Questionable Quirks

Quirks, foibles, having a “thing” about something… when does it turn from an easy way for your friends to tease you to an Issue that needs Treatment?It’s a question I’ve been toying with recently. I have a few notable “quirks,” and have had them for years. Anyone who is close to me knows that, when I’m around, the following things are Not Cool:

  1. Ripping or tearing paper or layers of cardboard.
  2. Chewing loudly, or talking while chewing.
  3. Playing with buttons or asking me to do something that involves touching buttons.
  4. Using strong-smelling paints, or petrol.

(They also know that if I laugh too much I’m likely to lose control of my thumbs, which some of the more unscrupulous are likely to take advantage of.)

Why shouldn’t they? Because I’ll have the following involuntary reactions:

  1. I get goosebumps: mostly on my arms and back but occasionally all over.
  2. This is just distressing and feels awful to hear. Eeeee.
  3. Gives me a creepy, yucky feeling, like the aftermath of an adrenaline rush.
  4. It makes my teeth hurt. Seriously. My teeth hurt just thinking about the smell of radiator paint. Yeuch.

Obviously I realise that I can’t go through life smacking down the Loud Chewers of this world (much as I’d like to) or banning radiator paint (OW). So I have a few coping mechanisms:

  • Avoidance: I do not wear cardigans, or dresses with buttons. The only clothing I own with buttons are jeans, and those are metal buttons. If touching buttons is unavoidable, I cover my fingers with cloth or a towel.
  • Leaving the room. The next-best thing, but not always possible.
  • Blocking out the noise: with headphones, earplugs, or failing those, just covering my ears. Or putting on the kettle.
  • Distraction: usually another sensory activity, such as scratching, or tapping my feet.
These help, but they aren’t always possible, they don’t always work, and it’s rare that I get through a day without having to use one. Mostly, these are daily occurrences: often occurring multiple times a day. And it’s starting to get annoying – even to me.
I know most of us have these type of quirks – who, for example, is indifferent to the sound or feeling of nails down a blackboard, the sound of a plate being scraped clean, or the smell of a well-used bathroom? It just seems like I have more of them than usual, and that they’re getting more difficult to cope with. To be very clear: I don’t have OCD and I don’t have any phobias: I’m not afraid of these sensations, nor do I think awful things will happen if I experience them or if I don’t initiate one of my ways of coping. I just (“just”!) have a very strong dislike of all these triggers and how they make me feel, and I will do whatever is reasonable to avoid or ameliorate them.

So, I’ve done a bit of research. The closest thing I’ve read to a description of these behaviours and reactions is adult Sensory Processing Disorder, but it’s not a perfect fit. In some ways, it’s possible that my reaction to ripping paper, strong-smelling paint, and buttons could be auditory-tactile and tactile-emotion synaesthesia. The more prosaic, and probably much more likely, explanation, is that this is all within normal limits and there doesn’t need to be a label for these quirky reactions of mine: but maybe I do need need to get them under control before  they start controlling me.


So, Wise Ones of the Interweb: do any of you have “quirks” like this? Should I offer myself up to the neuroscience lab, take myself to my friendly local hypotherapist, or keep on as I am, knowing that in a world of quirky people, I barely register?

15 replies on “Questionable Quirks”

Oh brother! I can relate to this. I have my fair share of “quirks,” phobias, etc. but I do have OCD and I’m fairly certain I have dyspraxia, a common symptom of which is sensory sensitivity. I get “upset” by loud TVs, bright lights and bad smells/tastes. I get the button thing, or the anxiety around it, since I don’t have a problem with buttons. I really don’t like odd textures (which makes me a picky eater) and things that don’t feel how they look. If something looks funny and I can’t reach out and touch it (which you can’t if it’s a picture on your computer screen), I feel kind of sick. I’m trying to work through the urge to do all my little compulsions when I get that feeling. Oy vey.

And the bad smells = tooth pain! I get that too. I wonder what the physical connection is.

Ha! We are not alone! I’ve never met anyone else who gets the tooth pain thing. I should look up the location of teeth on the somatosensory cortex relative to the olfactory centres…
I seem to notice loud noises and strong smells more than other people, too, but they rarely bother me the way other things do.

Many people with autism spectrum disorders, like myself, have issues like this. The paper ripping thing is a big issue for me, along with flickering lights and a couple others. I usually just avoid such stimuli because it isn’t quite so bad as to interfere in my life.

I’ve read that sensory processing issues are often associated with ASD, but not necessarily. The brain is a crazy thing.
I just wonder how strong and fixed the reactions are, or if they can be reduced or got rid of altogether.

I also hate the sound of chewing. Gum smacking and potato chip gnashing are the absolute WORST. The other weird reaction I have is that sometimes if there is a sound behind my right ear at a certain angle it’ll make my back muscles spasm. It’s completely weird. It’s done it since I was a kid. I can remember standing in the cafeteria line in 1st or 2nd grade and someone was talking behind me and all of a sudden I get this horrible twinge in my back and it starts arching on it’s own. Sometimes a sound coming in just the right side of my headphones will do it too. It is so weird and and I’ve never met anyone else who experiences it.

I think (and this is just from my own research ‘cos I got quirks of my own) that you don’t have to feel afraid for something to be a phobia – strong repulsion counts, or is at least equivalent.

As others have said, it depends how much they bother you. I can’t write or talk about my issues, so I am seeking therapy for them, alongside my depresison & anxiety. I want to feel free.

I have a few of these. I always attributed them to my synesthesia, though. For example, if someone scrapes silverware on their teeth, I get the heebs. My skin gets goosebumps, my teeth start to ache (just like you described) and I feel nauseous. And in my head, I see and feel the color silver so strongly I want to scream. It’s like SILVER!SILVER!SILVER! over and over in my head…I hate it. To the point where I sometimes buy plastic cutlery when it’s especially bad.

I think you sum it up well in your final sentence–the degree to which these things are really a problem depends on the degree to which they interfere with your your day-to-day life. It sounds like you’ve got a handle on ways to get around dealing with these things, but maybe they’re starting to become a real inconvenience? If that’s the case, then it couldn’t hurt to see someone about them. I’m no professional, though, so this is far from being a medical opinion :)

Personally, I can’t stand the sound of loud chewing either. Ugh, it just disgusts me. I also have to straighten the sheets and blankets on the bed before going to sleep, even if the bed is already made!

A lot of the time it’s an inconvenience for my boyfriend as well as me, which makes me feel a bit guilty.
I’m not sure what type of professional I’d even see, to be honest! Would probably start with my GP but I can just imagine the look on her face.

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