Airport Workers – Please Stop Shouting

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

A friend of mine recently told me a story about how her elderly grandmother, who is in her eighties, had travelled to Spain. It was only the grandmother’s second trip ever, travelling abroad. 

My friend, her mother, and the grandmother were all travelling together and the grandmother was briefed about what to expect at the airport. Whilst packing, my friend and her mum had distributed their clothes and toiletries between the three combined items of hand-luggage. They explained to the grandmother that, although they had done the packing for her, should she be asked by a security worker whether she had packed her own bag, to confirm that she had. The purpose of this question, they assured her, was intended for crimes considerably more sinister than sharing luggage space.

Continue reading “Airport Workers – Please Stop Shouting”

Working Together to Find a Cure for Tinnitus

British Tinnitus Association Manifesto Roundtables 2020, kindly hosted by Sir John Hayes MP. 

A discussion by Carly Sygrove, creator of the My Hearing Loss Story blog, and advocate for people with hearing loss and tinnitus. 

Tinnitus affects one in eight people in the UK, yet there is currently no cure.

My own tinnitus story began three and a half years ago when I experienced sudden hearing loss in my left ear. The moment I lost my hearing, I simultaneously gained the unwelcome whooshing and ringing sounds of tinnitus.

Following my hearing loss, I started to write a blog in order to share my experience of living without full sound and with other associated issues, including tinnitus. Through my blog, I have connected with people from all over the world whose lives have been affected by hearing loss and related symptoms. Tinnitus is one of the most common reasons why people contact me to seek support. Living with such an intrusive, yet invisible condition can be extremely difficult, and for some it is debilitating.

Although there are management techniques and devices that can mask the noises of tinnitus, there is nothing that can actually eliminate it. Knowing you have a condition for which there is no cure can be a tremendous mental weight to bear.

Tinnitus Research: How Can We Move Forward to Find a Cure for Tinnitus?

As part of the preparations for Tinnitus Week (3rd-9th February 2020), I was invited by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) to attend a roundtable event at the House of Commons.

I would be representing people with tinnitus and joining researchers, other people with tinnitus, politicians, public health institutions and research funders, to discuss how we can progress the search for a tinnitus cure.

The Roundtable Event – House of Commons, Thursday 16th January 2020

Tinnitus roundtable

The event consisted of guests at two parallel tables, discussing how to move forward with tinnitus research.

Bringing together participants from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and specialisms encouraged an active and productive discussion. There was a focus on both the technical aspects of developing a cure and the personal opinions of those who are living with the condition.

The Technical Aspects of Finding a Cure

Although the participants in the discussion at our table were from a variety of backgrounds and with different associations with tinnitus, we all agreed that a tinnitus cure means silence.

Listening to the views and priorities of those involved in research, I learnt so much about the technical challenges of finding a cure. There are a number of issues which can impede the progress of research, and there are matters to be considered before progressing studies further. Some of the topics discussed are outlined below:

  • The Importance of Research Into the Subtyping of Tinnitus

There isn’t just one type of tinnitus, in fact, there are many different forms of the condition.

Tinnitus may occur as a consequence of excessive noise exposure or be caused by disorders which affect the brain’s auditory function. Some types are related to the sensory system and others are a result of muscle contractions. There are also subtypes of the condition such as musical and pulsatile tinnitus. More focus needs to be placed on further identification of tinnitus subtypes in order to facilitate more targeted research. 

Co-founder of Tinnitus Rooms support group, Louise Hatch stated, “We need funding and research into subtypes of tinnitus – it needs serious attention in its own right.”

  • Difficulty Measuring the Effects of Tinnitus

Currently, there is no objective way to diagnose or measure the effects of tinnitus.

The effects of tinnitus are subjective and hence hard to measure. For some people, the symptoms of tinnitus may not affect their daily lives and others it can have a huge impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean however, that one patient’s tinnitus is more severe. Some people are able to manage tinnitus more successfully than others.

The severity of tinnitus for patients may also fluctuate due to other factors, such as tiredness, weather changes and mindset. Since the effects of tinnitus are hard to measure, it is difficult to compare results in studies and for this reason, efforts to make advancements towards finding a cure are hindered.

