By Kathryn Mather.
Illustrated by Michael Julings.
There is a secret community of us. We speak in hushed tones, lest anyone know our shame. We daren’t say it in public for fear of the harsh judgement that will be passed on us. But it is my truth.
I’m really enjoying lockdown.
Since I can remember, I have suffered with misophonia and misokinesia, neurological problems in which the fight or flight response is triggered by certain sounds and movements. It is largely unrecognised, there is no treatment or cure, and I had no idea that it was even a thing until I was in my early 20’s, I just thought I was mad. It started out that it was people sniffing an d tapping that I couldn’t stand when I was in primary school. Then it went on to coughing, chewing (especially gum – it really freaks me out), breathing, snoring, whistling, people playing with their hair, people tapping their feet, pretty much any repetitive noise or movement fills me with anger and anxiety and a desperate need to get away from it. The list of triggers only increases with age, and no matter how many times you have the “please don’t do that, you’re making me uncomfortable” talk with people, they will continue to do it, because we all know that if there isn’t an insensitively made drama about your condition on Netflix, then it doesn’t really count.
So moving from the countryside to the biggest, most densely populated city in the country, into a house with paper walls and the cast of Stomp, was perhaps not the wisest decision I have ever made with regards to my misophonia.
From the moment I am woken up at 7am by my housemate upstairs throwing all of his heaviest possessions on the floor, most days are filled with a breathless anxiety that makes you so uncomfortable and desperate to get away from the ceaseless noises you want to climb out of your own skin. It takes up so much energy to fight your instincts and not run away, it’s exhausting. There will be a man on the tube chewing gum like a pig at a trough, and I will graphically visualise myself strangling him while I scream and scream and scream into his stupid face. And, once he gets off, I will feel sweet relief, until immediately a woman gets on tapping her foot and it begins again.
Aside from being a comedian gigging 3-5 nights a week (and the work is never near home) I also work two jobs which I love dearly, however, that does also mean that I am never at the house that 2/3 of my wage pays for, I have to plan to eat (and sometimes sleep) on public transport as there is no time to otherwise, and I haven’t been to a social event since 2014. It is incredibly stressful.
So, on the 16th March when I lost all of my work for the foreseeable future (including some comedy spots I had been working years to get), and then a week later when we were all placed under lockdown, I felt a certain relief. My housemate packed all of his heavy, heavy possessions into his concrete suitcase, put on his granite clogs, and went to spend lockdown elsewhere. For the first time in 18 months, I could wake up on my own terms, and for the first time in five years I’ve been able to have a routine. Imagine that! Being able to eat your meals – sat down! – at the same time every day! What a luxury. With the triggers in my house removed and being unable to go out, for the first time since I can remember, I have felt peace.
Honestly, if I still had the triggers in my house and no way to get away from it, this time would be absolute hell. I have been so very lucky in that regard. I know that a lot of people are struggling with their mental health under lockdown conditions, but there are a set of people, you know the ones, who loudly insist that they absolutely must go roller skating in the park and cough directly into the mouths of the elderly “FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH” and they would do well to acknowledge that the entire structure of society has been detrimental to the mental health of many people for years, and no one cared because it works for the masses. We just had to develop coping mechanisms to look after ourselves. I am, of course, not suggesting that because I have had a hard time others should have to suffer and “just get on with it”, nor am I trying to invalidate anyone’s feelings right now. Please, take care of yourselves, reach out to people, and get the help you need (if you can). We really must look after each other as a society as we should have been doing all along, and there is a collective responsibility to find ways to cope and compromise if it means that others may not have to die a slow painful death drowning in their own phlegm. Unfortunately this is going to be the new normal for quite some time.
So what I am saying is that I understand, because I have felt that overwhelming, anxious need to get away for a very long time, and as soon as lockdown is over, I will have to feel it again forever. So please, don’t judge me or think me lazy when I say I’m enjoying the respite of lockdown.
And please, for Christ’s sakes, close your mouth when you’re chewing.