Imagine the sound of someone sitting next to you noisily typing on a keyboard, tapping their foot repetitively or chewing loudly. Annoying, right?
But for people who suffer from misophonia, such sounds can literally be debilitating. Misophonia is a neurologically based disorder that causes extreme negative reactions to sounds, with responses ranging from moderate discomfort to panic and rage. Converse II Studio Art major, Jessica Gilbert ’18, knows all too well the struggles of this mysterious condition. Her diagnosis was confirmed in 2013, after she endured years of struggling to understand why she was different. Now, her story is one that filmmaker Jeffrey Gould finds among the most compelling in his new documentary, Quiet Please…, which explores the experiences of those suffering from misophonia.
The film, which includes a 12-minute segment on Jessica that was filmed on the Converse campus, will make its Southeastern premiere at Converse on Thursday, Oct. 26 with a screening in Daniel Recital Hall. The event is open to the public and free of charge.
Jessica began noticing issues with specific sounds when she was seven years old. “I just thought I was a weird and awkward kid,” she said. “Growing up with misophonia was not easy; my symptoms worsened as I grew older and I kept my distance from others most of the time.” She began researching her symptoms in an effort to figure out why she was adversely triggered by certain sounds.
Finally, in 2013, she found the answer. “I stumbled upon this word that I had never heard of: Misophonia,” Jessica said. “I had every symptom. At the time the condition was just getting out there so not much at all was known about it. There were only a hand full of doctors even researching it.” Jessica connected with a doctor in California and in 2016 she was officially diagnosed. She has since become an inspiration for others, thanks to her determined optimism: “I’m overcoming this. I’m not going to let it control me. I’m going to fight and live my life the way I want to.”
“I’m overcoming this. I’m not going to let it control me. I’m going to fight and live my life the way I want to.”
Filmmaker Jeffrey Gould has struggled with this sound sensitivity himself for more than 50 years, and is eager to raise awareness about misophonia’s emotional and psychological impact, as well as its effect on family and friends, careers, and everyday life. He connected with Jessica on a forum about misophonia and was moved by her proactive and supportive responses to posts on the forum. “There are sufferers all over the world with whom I am able to connect through private online support groups,” Jessica said. “The misophonia community is very supportive of one another; we give each other coping advice and it’s great knowing that I’m not alone. We keep each other afloat; it helps us stay positive.”
Jeffrey was in the process of expanding the documentary when he encountered Jessica, and he knew immediately that her story was the piece he was missing. Within two months, he had arranged to film her segment on the Converse campus. “In 26 years of doing video and film, I have never worked with an organization who made it as simple as Converse,” he said. “The faculty and staff have been nothing but supportive and accommodating during every step of the project. I think you all have a common goal; to create a nurturing environment for students to learn.”
Professor Andrew Blanchard was thrilled when he heard that Jessica was going to be featured in this documentary. “I was really excited for Jessica when this unique opportunity presented itself,” he said. “I have yet to have a student include ‘major motion picture’ or ‘documentary film’ on her curriculum vitae! Juried Shows, check. Publications, check. But film, not yet…until Jessica.”
Jessica has channeled the struggles from this illness into her artwork, finding a welcomed coping mechanism and outlet for emotional and physical pain. “When I start painting, I can feel the anxiety and the pain through the rendering,” Jessica said. “It really does help to let some of that expression out – the anger, the feelings – just by painting. It’s good therapy for me to have art as an escape, to get away from the reality of facing these sounds every day.”
Professor Blanchard speaks highly of Jessica’s determination and says her large-scale works are some of his favorites.
“Jessica always strives to work hard, despite misophonia,” he said. “She has conceptually included it in her visual outcomes, which I feel has given her some sense of power over her condition; in a cathartic, physical and therapeutic sense.”
When Jeffrey asked Jessica whether she would want a cure for misophonia she replied that she wasn’t sure. “I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without this illness,” she said.
Most people at Converse are unaware Jessica suffers from misophonia, but the ones who know have made a positive difference for her. “Explaining it to my professors and classmates was nerve-racking because I didn’t know what their reaction would be, but they thought it was interesting.” Their responses gave her confidence, and provided the opportunity to educate others about it. “I don’t believe that I would have ever opened up about my disorder if Converse weren’t in my life,” Jessica said. “The professors here have been so supportive and without their motivation I don’t believe that I would have pursued this.”
Jeffrey is excited that Converse College will be screening Quiet, Please… for the campus community and the Upstate region. “This is what awareness is all about; exposing new people to an invisible condition, such as misophonia.”
Watch the trailer: