It’s You, Not Me!
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The Link Between Misophonia and Creativity
IT may sound like an odd topic to raise before Christmas…
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but something has struck my ear – in quite a harsh and detrimental way! There are a lot of ailments/conditions that go unnoticed and misunderstood. It may sound like a universal thing but there are many medical professionals/people who feel misophonia is a misnomer or myth. It is, essentially, a selective sound sensory syndrome – ‘sound-rage’, if you will. Sound is a broad-ranging and complex area: many different people are provoked and irritated by various sounds. For me, and many out there, particular noises get into the head and cause incredible anger. In my case, that anger is suppressed and sublimated – lest it erupts into a full-blown explosion. I am in a rather irritating position whereby my working day is dominated by all manner of noises and irksome sounds that mean I retreat into my own mind – put the earphones in and turn the music up. For me, the most egregious sounds are those of throat-clearing and coughing. Being around people who are ‘of a certain age’ and have no manners whatsoever – there is an endless stream of noise and annoyance. Being inches from loud throat-clearing and coughing; sniffing, sneezing and nose-blowing is enough to make my blood boil. It may seem like a common-sense anxiety: how many of us actually like that sound?! Having misophonia is something that can be mild in many people – hard to determine whether someone is naturally reacting to an annoying sound or has a genuine conflict. In my case, there is a daily (and never-ending) woe. There are many other things that annoy me about my colleagues – hence the reason I am on the job-seeking warpath – but a continuous stream of germs, snot and splutter means I am more isolated, angry and uncommunicative than normal. Other working environments have been a lot more appealing and harmonious – a younger base and far fewer who flood the office with noise. There are members of the family (and others) who are a bit loud/germ-y but I am much more tolerant and forgiving – although I do jump and get wound-up.
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Maybe it is the sheer rudeness and lacking manners that enrages me so: the depressing fact that, I guess, when one reaches a certain age, they are incubators for every malady, noise and head-pounding sound effect known to man (something cheery to look forward to). Others are aggravated by the sound of loud eaters; some by other triggers/sounds. It can hit people differently but I have that ongoing stress and upset – avoiding situations and environments where there will be these noises; having to muffle the sounds and try and block them. So, then, is there a point beyond getting something off my chest?! There is, as it happens. I know a few people with this condition and there does seem to be a common link: they are all creative-minded. Those who have the burden of misophonia tend to have a more creative and artistic mindset – not in every case but there is a general trend. I was looking at an article published on the BBC website that explained it:
“The results, published in the journal Current Biology, revealed the part of the brain that joins our senses with our emotions - the anterior insular cortex - was overly active in misophonia.
And it was wired up and connected to other parts of the brain differently in those with misophonia.
Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from Newcastle University, told BBC News: "They are going into overdrive when they hear these sounds, but the activity was specific to the trigger sounds not the other two sounds.
"The reaction is anger mostly, it's not disgust, the dominating emotion is the anger - it looks like a normal response, but then it is going into overdrive."
One can argue there is no direct link between misophonia and creative abilities: some will say it is a personality drawback rather than a neurological misalignment. It is interesting discovering but, whilst not Christmas-related, there are positive results that come from the condition. Until more research is done on the subject – determining why some are predisposed and whether it constitutes an actual disorder – I have found myself immersed more in music and writing.
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Maybe it is a natural reaction to sounds around me and my desire to replace them with something much more melodious and harmonic. So; if you need to know more about the condition (and whether you suffer from it); here is another article that goes into detail:
“Finally, a scientific misophonia study which has yielded some positive results.
A recent study by Northwestern University found that misophonia sufferers may be significantly more creatively talented than ‘normal’ folk thanks to something called ‘leaky’ sensory gating’.
You view see the full report here (warning: mostly impenetrable)
Despite being a severe misophonia sufferer myself, I found it hard to decode the report (I must have a very particular form of creative, misophonic genius). However, here are some of the key findings from the study in italics and my layman’s terms interpretation below:
“Creative achievement is associated with “leaky” sensory gating”
This will sound strange, contrary even, but evidence suggests that talented creatives tend to lack the ability to filter out irrelevant sounds and/or images.
