My sister would echo my cough. Not in a way that said, hey look at me, I sound like you, but in a way that said, please stop coughing. The sound irritated her and to voice her displeasure she would copy your cough and send it back to you, see, here…how do you like it? I remember how this would always start a quick nasty exchange with my other sister, but I always found it kind of funny. How could she find the sound of someone else’s cough so irritating? But then I thought about all the noises that bother me, not the usual stuff, like car horns, car alarms, happy birthday…I love you, but the odd ones, noises that are a part of everyday living, noises that happen so frequently you really should be ok with them.
For example, the sound of Guntie, my partner, eating anything crunchy makes me want to rip his head off. It’s not his fault, he’s not eating with his mouth open, and I’m sure when I eat crunchy shit I sound the same. Then I thought maybe some of us are predisposed to being extra sensitive to audio oddities, maybe it’s genetic, maybe my desire to stab Guntie over and over when he smacks the jelly jam off his finger tips is just a nervous tic I’ve somehow inherited. Or, maybe I’m just a fucking neurotic basket case…but that too, is genetic.
I can remember sitting at the dinner table as a kid, trying to stir the sugar at the bottom of my tea without having the spoon hit the side of the cup. Since, as I learned from hateful glances and a few stern words, my father hated the sound of spoon on cup. I grew up to think it was normal to avoid this sound, just as I thought cough copying was funny, not odd. Well, it turns out there are many spoon on cup hitters, and no one seems to bat an eye. What causes us to be tolerant of some noises and less tolerant of others? Well, to answer this question I turned to the one undisputed scientific source we have come to know and trust….the internet. As it turns out, having an aversion to everyday sounds is much more common than you think. For example, some can’t stand computer noises, fingernail picking, dishes banging, teeth sucking and of course popcorn eaters. Some people have such distaste for these simple sounds that they must immediately put distance between themselves and the source of this disturbance which makes for very uncomfortable relations seeing as most people, I don’t know, use dishes…breathe.
There is a name for this extreme noise sensitivity, it is called Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, or 4S. The onset of this syndrome is usually between the ages of 5-15, and the common sounds that people focus on with this disability are mainly oral, such a eating or breathing. A person with this affliction focuses so intensely on the offended sound that it overwhelms all other environmental stimulation. This can create feelings of rage, panic, disorientation, loss of cognition or even trigger ones flight or fight response.
I know what you are going to ask; Can I use 4S as a reliable defence for murder? I say…why not, and this has nothing to do with the fact that my little Guntie is insured at a nice seven figure amount… nothing, absolutely nothing.
But for now I am willing to suffer through his chewing and finger smacking as long as I can cough echo free and let my spoon hit the cup, once…maybe twice.