When we lived in Chicago, there were a million things to do with friends on a Saturday night. Scratch that—there were a million things to do every night. Bars, restaurants, comedy clubs, you name it. But, having misophonia meant we rarely made it out of the house.
With misophonia comes an ever-present fear about being in social situations in which one noise distracts me from the fun I should be having and triggers my transformation from a semi-normal human being into the Hulk. Those typical destinations that make living in the city so much fun, also come packed with triggers for people with misophonia: restaurants and clanging silverware, the fear of gum-chewers on public transportation, and never knowing if the seat you’ll get will result in you losing control of your surrounding with little possibility of escape.
So, it’s no surprise that we tended to keep ourselves holed up weekend night after weekend night instead of venturing out into the city. Normally, I prefer vegging out to socializing, especially when it’s negative 20 degrees below zero and the next season of House of Cards has just been released on Netflix. But with a husband whose spirit animal is basically a six-month-old puppy, we couldn’t spend every weekend hibernating.
This meant we each had to get creative with the types of events we planned to attend together, or plan ahead to avoid these persistent unknowns. Here’s a list of seven ways your average misophone can plan and adapt to social activities to keep the fun of the city alive.
Crank up the tunes
Bars with live music or venues that generally avoid having a quiet atmosphere can be great for group or one-on-one outings. The steady stream of background noise in the form of music, TV (think college football games), or just the conversations of a crowded room tend to drown out many of my natural triggers and lower the stress levels associated with needing to control the environment.
Why so fancy?
Forget the fancy table settings, linen napkins, and clanky wine glasses and head to a low-key joint when you want to eat out. Dives are much more likely to dole out plastic utensils, serve food in plastic baskets, or put finger-foods at the top of the menu. Since unpredictable clanking of silverware and dishes tends to set me off, this change of scenery makes for a much improved dining experience.
An added benefit of choosing restaurants this way is that it quite often lets you stick with what’s locally popular. When we lived in Texas, there were endless barbecue, mexican, and food truck options. In Chicago, there are plenty of quality pizza joints where forks and knives are even frowned upon. Our favorite spot in Chicago was Homeslice in Lincoln Park, which also had abundant outdoor seating situated near an El track for added white noise.
Are you already on edge after a long and stressful week? Instead of hanging out a mall or a closed-in setting where noises might echo, opt for getting some fresh air! Suggest you and friends have a picnic, play a game in the park, or head to the beach for a cookout. In the winter, consider bundling up for some ice skating, cross-country skiing, or a good old-fashioned snowball fight. Something about the lack of walls and natural ambient noise always makes me more inclined to get out and socialize.
Host a game night!
Noises can be better when you control the atmosphere, and the people coming over. Include background music, choose quiet snacks, and invite those you can trust to be sensitive about your misophonia. Everyone loves games and the excitement of a high-stakes round of Catch Phrase can distract you from your triggers.
Do an activity
I already mentioned ice skating and cross-country skiing, but I can’t emphasize enough the benefits of socializing via activities. Try out bowling or whirlyball for a fun and loud experience. Join a pickup basketball game at the local gym, or grab a friend and head to the local outdoor flea market (shopping is an activity too ya know!).
Go to the movies (yep!)
Okay, so movie theaters are usually a misophonic’s worse nightmare. But there are ways you can still see the latest blockbuster without having to wait until it arrives in your Netflix queue. A couple of years ago, Hunger Games: Catching Fire came out around my birthday, and Billy and I decided to see it opening weekend. But we were very strategic in picking our showing time: Sunday at 9 am—strategic. The theatre was pretty empty (yay!) and no one was in the mood for buttery popcorn that early (double yay!). We also requested devices for the hearing impaired (just check out the movie theatre’s information desk or ask an attendant). The device really helped, and I was still able to cover them with my noise cancelling headphones. So in all, you can still see movies if you plan ahead and pick a less crowded time try out the hearing impaired devices, and bring backup headphones to use as needed.
While I’m not advocating throwing back an entire six pack, a glass of wine always helps with my anxiety. And let’s face it, most of the time our trigger sounds never pop up – but it’s the fear that they will. So sit back, grab a beer (or 2), and try to relax. As always, make not to leave the house without your personal misophonia survival kit. For Billy and me, that’s become a routine check before we lock the doors.
Please feel free to leave comments here if you have other strategies for getting out and socializing that you’d like to share.