Could You Try to Keep It Down to, Like, Zero?
If you're like me in a particular way, and people know you're like me in that particular way, and they're on Facebook or Tumblr or any of the other social media sites that constantly generate and recycle memes, you've probably been shown this by someone you're close to:
And if you're like me, and you've always wondered about why loud eating noises or leaf blowers or the repetitive on-off whine of a computer charger or an idling diesel truck make it impossible after awhile to concentrate on anything BUT those noises, then perhaps you felt a sense of relief at reading this random--well, fact isn't really the word I'd put on it, since it's more of a speculation, and just looking misophonia up on Wikipedia got me links to four other syndromes/conditions/behavior patterns that explain this sensitivity to noises--and then went right back to struggling to ignore crunchy carrots, closing windows to shut out as much mower noise as you can, and obsessively unplugging gadgets that don't need to be making that charging noise.
Reading about misophonia, and then about hyperacusis, phonophobia, synesthesia, and sensory defensiveness, I did feel an immediate rush of identification, just as I do when I hear high-functioning people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome talk about their struggles to fit in, or people who suffer from clinical depression discuss the difficulty of motivating themselves, or friends going through divorce discuss how horrible things are with their soon-to-be exes. It's so comforting to realize I'm not crazy, that there are plenty of other people out there who feel exactly the same thing I do, and there's a word for it, and that word means...
Adjustment disorder (that's the catch-all diagnosis counselors submit to insurance companies for people just having a hard time with the trauma of day-to-day living).
So maybe it's not so comforting after all.
Some of these conditions are treatable. Talk therapy has worked wonders for me as I've survived two divorces and numerous other relationship rifts. I have friends and family members who've benefited immensely from psychotropic medications. Those high-functioning people who may or may not be on the autism spectrum have learned to interpret social cues to that extent that their syndromes may be undetectable to their acquaintances.
That's all well and good. And I've certainly had more than my share of talk therapy. I have the feeling my lifetime therapy bill--really, the bill to my insurance companies--could have purchased a small fleet of yachts. I've also had a lifelong project of teaching myself how to fit in and better enjoy the company of others, including strangers. But I am drawing a line, as you may have gathered by now, because there's something here that just makes me feel--prickly, like there's a carpet-cleaning truck just down the street that's been droning for the last four hours.
And here's what bugs me: this nation is obsessed with labeling. And now, without putting me tongue even slightly in my cheek, I'm going to label this obsession: capitalismitis.
Capitalismitis is the product of a free market service economy operating in an affluent country that has never adequately developed its safety net. The condition consists of a large number of consumers seeking assistance with their problems from a network of providers whose livelihood consists of serving the psychological needs of those consumers, who must in turn navigate a Gordian nightmare of bureaucracy to receive payment for their services, a bureaucracy which is dedicated to paying not one penny more than it is required to for said services lest its profits suffer. This calls for specificity: lists of drugs and therapies that are covered for specific conditions. Patients who do not fit the definitions for listed conditions are not covered. The result: no matter how legitimately miserable you may be about something horrible that has happened to you, it has to in some way match a condition on the list, or you will have to pay for your treatment out of pocket.
Just as a simple respiratory infection can give rise to bronchitis, capitalismitis can precipitate other phobias: insolvencitis, an anxiety condition brought on by impatient business offices demanding payment from patients while insurers are still debating how much will be covered; paradoxical telephonophobia, the result of being caught between customer service lines for both insurers and providers that claim to be putting you first, but are both obviously motivated by avoiding payment in the first case and maximizing it in the second; and fiduciary self-esteem reductionitis, a loss of confidence emanating from having one's personality labeled pathological in order to justify charging an insurer for a therapy session. Looking at that short list, I could probably come up with quite a few other "disorders" that deserve their own appendix in the DSM, and will probably be in their just as soon as big pharma can figure out how to monetize them.
What this rant is really coming to is the following conclusion: life can be hard. It's made harder for individuals when their unique qualities come up against aspects of our world to which they have trouble adjusting. Relationship traumas, health issues, employment difficulties--all of these things are hard to adjust to. The law of nature is adapt or die. The good news of our culture is our aversion to the second half of that law: by and large, we want people to adapt and keep living. The bad news is that we rely upon the market to assist in much of that adaptation, and the market has no problems with consigning people to death once their resources are used up, and they cease to be sources of profit.
I have some personality traits that are maladaptive, and I've benefited from teachers, pastors, therapists, friends, and family members who've helped me adapt. I've trained myself to tolerate eating noises, to close windows, shut doors, unplug devices and, when necessary, to politely ask people if they can find a way to reduce the volume of whatever it is that's keeping me from enjoying the moment. What I don't feel is the need to have a name for my condition. It's just who I am. I don't want to take any drugs to alter myself, nor do I want to spend hours of my life arguing with business offices and insurance companies about whether the right code was entered for whatever the hell it is I have to have in order to be able to talk to someone about what's troubling me.
Wow: this started in one place, and when to a very different place, before coming back to what I was thinking at the beginning. But I suppose that's just how essays work. And I'm okay with that. I'm okay with a lot of things right now, in fact: I unplugged the charger and shut the door to the room where "The Family Guy" was being watched, so the only background noise I'm dealing with at the moment is the wind and rain (which I rather like); there's no owie tag on the linen kimono I'm wearing as I write this; and I just heard some sounds from upstairs that make me think Amy will be down shortly, and we can have some coffee and chat. And there's a blog post in the can. Oh, and tonight I'll be at a party, exercising the social skills I've learned.
Brain disorder? Pshaw. This is who I am, and I'm very happy just being me.