In other words, the creative achiever’s sensory filters are ‘leaky’ and they’re easily distracted by what’s going on around them.
For the misophonia sufferer this is the brain-pummeling sound of someone licking their lips… or a work colleague clicking their pen.
While this brain rage can be a burden in almost all scenerios it also endows us with the propensity to process ideas outside of the conventional focus. And this is where our superhuman skills come into play.
“Divergent thinking is associated with selective sensory gating”
Here’s where it gets a little more complex.
When we talk about ‘divergent thinking’, we’re talking about the thought process used to explore different possibilities and solutions. In other words to generate a quantity of different creative ideas.
The more I am exposed to triggers and annoying sounds – it is much worse where I work than, say, a normal day walking/travelling around London – the more I concentrate on my work and escape from what is around. That may sound like a worrying and alienating lifestyle but the effort/tolerance it takes to surround myself with certain people is a draining experience.
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It is interesting seeing how certain minds are wired and why those who are afflicted by misophonia are more adept when it comes to creative output – if there is a correlation between one and the other. It seems like there is a link because, as I have mentioned, quite a few musicians I know have the same condition. I have written about dementia and how those with the disease store musical memories in a different part of the brain (than everything else) and whether music therapy can unlock other memories – that might have been forgotten and ravaged because of Alzheimer’s/dementia. Creative ability and music talent are as much to do with composites of the mind as they are hard work and dedication. We know those with a predilection for arts like music have different brains to everyone else. I guess there are few sustainably positive aspects of misophonia but it can be a signifier there is a creative spark inside you. I wonder, given the fact the condition is an annoyance of noise; the need to create pleasant sounds is the brain’s natural reaction. If certain people, like me, are sent into a spin at the slightest sense of an annoying sound – a counteraction would be something beautiful and soothing. I am different as I do not make music - but my urge to write and produce pieces is, in part, inspired by misophonia. I have been a sufferer for years now but have found the problem exacerbated because of my working conditions. The only real ‘bright spot’ has been that immersion into music and writing. Certain people are affected by different noises: it can be everything from a coin dropping in a machine or the rustling of a packet of crisps. There are obvious drawbacks, if you’re a musician, when it comes to having a hatred/fear of certain sounds: life is no rosier for a journalist, I guess. My triggers are narrower than some – none of the sounds that annoy me are present (much) in the music I listen to – but I can imagine, for some, their working life is a mass of contradictions and hurdles.
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There are treatments that can aid those afflicted by misophonia:
“If you’re an anxious person, you want a music-based clinician who can administer the kind of music intervention that will ultimately strive to more permanently release anxiety. Another way to look at this, is that you want a therapist who can utilize music to alter the function of the brain’s amygdala (moving the individual’s nervous and physiological system from high arousal to calmer). A music-based clinician can help you mediate fight/flight with music. Anxious people, and people with misophonia, both tend to have higher arousal systems, involving fight/flight. When a person is in fight/flight the HPA Axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) shoots catecholamine in the blood stream (cortisone, adrenalin, etc.), and other hormonal and physiological processes occur. It is generally unhealthy for the body to be frequently and excessively activated like this”.
It is, as I confess, a strange thing to write about but I am becoming ever-fascinated in the correlation between music and the mind. Although there are many out there who are affected negatively by certain sounds – they have an unusually high creative aptitude and can translate that into incredible music. It is not reserved to musicians, of course: people in other areas of the arts possess a similar talent. The creative mindset and makeup is a fascinating thing that warrants closer investigation. As someone who (however mildly) gets annoyed by various sounds – I know there are good sides that come out of it. Misophonia is not really a recognised condition among many; doctors and professionals feel (those affected) are short-tempered and easy to annoy. Let us hope, as more and more people come forward about conditions such as this; people out there start taking…
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IT much more seriously.