  • The Pursuit of Identifying Biomarkers for Tinnitus

At present, a biomarker for tinnitus has not yet been determined.

A tinnitus biomarker is a characteristic identified in blood or the body that provides a measurable indicator of the presence of the condition.

The presence of a biomarker would be physiological evidence that a patient has tinnitus. If researchers are able to understand the mechanism of tinnitus, then they will be able to measure changes or progression of the condition, and the effectiveness of treatments can be evaluated objectively.

  • The Need for a Tinnitus Database

Dr Charles Large (CEO, Autifony Therapeutics), highlighted the benefits of creating a national tinnitus database with regards to moving forward with research:

“Absence of a UK-wide register of tinnitus means patients are being missed. Research trials would be the first to benefit but more importantly, it would benefit the whole tinnitus community.”

  • The Nature of a Cure

It is not yet known what form a cure will take. Tinnitus researcher, Dr Will Sedley, explained that to find a cure, researchers need to understand every level of interaction between the brain and ear, with regards to the condition. They need to discover a way to teach the brain to distinguish between real sounds and tinnitus and to filter out the latter.

The cure could take the form of a pharmaceutical drug or perhaps a further-developed type of sound-based therapy. We just don’t know yet.

  • More Tinnitus Awareness Amongst the Medical Community

Dr Will Sedley stressed the need to make tinnitus a more attractive area of research to medical students. He stated that “This is one of the most unsolved medical problems”, yet he doesn’t remember tinnitus ever being mentioned in medical school, or any question referring to it in exams.

  • Where to Allocate Funding?

If the government provides more funding to tinnitus research, it will need to be decided where the money will be allocated.

Tinnitus is not an illness in itself but rather is a symptom of a pre-existing condition, such as hearing loss, stress, inner ear disorders or migraine. Since there are various potential causes of tinnitus, do we put money into restricted tinnitus research or use it to fund other groups of research with a focus on illnesses where tinnitus may occur as a consequence?

By funding other areas of research, there is a possibility that a cure for tinnitus could be found as a result of curing an underlying condition.

What People With Tinnitus Want to See

Before the event, I spoke to some of my blog contacts, and for an opinion, much closer to home, I also contacted my dad, whose life has recently become affected by tinnitus.

Detailed below are some of the hopes people who are living with tinnitus have for future research, which largely coincide with the opinions of those at the event, who work within the area of tinnitus support:

  • More Support From GPs

A large number of my contacts expressed a desire for more help from the medical community for people with the condition. Some, including my dad, had experienced discouraging consultations with their doctors and were simply told to “get used to it”. Many people hadn’t been offered advice or support on how to manage tinnitus nor had they been referred to sources of emotional support. Perhaps successful guidance from GPs begins with specific tinnitus-management training?

During the discussion, Megan Gill (Tinnitus Hub support forum representative) emphasised how “Patients want to be heard and have a voice in research.” She spoke about the desire patients have to be listened to, and to be part of the journey of rehabilitation and eventually a cure.

  • Tinnitus Awareness and the Effect on Mental Health

Megan stressed the need for more awareness of the potential impact of tinnitus on mental health.

According to a survey carried out by Tinnitus Hub, 64% of tinnitus patients reported that the condition had caused them mental health issues, with stress, anxiety and depression being the most prevalent.

On this theme, a large number of my contacts emphasised the importance of having the hope of a future cure.

Of course, whilst a cure does not currently exist, acceptance of the condition is key in moving forward and it is important for those affected to find a way of managing their symptoms to improve their quality of life. Yet, the reassurance that researchers are working to find a cure, can give those affected a level of mental comfort.

More awareness of the interrelation between tinnitus and mental health issues could have a positive effect on fundraising efforts and more researchers may be likely to embrace the challenge of finding a cure.

  • Prevention Measures

Speaking as a voice for musicians and DJs, Anne Savage highlighted the importance of promoting tinnitus prevention measures. As a Plug’em ambassador, Anne is passionate about reducing the stigma of wearing earplugs to protect hearing in environments with potentially dangerous volume levels such as gigs, festivals and clubs. In the discussion, it was suggested that perhaps there is a need for more strict decibel restrictions in the UK.

