I felt trapped

Steve shares his experience of living with tinnitus

Just before the Christmas of 2011, I woke up at home in bed in the very early hours of the morning to a very loud screech (high-pitched whistle) in one of my ears. Instantly I knew it was tinnitus.  

As a musician I’d often read about the dangers of being subjected to loud sounds for long periods. My first thoughts were “Will this be temporary, or will it go away?” I’d had temporary tinnitus before after going to rock concerts, but it would always fade away by the end of the evening. I drifted back to sleep hoping it would go away as usual. 

A few hours later, I woke up to the same sound. This time I started to panic and sought reassurance from my wife. We agreed it seemed a good idea for me to go and have a bath to try to chill out a bit as this was turning into a real panic attack. Lying in the bath, all I could think about was that this was here to stay. It was so loud. How could I live with this noise for the rest of my life? How could I continue to play in the band (I had a gig in a few days)? What had caused it? Could I have a brain tumour? 

I felt trapped 

My wife found me banging my head against the wall in the bathroom. I felt trapped, no way out. I felt I just wanted to die but knew I hadn’t got the bottle to do it. 

Now it’s a over decade later, and I’m writing this from my narrow boat which I live on most of the time. I have re-married and have a wonderful life. I still play in the same band (with musician’s ear plugs!). Weeks now go by with no thought about my tinnitus. I really don’t notice it unless someone mentions it. I now understand why other people who have dealt with tinnitus will say “Tinnitus? I forgot I had that.” It is really like not having tinnitus at all until someone asks me about it. Even then, my brain will struggle to find it, but will soon forget about it again. The technical term for this is becoming ‘habituated’ to it. I don’t like this term as it is defined as reaching a point where you can ‘put up’ with it. I certainly no longer have to ‘put up’ with it. 

My advice to anyone suffering from tinnitus is not to be too afraid to seek help, wherever you can. 

We are all different. What might work for one person might not work for another. However, after my research and speaking to others, I found a number of common factors in the road to coping with, or even defeating, tinnitus. I also realised that many of these factors may help with other ailments like depression and pain.  

This was a battle 

One word I heard a lot from people during the journey was ‘acceptance’. I didn’t want to accept tinnitus, I wanted to defeat it. This was a battle; I was not going to live out the rest of my life ‘putting up’ with it. I wanted my life back.  

I did get my life back, and more and I now see how tinnitus may have been one of the biggest gifts in my life 

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