The Sound of Spaghetti
For as long as I can remember, I have hated the sound of people eating. That might not sound very shocking considering most of us have never met anyone who actually enjoys the sound of chomping, but bear with me. From a very young age I can recall finding the sound of mastication to be utterly disturbing. I don’t know exactly when it started, but I remember my older brother having a particular penchant for eating bananas in a rather dramatic fashion, and although this habit was healthy and normal for a teenage boy, his preference was to eat bananas slowly, and with his mouth wide open.
Was he trying to irritate me, his slightly obsessive and anal-retentive younger sister? Possibly.
Did my distraught squeals only encourage his torturous behaviour? Most certainly.
However, to my disappointment, my brother was not (solely) to blame. I remember sitting down at an extended family dinner the following year and being so repulsed by my uncle’s particularly obnoxious chewing style that I felt sick to my stomach and couldn't eat another bite. A few months later, I was with friends about to watch a movie and had to find a way to discretely block my ears while the popcorn was being passed around. Little did I know, however, that those experiences were insignificant compared to what was about to come.
In the early months of my relationship with my now-fiancé, we sat down on the couch one night after a long day at work to watch a little TV and eat a hearty meal of spaghetti bolognese he had so generously cooked for me. As we sat down to eat, it became apparent that something was wrong with the audio on the TV. After about 10 minutes and no clue what the issue was, he ever so calmly suggested that we “just leave the TV off and I’ll have a proper look at it after dinner”.
What I felt next was internal pandemonium, a feeling of pure panic that left my face without colour and my stomach in turmoil.
You see, it wasn't just the sound of him eating that terrified me. We hadn't been together all that long and we were still in that glorious honeymoon phase of liking every single thing about each other. Not only did I not want him to know I was a crazy person who couldn’t eat in silence, but I didn’t want to discover that I was repulsed by the sound of him eating!
A few minutes went by, and he was totally oblivious to the sweaty mess of a woman sitting next to him. He was slurping away at his spaghetti and nonchalantly asking me about my day, when he turned to me and saw an image that I thought would surely send him running for the hills. You see, I was so disturbed by the sound of him eating that for the first time in my life, I cried. I cried uncontrollably, and I couldn’t stop it. Sure, I had been grossed out in the past, but this was new.
My skin crawled and I couldn't stop sobbing; it was the kind of reaction you expect from a severe arachnophobe encountering a big hairy spider in the washing basket. After that I was supremely embarrassed about my odd reaction, and was terrified it might happen again. Given that I clearly couldn't control the emotional outburst, I became worried it might happen around people who wouldn't be so understanding.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I enrolled in a behaviour modification unit at UNE that I was able to identify exactly what all of this meant. For the first time in my life, I realised that this was actually a phobia, or misophonia - selective-sound sensitivity - to be exact. As a part of studying in the unit, I was required to perform an intervention using behaviour modification techniques on someone else; and when I saw the positive impact my intervention was having on the client, I was inspired to try to change my own behaviour. Over a period of two weeks, I used techniques I learnt in class to try to overcome my phobia. I identified the behaviour, developed a fear hierarchy (a list of situations that frightened me from least to most), prepared a SUDS (subjective units of discomfort scale) and went about engaging in exposure therapy. With the help of my fiancé I was actually able to reach all the steps on my fear hierarchy, and I utilised many of the techniques taught to me to reach my goal.
It’s been about five weeks since I began my intervention, and I can happily say that I’m well on the road to overcoming my phobia. Although I still have a little way to go, I am continuing to expose myself in vivo and I’m confident my results will last. The amazing thing is, had I not enrolled in that particular unit I may never have realised my fear was actually a phobia, and that there was a legitimate and proven way to overcome it. It’s unlikely that I would have ever sought out professional help because for the longest time I just believed this was a weird quirk to my personality - another weird “thing” that I had. In even better news, my lovely (and enduringly patient) fiancé not only helped me with my intervention, but he hasn't run for the hills just yet.
The best part is, I know that when I graduate from UNE at the end of this year I won’t just be receiving a piece of paper. I’ll be walking away with an education experience that not only inspired me, but actually helped me learn to overcome a problem in my life. Thanks to that behaviour modification unit, I was able to gain practical experience that is applicable to my own life, and it’s something I’ll always remember. They don’t put that on the UNE billboards, do they?