As a former teacher, I wonder whether this is something that needs to be addressed in schools, starting with a focus on volume levels in the classroom?

  • My Thoughts

Personally, I hope for more international interest in tinnitus research. I feel that this is a worldwide condition which needs a worldwide solution. I’d love to see collaboration between research institutions around the world where key focus areas of study are agreed. 

Surely, creating strong communication links in the research community and sharing outcomes and discoveries, could help drive research forward with more dynamism and impact.

Moving Forward Towards “a World Where No One Suffers From Tinnitus”

To summarise, the main priorities from the discussion were as follows: 

  • Create a UK tinnitus registry
  • Focus research on identifying biomarkers for tinnitus
  • Raise awareness of the effect of tinnitus on mental health
  • Promote prevention measures, e.g. more strict decibel restrictions in the UK

The British Tinnitus Association will combine the recommendations from both discussions and present them to government ministers in order to move forward the search for a tinnitus cure. 

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has already taken an interest in raising the profile of tinnitus research on the political agenda. “I am very happy to look specifically at the case for increased research funding into tinnitus and to work with [Sir John Hayes] on it,” he responded, following the roundtable event.

It was an honour to take part in such a lively and positive discussion. I feel that bringing this level of awareness to tinnitus is a very positive step towards finding a cure. And, for me, I have a little more hope that I will one day be able to enjoy silence again.

name card

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

Grieving My Lost Sound

I felt guilty for feeling sad. I was swallowing down grief in giant gulps, trying to dismiss complex emotions. The pragmatic part of my character knew there were much worse challenges that life could present to me.

It has been just over three years since my sudden hearing loss, which left me profoundly deaf in my left ear. The months following this loss were spent hoping for some recovery. I was optimistic about the possibility of learning invaluable pieces of information from every specialist I met, and was hopeful concerning each new treatment or therapy I tried. Though, these months were also full of frustration, anger, sadness; difficult feelings that grasped at me with all their strength, making each day a duel to be fought. Now that three years have passed, and I am confidently dealing with the practical effects of hearing loss, I can look back at this experience with clarity and more understanding about the emotional impact this loss has had on my life,

During the time immediately subsequent to losing my hearing, I didn’t allow my grief to consume my attention. In truth, I don’t think I even realised I was grieving. Instead, practical issues dominated my thoughts. I was productive and proactive in learning how to function in my new unanticipated state. I wanted to take control of my situation. I focussed on dealing with my noise sensitivity and tinnitus. I gradually learnt to cope more with everyday sounds. I set myself small targets to work towards and celebrated my accomplishments. I started to go outside and surround myself with difficult sounds, progressively increasing the exposure time with each day. I discovered where the best places to sit were in a restaurant with regard to limiting background noise, and learnt how to direct my hearing ear towards sources of conversation. I realised the power of subtitles, which enabled me to access all the dialogue when watching films and TV series. My boyfriend, and close friends and family learnt to walk on my right-hand side so that I would be able to converse with less effort. I began to study the movement of peoples’ lips to help me make sense of speech in noisy environments. I learnt my physical limitations. My emotional health, however, I didn’t even consider.

Hearing loss grief is something that medical professionals didn’t talk to me about. No recommendations were given for support groups or information sources. I’m not sure if the absence of emotional guidance was due to the language barrier, or if it generally isn’t offered to patients here in Spain. Perhaps those affected by hearing loss are expected to search for the type of help they feel will be the most effective for their situation. I haven’t widely verbalised my feelings of the different stages of grief I underwent following my hearing loss. Only those closest to me know the sadness I have felt. In fact, the impact of my hearing loss grief, and the importance of dealing with it in order to move forward in my hearing loss journey, is something that I’ve only recently started to pay much thought to.

There are so many different types of hearing loss, all that come with their own challenges and strains of grief. I wonder if having the time to prepare for the known gradual decline of hearing with age or a health condition brings any comfort. Yet, knowing loss is imminent must also present a tremendous burden. My hearing loss was sudden. I had no time to prepare. I had very little understanding of the practical issues regarding hearing loss. I had no awareness of the mental pain hearing loss could bring,

I felt guilty for feeling sad. I was swallowing down grief in giant gulps, trying to dismiss complex emotions. The pragmatic part of my character knew there were much worse challenges that life could present to me.

