self-understanding is more self-forgiveness and more proactive behavior on my part. I now have a way to explain what’s happening to myself and others and, by mitigating the impact of the sounds, I have more patience and am better able to maintain my calm.
I turned forty-six this year and it is a blessing at this age to be able to find explanations for a surprisingly large number of experiences and behaviors of mine over the years. I follow several ADHD influencers (of course that’s a thing!) on social media and have been able to see myself in the videos they share about their lives. A funny meme that takes many forms says, “Oh! You mean that was just another symptom of ADHD and not a quirky trait of my shining personality all these years?”
No matter how old we are, we never start learning. Those lessons should start with who we are and what’s inside our own hearts, minds, and spirits. There is more uncharted territory inside of you than you realize!
Note: Part of my self-discovery over the years has been because of the “Life You Choose” steps I’ve been implementing for seven years now. If you want to learn more, check out posts related to that work or join me for a workshop soon: Workshop Registration Links.
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I recently spoke with a relative of mine who has discovered that they have Asperger’s. I took care of this relative a lot during their childhood years. I knew there was something unique about them and how they experienced life: long nails preferred, no shirt tags please, barefoot in grass? Not happening.
I observed my family at gatherings as if I were a fly. My family paced, spoke over each other, hyper-focused on electronics, shook their legs, chewed their nails, spoke without a filter, bit their lips, etc. You get the picture.
Now I’m looking at some of my behaviors (at 61), that demonstrate some of the same things you see in Asperger’s. It’s fascinating learning about myself in a completely different way.
Well written, Mary. See what your essay sparked in me? 😘
I love these insights! We continued to learn about ourselves in our sustained growth over the years. ❤️
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