I finally got set up with a therapist to talk about some coping strategies for misophonia. This therapist does not specialize in misophonia; in fact she hadn’t even heard about it until I stepped into her office on the morning of my appointment.
She gave me the same puzzled look my primary care doctor had given me, but being a therapist, she was respectful and willing to learn more. I gave her a list of articles to read up on the topic, the New York Times article in particular (one reason why coverage of misophonia is so important).
During our appointment, she explained cognitive behavioral therapy. Essentially, it’s the idea that situations outside of our control can impact our thoughts and our emotions and ultimately our behaviors. But if we try to recognize negative thoughts and interrupt them, then we can replace bad thoughts with good ones and start to get a grip on our emotions and behaviors that are typically caused by an unpleasant situation. Please understand, this type of therapy is commonly used for anxiety and depression, and it’s use to treat misophonia is experimental only. As far as I know, it hasn’t cured a single person. It’s strictly a way to make it a little bit easier to cope.
At the end of that initial appointment, my therapist gave me an assignment: write down my thoughts every time I hear a trigger sound. What am I actually thinking? I had never done this before, and I honestly didn’t want to face the reality of it because my thoughts had become so awful. I came up with a system of texting myself my thoughts while I was at work, and recording them one a piece of paper once I got home.
I found brief relief initially. A coworker would pop in a piece of gum for the fifth time that day, and I would become irate, but then I would have to stop. And pay attention to my thoughts. It interrupted my anger for a bit, maybe a few seconds. It didn’t make the problem go away, and eventually my physiological responses to the sound would, nonetheless, cause a wave of panic, disgust and contempt to rise up from within. In the earplugs would go. Or I’d make a trip to the bathroom to give myself a break from the sound.
My thoughts that I recorded made me feel completely ashamed and disappointed with myself. The “C” word used toward a woman I find to be quite pleasant. Complete revulsion. Words like “gross,” “disgusting,” and “sick” would pop into my mind. Feelings of self pity: “Again?” “Of course she’s going to eat that apple now, at the worst possible time.” “Why is this happening to me?!”
I returned several weeks later to the therapist (my health care provider is overloaded with mental health patients, so therapy appointments are hard to come by). I shared my recorded thoughts with her. She said we would need to arm me with an arsenal of strategies I can use every time I encounter a trigger noise. Escaping is working for me with the ear plugs, as well as getting up to leave a situation when I can. Are there ways I could distract myself when I hear a trigger?
If I need to sit at my desk and talk on the phone and a trigger noise begins, are there ways I can adjust to make things at least a little better? Maybe put an ear plug in the ear I’m not using?
Another interesting suggestion the therapist had was to replace the negative thoughts I have in response to a trigger with a positive thought that I know to be true. For example, people use this cognitive behavioral technique if they have problems with road rage. Instead of blowing up when someone displays horrible driving techniques, which might be true, try to replace it with something like: “Everyone does the best they can.” Or: “This too shall pass.” The trick is that it has to be something that is true to you, and also positive.
When I get triggered at work, I’ve been trying to focus on the person and the traits I like about them rather than on the noise they are making. I try to think things like: “So-and-so is a nice person. He is not trying to hurt me. He doesn’t know any better.” I’ve also been trying to use: “This noise cannot harm me. I am not in danger. My body is functioning just fine and I am going to be OK.” I then try to take a mental inventory of the different parts of my body, noting that my arms are OK, my legs are not hurt, my torso is just fine, my head doesn’t hurt, etc.
The therapist also suggested I get familiar with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga, and do all the other basics such as make sure I’m eating right and getting enough sleep.
Have any of these methods truly helped so far? Not really. It helps a tiny bit in the sense that I feel more empowered against my misophonia. I have named the enemy, and I have some allies who want to help me fight it. But in another sense I remain powerless. I cannot think my way out of getting triggered. I can attempt to rationalize with the fight or flight instinct that has taken control of my brain.
Perhaps these are coping skills that need to be strengthened over time, so I’ll keep at them to see if things get any better, and I’ll try to do a better job of keeping everyone updated. If you’ve come across a good coping strategy, please share it in the comments section below.
My next appointment is in a little more than a week with a new therapist, because unfortunately my other therapist got transferred somewhere else. I imagine that meeting won’t be too productive, because I’ll be explaining misophonia again to someone new.