Then, several months after my sudden hearing loss, I was given some advice from a stranger, who I had briefly connected with online. I was told that, as with any other loss, I would need to grieve my lost sound with the attention it deserved. This advice proved so important in helping me address the emotional aspects of my new situation, and immediately made it feel acceptable for me to feel sad and allow myself to begin the process of grieving.

I suppose everyone with hearing loss will experience different emotions and stages of grief, and will deal with them in their own unique ways. I had periods of feeling angry. I was angry because I felt that I could no longer rely on my body; it had failed me. I contemplated the fragility of life. I felt sadness, isolation and exhaustion from missed words in conversations, that used to be so easy to follow. I continuously questioned my feelings as to whether they were a justified measure of grief and then learned to treat myself with more kindness. The acceptance, which took time, came ultimately when I sought a second medical opinion, and I was told bluntly by a specialist that it would be very unlikely that I would regain any hearing and that this was my new normal. I needed this closure.

I found the most help through my grief by talking to my boyfriend, who provided unfaltering support, strength, and compassion. I confided in him, explaining my feelings and new hearing sensations. We shared the experience of loss so closely and we found our own way to deal with these new circumstances together. I also reached out to others through writing about my hearing loss journey in my blog. I corresponded with people who were going through similar situations, and continue to encourage this communication. I now find comfort in being able to offer my advice and share experiences with others. Hearing loss grief remains one of the main topics of discussion.

I am reminded of my lost sound every day. Our senses play a significant role in how we engage with the world. For people, like me, who are accustomed to living in a ‘hearing’ world, our sense of hearing determines how we enjoy music, how we recognise the voices of our friends and family, and how we interact socially. I don’t want to forget life before my hearing loss and I consciously hold onto memories of past experiences when having the full ability to hear made these times so special – times spent enjoying music festivals and memories of past holidays, when my hearing or noise issues didn’t even need to be considered.

I am proud that I carry a tiny piece of my hearing loss grief with me; an invisible scar. Like other scars on my body – shadows of scuffed knees from playground games, teenage acne, and surgical scars – I regard it with pride. My scars are evidence of victories over health issues. They are evidence of healing. My scar of hearing loss grief is something I acknowledge every day. Yet, it’s much more than grief or sadness; it’s a little bit of strength I take with me everywhere. My hearing loss grief is part of my story.

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

 

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Learning a New Language with Hearing Loss

Quite surprisingly, I feel that I have developed some skills that ‘hearing people’ may not be as adept at employing in communication as those without full hearing ability; skills that actually help me to comprehend a second language.

I have been living in Madrid for nearly 5 years. During the first two years, I was actively learning Spanish. I was attending evening classes, listening to daily language-learning podcasts on my commute, and was making an effort to converse with Spanish members of staff at work.

My sudden hearing loss happened at the start of my third year in Spain, and since then there has been a marked change in my ability and confidence in learning a second language. Now, over two and a half years following my hearing loss, I still feel like I haven’t addressed this deflated self-confidence.

After I lost the hearing in my left ear, I didn’t return to the evening classes. The sessions were heavily structured around mixing learners together to work in pairs or small groups, requiring them to contribute to the discussion. During each class there would be long periods of time involving many people talking in their groups, which meant overlapping voices, bouncing around the small sparsely furnished classrooms, making hearing and focusing any particular person’s voice very difficult. There were students from many different countries, which would add another obstacle to language learning in a class; with only hearing in one ear comes a difficulty understanding the different intonations and complexities of accents.

As I gradually started to discover mechanisms to manage life with single-sided deafness, I also began to realize that the matter of learning Spanish had been unintentionally suspended during the prior months. And, since returning some focus to my Spanish communication skills, I have realised that learning a language following a hearing loss can present some challenges.

My preferred way of learning Spanish was always through hearing it: by listening to podcasts and eavesdropping on conversations. I continue to be able to recognise Spanish words which I am already familiar with, particularly ones used habitually in conversation. New words, however, pass by quickly in speech, before I have time to think about the way they may be spelt or correctly pronounced. It is now more of a challenge to hear all the phonemes in a word which makes it difficult to identify new words and phrases accurately. Previously I could hear a new word once or twice and be able to spell it. Now, it takes many listens, and sometimes I just can’t hear it clearly.

