Fibromyalgia and Sounds/Noises: Misophonia

“One of the greatest sounds of them all-and to me it is a sound-is utter,complete silence“, Andre Kostelanetz

There is a new (at least to me) term called “misophonia” (Wednesday, September 7, 2001 , Life section, The Globe and Mail) in which sounds can cause severe reactions in people ( article written by Joyce Cohen). It has occurred to me that many of us with fibromyalgia experience extreme discomfort over certain sounds. For me it is the clicking of heels on pavement,  a dog slurping its food, chewing loudly by others, humming of a motor or heating system, a baby crying, boom boxes…the list is endless. Even more alarming is an unexpected loud noise, such as a motorcycle or firecrackers. I realize that most people can find many of these sounds alarming, but for the person with misophonia, the auditory nervous system is in overdrive. Cohen writes about one  19 year old woman who becomes distressed with some specific sounds enough to “make her chest tighten and her heart pound”. I believe that those of us with a hyper-aroused nervous system suffer universally from anxiety and not only do we experience a visceral response to violence , but to anything that startles or is grating to the ears and can raise our anxiety level.

Dr. Sonia Lupien  et al from the University of Montreal is doing research on the “larger amydala”. My view is that those of us with fibromyalgia have an unusually large amydala (were we born with it or does it develop through repeated frightening life events?) which “scans for threats in the environment” to the extent that many sounds evoke anxiety or emotionally upsetting episodes. We are sound sensitive and while it may seem hopeless it seems to me that like other ways in which we can train the brain, here too we can learn to work with this sensitivity.

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It is said that “Family links are common” (Cohen), and in my case it seems so as my father was constantly complaining about certain noises or sounds that did not seem to affect anyone else. However, it is discouraging to read that Aage Moller, the neuroscientist at the University of Texas (quoted in Cohen) who specializes in the auditory nervous system, believes there is “no known effective treatment”. In the case of fibromyalgia I believe we can create new pathways that would allow us over time to deal more effectively with misophonia. Dr. Moller “believes the condition is hard-wired, like right, or left-handedness, and is probably not an auditory disorder but a “physiological abnormality” that resides in brain structures activated by processed sound” (quoted in Cohen). If this is so then we CAN create new ways of changing the brain and for that reason I am hopeful.

My strategy is to fill my day with lovely sounds that bring about joy instead of irrational fear, such as certain music, and listen to people who have soothing voices (like Leonard Cohen!), or try to hear rippling water in a stream, soft laughter and other pleasing experiences that soothe my ears. Not always easy, and I still cross the street if I hear the clickety clack of high heels on the pavement! I try not to rage inside at the woman for wearing such dumb shoes and I escape as quickly as possible from the awful sound:-)

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