Miss Ophonia?

An Essay

As I sit down to write this a little dog barks in rhythmic intervals, leaving just enough time between barks for me to reengage with my sentence. Then he barks again. He pulls my attention back and forth, back and forth. He has a squeaky little bark and I imagine him as a cute shaggy little thing, standing by a backdoor where he can see his human in a back yard or driveway. He can see her, but he can’t get to her. 

It’s driving him crazy. 

He’s driving me crazy. 

He stops. Finally. 

That’s when the bird starts. Same thing. Equal intervals. 

Years ago, I was lying in bed with my now husband Jim while a similar scenario played out. Tweet, tweet, pause. Tweet, tweet, pause. I laid there imaging Yosemite Sam coming to my rescue and blasting the bird right out of the tree, obliterating it. And at that precise moment Jim – in a relaxed, peaceful tone – said, “Ahh, the Rufous-sided Towhee.” 

When our relationship became serious, I asked Jim to go through counseling with me. He agreed and went for an introduction session with my then counselor. Afterward, in a private session with me she said, “You two have very different energies.” 

It’s years later. We’re married and we have bird feeders. I know all about the Rufous-sided Towhee, the Eastern Towhee, Wrens, Cardinals, Bluebirds, Blue Jays, all kinds of chickadees, crows, woodpeckers, owls and of course, hawks. Jim loves hawks. 

As it turns out he also loves to talk on the phone and play his guitar while watching CNN. In the background he’s usually grinding something that he ends up drinking. He likes smoothies with flax seeds, oatmeal, anything that makes noise. 

If I’m honest I’ve had problems with noise for years. Even as a kid, watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas I listened to the Grinch complain about the Who’s jingtinglers, floofloover, tartookas, slooslunkas and whowonkas and I got it…

 “Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! That’s one thing he hated! The Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” – Grinch

For me rhythmic, repetitive sounds seem to be distracting, even paralyzing. I started thinking about it and decided to explore the topic. I Googled it and quickly realized it was far more complex than simply saying I don’t like noise. 

I typed in, “bothered by noise” and was immediately alarmed by the result: Misophonia is a condition in which a person is overly sensitive to sounds.

Oh gosh, a Condition?

I kept reading.

“Misophonia is a condition in which a person is overly sensitive to sounds. Usually, the trigger sounds are noises made by other people, such as chewing or tapping a pen. People who suffer from misophonia become disturbed or aggravated when they hear the sounds.”


Are the people chewing and tapping rhythmically? At regular intervals? Is it repetitive? 

I decided to check other sources. Second stop: WebMD.

According to WebMD, people suffering with misophonia may find some sounds “utterly unbearable.” The article goes on to say that triggers “can cause a strong ‘fight or flight’ response in those with the disorder.”

Wait. Now it’s a disorder?

Apparently, research has shown abnormalities in “emotional control mechanisms” in the brain which “originate from a different connectivity pattern in the frontal lobe.” This puts people into “overdrive.” 

What would it mean to be in “overdrive?”

Well, as it turns out, Kelly Ripa knows. 

Wikipedia has an article on misophonia that cites an ABC News interview with Kelly Ripa from 2020. In it she tells Elizabeth Vargas about her diagnosis with misophonia and the difficulty it can cause at family meals. And in a clip from her own show, Live with Kelly, she tells guest host Seth Myers that she has the disease misophonia and that “the sounds of swallowing and chewing make me insane.”

OK, hold the phone – I’m seeing a lot about chewing. 

I love cooking for Jim, eating out with friends, sharing gum. 

Poor Kelly Ripa.

I move on. 

I read about phonophobia, also known as ligyrophobia or sonophobia. This is an aversion to loud sounds like fireworks. It is very rare and often a symptom of something else called hyperacusis which sounds just awful. 

I don’t think I’ve got that either. 

I’m a little disappointed that there’s no diagnosable condition, disorder or disease for my “ticking clock, barking dog, chirping bird, base beat car radio” problem. It would be nice to label it as more than just me being me. Sensitive, picky, grouchy, Grinchy. 

I’ve been given a label of my own: OCD with generalized anxiety disorder. 

As I understand it, I have obsessions and compulsions because I’m insecure. Not in the sense that I lack self-confidence, but in the sense that – for whatever reason – I don’t feel safe. So, I keep checking and checking things. Everything. Anything that I don’t understand is potentially dangerous. So, I look under every rock and behind every tree. 

Over and over and over. 

My specific type causes me to overthink. I analyze and I put things in order. 

Then I start again. 

Conditions have to be right to start the process and if I’m interrupted, I have to start at the beginning and do it all again. 

My counselor explains that these problems are also assets. I’m happy about that. I do analyze everything. But yes, it frequently sends me down a “rabbit hole.” 

I sat down this morning to write about Pears. 

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