When learning a new language, it generally takes time to process what has been said in conversation or an instruction, before reacting. Often it has been moments after speaking to someone when I realise what has been said, and by that point, the conversation has perhaps moved on. Similarly, with my hearing loss, it can take a moment to consider spoken information, which I may have only partly grasped, before attempting to decode what has been said. And so, a language learner who also has hearing loss may need extra time for reflection in conversation to enable comprehension.

A pause in dialogue may suggest to a native speaker that they have not been understood when their conversation partner is a language learner. If I ask a Spanish speaker to repeat themselves or if I say ‘pardon’ to signal I haven’t heard what they have said, they often reiterate their words in English, after hearing my accent. They assume it is a matter of misunderstanding due to language ability, rather than a hearing concern. This can be frustrating. I appreciate someone making an effort to speak to me in English with the intention of being helpful, but conversely, it isn’t aiding my language learning or confidence. I know my understanding of spoken Spanish is good, but with the abundance of background noise in public places, there are rarely the ideal listening conditions to facilitate this.

With my hearing loss came a difficulty in gauging the volume of my voice when there are other noises present. If I speak in Spanish and I don’t receive a response, I quickly lose confidence in my words. I usually assume I have pronounced or phrased something incorrectly. But, maybe at times, the issue isn’t my Spanish, rather that I simply speaking too quietly and am not being heard.

Quite surprisingly, I feel that I have developed some skills that ‘hearing people’ may not be as adept at employing in communication as those without full hearing ability; skills that actually help me to comprehend a second language. My hearing loss has prompted me to develop my skills in interpreting tones and in extracting meaning from fragments of dialogue. I am accustomed to filling in gaps left by undetected or misheard words in speech. When someone I know well, such as my boyfriend or my sister, makes a quick comment without first getting my attention, I may hear a collection of tones rather than words. Using my familiarity with their common speech patterns and knowledge of context I can often make a correct assumption regarding what they have said, sometimes without actually hearing a single word. When applied to communication in Spanish, I am able to use this skill to make conjectures, and while this method isn’t conducive to gaining a thorough understanding of a conversation, I am generally able to grasp the essence of a discussion.

I never really appreciated how much I depended on my hearing when learning Spanish. Although it can be challenging and may demand a lot of patience, hearing loss isn’t a barrier to learning a new language. There are many ways to learn a language and there are many resources available, such as phone apps and podcasts with transcripts. I now realise that in order to continue progression in speaking and listening tasks with my hearing loss, I will benefit from focussing more on the written aspects of Spanish. Visual familiarity with new words and sentence structures will help me identify these in dialogue. Perhaps, most importantly, I need to concentrate on building my confidence in continuing to learn a language without full sound.

If you have experience of learning a new language with hearing loss, I’d love you to share your stories and any tips you have. Please feel free to leave a comment.

 

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

 

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Living with Single-Sided Deafness

I lost the hearing in my left ear through sudden hearing loss in August 2016. There wasn’t a known cause for my hearing loss, I wasn’t feeling ill and I didn’t have an infection. One day the world to the left of me just fell into silence. The hearing loss was profound which means I have no functional hearing in my left ear, and for just over two and a half years I have been living my life with single-sided deafness (SSD).

People with SSD are able to hear through their ‘good’ ear, yet have a profound hearing loss in their other. I am thankful that I am able to hear with my right ear, yet living with SSD comes with its challenges.

Sound localisation is a skill enabled by having two working ears, and so with only one hearing ear, I have no idea where sound is coming from. I might hear some music or a noise, but I don’t know which way to look to see what has produced the sound. Trying to find a mobile phone that is ringing results in me wandering hopelessly around my apartment with my ‘good’ ear leading the way and looking to see if I can spot it, usually ending up back where I started and realising the phone had been next to me all along. Locating a music source is also a challenge. There was one occasion where I was walking in the centre of Madrid, where I live, and I could hear a busker playing the guitar and singing a Bob Marley song. Whilst gazing around to see if I could find the owner of the interesting staccato-type singing I stopped in my tracks with a jump as I almost fell over the person responsible; who was positioned in my path, undetected by my gazing view and lack of directional hearing.

Thinking that all sounds are coming from my right has resulted in some scary instances when crossing roads when I haven’t realised traffic is approaching from my deaf side. It has also resulted in some, in hindsight, comical moments. One day, I was sitting on a seat at the end of a row of seats, on the metro train. I thought that I could hear someone playing the accordion somewhere far down to the right of the train. I was feeling relaxed, and as I tried to focus on the tune that was being played, I saw the woman opposite looking at something next to me. I turned to my left, to where she was looking, only for me to jump up in my seat as I let out a little yelp; startled to see the accordion player was actually standing right next to me, on my deaf side.

My boyfriend automatically walks on my right-hand ‘good’ side where he knows I will hear him. This prevents me from having to continuously turn to face him with my ‘good’ ear, in attempts to catch some snippets of conversation. With friends, who often forget which is my hearing side, or for those who don’t consider it, I place myself on their left. When they inadvertently change sides whilst crossing a road or when they stop to look at something in a shop window, I find myself dancing around them; trying to position myself as quickly as possible back on their left side.

When I’m on my own in everyday places and situations I sometimes feel vulnerable. I worry about crossing the road, and not knowing which direction to move out of the way when I hear the siren of an emergency vehicle. I worry about strangers talking to me, and not being able to hear them, or even worse failing to acknowledge them; if they have addressed me on my deaf side. I unwittingly ignore people to the left of me and often notice a frown on a stranger’s face, presumably because I have failed to respond to them or to move out of their way. I find myself constantly scanning my surroundings; checking people’s faces to see if they show any sign or clue that they are speaking to me.

With single-sided deafness, I find it difficult to hear when there are other noises present. Our brains are responsible for selective listening, which is more challenging without the help of a second ear. In a noisy environment, it is difficult to focus on a single person’s voice. Socialising can be demanding amongst background noise. In restaurants and bars I have learnt to sit in a corner, or with my deaf ear against a wall and my hearing ear facing the person I am speaking to, in order to have some chance at hearing them in conversation. I have learnt that it is only possible to concentrate on listening to one person at a time.

With my single-sided deafness has come tiredness, frustration, loneliness within groups of friends in conversation, and super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity; meaning I am startled easily by unpredictable or sudden noises. I also have difficulty multitasking and find it hard to perform another task while listening.

Yet, I have found that being able to see some humour and positives, however small, in some of the situations I find myself in, can help me stay positive. For instance, with single-sided deafness, I can block out sound during the night or when having a nap, just by putting my ‘good’ ear to the pillow. I only need to use one earphone when listening to music, and if there is someone I don’t want to listen to, I can make sure they are sitting on my deaf side.

If you or someone you know is also living with SSD, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment and share some of your experiences.

 


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This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

 

 

My Ever-Present Tinnitus

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? – An unwanted earworm that keeps playing over and over? A catchy piece of music that continually repeats through your mind, long after it has finished playing? This is similar to how I would describe my tinnitus. But instead of the notion of the song, there is actual ‘noise’, and the music never stops playing. There is no end to the record.

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears or head. The noise is not from an external source and can manifest itself in many forms. The varying sounds have been described as whistling, whirring, clicking, screeching, hissing, ringing, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or even musical. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition such as hearing loss, ear injury or circulation problems. From the moment I lost the hearing in my left ear, I simultaneously gained these unwanted sounds. My life became noisier.

My tinnitus feeds off salt and sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and feasts on a lack of sleep. Exposure to loud noise makes my tinnitus worse; giving it energy, enabling it to accelerate or become louder, and more prominent. Sometimes it is so loud that it is difficult to hear or concentrate on ‘real’ sounds. Sometimes it steals my attention from conversation. My tinnitus seems to be related to the pressure I feel in my ears and head. Louder or faster tinnitus means more pressure, sometimes culminating in a pain that feels like the inside of my ear is being stretched to full capacity; to the point of something bursting.

For some people, their tinnitus comes and goes, and for others, it is constant, chronic and persistent. Mine is ever-present. It will often fade into the background of my days; everyday noises will usually mask it, forcing it away from my attention. Yet, there is the cruelty of finding a peaceful moment or going for a walk in the countryside, and realizing the tinnitus has no ‘real’ background noise to overcome. It bounds into the foreground, onto the stage for full attention.

At night-time, there are no ‘real’ sounds to mask it. At night-time, it loves the limelight; gobbling it up with glee. The more I focus on it, the more layers of noise I discover. The foundation layer is the sensation of being underwater. I am under the sea, swimming deeper and deeper; water whooshing past my ears. With more focus, electronic-sounding agonized moans begin to emerge. A violin enters the stage; playing a continuous high-pitched and out of tune note that wavers painfully up and down in tone. The sound of an old copper kettle materializes, boiling with the shrill continuous whistle; demanding to be taken off the heat. Occasionally there is a piercing spark of noise; like the sound you’d expect your finger to make if you were turning something magically to ice. Sometimes the moans sound like melancholy singing. A penetrating fog horn begins to sound. A burst of crackling radio static joins the chorus, as the knob of an analogue-radio is turned; seeking out a resonating frequency and occasionally skipping past the notion of a word or a piece of music.  I make pictures with my mind. I form images around the sounds. The more I focus, the more elaborate the scenes become. Wailing prisoners bound and shackled, all in a row, somewhere in the distance. Someone is trying to scream but is not able to make the desired sound, just a sharp continuous squeal. There is someone drying their hair in another room…

… When I stop feeding it my attention, it’s back to swimming underwater.

My tinnitus is like being in an argument I don’t want to be part of. I am engaged in a duel I didn’t sign up for. At times it can be torture. I am always fighting. I stay busy. I take my mind off it. I surround myself with everyday sounds.

I find myself observing people on the street, on the Metro, in bars, restaurants and parks. I wonder whether they too have these unwanted noises. Are they too trying to ignore the record that won’t stop playing?

I choose to ignore my tinnitus with as little effort as possible. Since the more effort used, the more attention it receives, and then it starts to win the battle. It’s a paradox I must fight. I wish for the noises to stop. I dream of relishing a quiet moment, but I can’t remember silence.

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

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One Year On… My Thoughts on My Sudden Hearing Loss

It is one year since the day in the auditorium when I suddenly lost the hearing in my left ear. It has been a year spent attending appointments with various specialists, a year of being observed and tested, and a year of taking different medicines and trying hearing aids. I spent almost a year without working; trudging slowly through my days, with the feeling of frustration weighing heavily down on me. A year has passed and there have been no answers and no improvement in my ability to hear. It has been a year that has damaged my confidence. A year that has chipped away at me; with every hurdle and setback diminishing my character. Yet it has also been a year of building myself up; grasping at ways to find strength through my adversity.

It still feels very recent. I still wake up every morning to the realization that I can no longer hear in my left ear. A part of me continues to cling on to the tiniest of hopes that one day I will miraculously wake up with the full ability to hear; that my hearing will re-emerge as quickly and as spontaneously as it disappeared. This hope is an inherent part of me that I’m unable to control or even want to suppress. Yet, this doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted the reality of my situation.

In addition to becoming deaf in my left ear, I have been left with: tinnitus, a sensitivity to loud noises, the inability to identify where sounds are coming from, and difficulty hearing in background noise. Yet worst of all, there is a relentless feeling of pressure I feel in both ears, though more so in my left. It is these other issues that are proving to be more difficult to manage than the hearing loss itself.

Living with hearing loss and associated symptoms poses everyday challenges. Even though I have had no actual improvement in my symptoms, I have a better understanding of my hearing loss. I am improving my coping techniques every day; achieving small triumphs that feel like fairy steps of success. Notably, the discomfort I used to feel when this first happened, when going outside my apartment into a world of noise, has now become a habitual sensation. Although it is very present, it is something I rarely think about; an unpleasantness that has now been forced to the background of my focus. Loud noises are still painful. The sound of emergency vehicle sirens, motorbike exhaust pipes, and the clattering of dishes, all cause me physical pain deep inside my ears. But I have also discovered some noises that bring me comfort. The sound of a gentle river, the wind brushing past tree branches, and rustling leaves force my mind from giving attention to any unwelcome sounds of tinnitus. I have found that wearing headphones helps to block out the noise of the Metro and the noise associated with trains and public transport. For short periods of time, I am now able to listen to my iPod through my headphones, and can enjoy music and listen to storytelling podcasts; this is something I thought I would no longer be able to find pleasure in, due to my sensitivity to noise. I have developed my understanding of practices that can affect my condition. I now realise that if I drink alcohol, eat something with high salt content, or if I don’t sleep well, my tinnitus will be stronger. The presence of loud tinnitus and tiredness, in turn, means I will find it difficult to concentrate well on hearing tasks. Socializing can be demanding amongst background noise. In restaurants and bars I have learnt to sit in a corner, or with my deaf ear against a wall and my hearing ear facing the person I am speaking to, in order to have some chance at hearing them in conversation. I have learnt that it is only possible to concentrate on listening to one person at a time. I have also learnt that with large groups of people and circular tables comes a lot of frustration!

It has been a year of firsts. There was my first run since my hearing loss, where I started to feel so much stronger, and more ‘myself’. There was my first train journey, where I watched the beautiful countryside through the train windows, with the sun on my face, and when I felt so happy to be listening to music through my headphones; thankful for the hearing I had left. There was my first time in a restaurant since my hearing loss, which taught me so much about the importance of selecting a table wisely.

It has been a year of being proactive; writing articles for hearing loss websites, and getting involved in fundraising campaigns for deaf charities.

It has been a year of ‘silly deaf moments’ and mishearing words: sitting with my boyfriend on a terrace and mishearing him say the word ‘parmesan’, and instead hearing ‘lederhosen’, and wondering why my boyfriend would want such a thing sprinkled on spaghetti!

It has been a year of feeling vulnerable. When I’m on my own in everyday places and situations, such as the supermarket or walking down the street, I worry about strangers talking to me, and not being able to hear them, or even worse failing to acknowledge them; if they have addressed me on my deaf side. I worry about cars pulling out of parking spaces, and not registering them until they are moving towards me. I worry about crossing the road and hearing the siren of an ambulance, and not knowing which direction to move out of the way.

It has been a year of frustration. I am frustrated in train stations and airports where I can’t hear the Public Address systems clearly. I become frustrated with bars that play their music loud, or that are bustling with chatter too loud for me to tolerate. I am frustrated at people who speak in mumbled words, or who turn their head away from me during conversation; meaning I am unable to hear parts of what has been said. I am frustrated at feeling like a burden with every time I have to ask someone to repeat themselves. I am sad that I am now unable to continue my career as a teacher in a lively classroom. Yet I am proud of myself for returning to work in a less demanding role, which in actuality is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I still feel upset with myself when I struggle in conversation. It’s tiring trying to listen to conversation or to communicate for long periods of time. It’s tiring to be around noise. I am tired a lot of the time from trying to listen. I feel frustration in learning simple things again, such as keeping my balance whilst walking downhill. I feel frustration at there being so many questions that doctors don’t know the answers to. What caused my hearing loss? Is this going to happen to my right ear as well? Why do I often feel dizzy when I’m walking, yet rarely when I am running? Why do shopping centre lighting, stormy weather, and crowds of people, cause me to feel dizzy?

It has been a difficult year also for the people closest to me. I know it is hard for people to know what to say to comfort someone who is not ‘getting better’. I know it is difficult to know how to help. My friends and family have lived through this with me and have shown me overwhelming support. But, it is my boyfriend who has lived the experience closest to mine, and who has felt not only the frustration that I have, but has also learnt with me how to deal with my hearing loss. The unfaltering support, patience and care he has shown me, and continues to do so has undoubtedly given me the strength to deal with the new challenges I now face.

This year has been difficult. Yet this year has had a huge impact on my personality, where my priorities now lie, and the way I view my life. I am stronger as a result of this year. It is also because of this year that I have realized the enjoyment I have in communicating through writing. By recording my experiences and thoughts in my blog, I have made sense of my feelings and gained strength. I hope also to have given others an insight into my world, and some of the difficulties experienced by someone with hearing loss.  Writing is a pleasure; one which I can thank that day in the auditorium for the moment the world to the left of me abruptly fell into silence.

This article was recently featured on The Limping Chicken – the world’s most popular deaf blog! 

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