Is there life after Tinnitus?

imageIt comes like a thief in the night as the realisation creeps up on you. The realisation that you may never again know silence. Could tinnitus and hearing loss be a musicians worst nightmare?

The short answer is yes, but this post is going to attempt to put a more positive spin on tinnitus and hearing loss and also to quell any common misconceptions.

I have been no stranger to loud noises. Self inflicted audio abuse was one of my favourite pastimes. I used to gig three or four times a week and in between I would spend many hours sat in front of speakers producing electronic music. And when I wasn’t rehearsing or recording or performing, I would be working behind the bar in a live music venue. Music’s awesome and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I remember after one particularly loud rehearsal we had in my cellar (an old man from all the way down the end of my road came to complain…) I noticed a faint ringing sound. A ringing sound which lasted for about a week. I was relieved that it had passed, but it was only to be the beginning…

Over the next four years or so it slowly worsened and became even more of a ball ache, but it was manageable. Then one evening after playing at some reggae function, the ringing sound was so loud, I literally did not know how I would cope, or what I would do if it got any louder.

I think it’s important to add that I was not reckless with my ears. I always wore ear protection and then ‘mahoosive’ ear defenders when things got really bad! It turns out I probably wore ear protection too much. But I will explain later on.

Anyway, during those four years I had regular hearing tests and I had lost a significant portion of my top-end frequencies. Conversation became difficult as ‘esses’ and ‘tees’ became ever more elusive. I had to stop the music…

Needless to say this wasn’t a happy time. But it was a transitional time that would prove to be one of the most important things to happen to me.

It was around this time that I started Tinnitus Retrainment Therapy (TRT) free on the NHS. I’ve heard that TRT doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it was nothing short of life changing.

During TRT I learnt that some people have hearing loss, but do not have tinnitus. And other people may have tinnitus, but without hearing loss. So although there was nothing I could do about my hearing loss (apart from my trusty hearing aids) perhaps there was something I could do to alleviate the insufferable ringing sound.

My therapist asked me to imagine living in a hot country where dangerous snakes lurk around every corner and could pounce at any moment. Where hearing the ‘sss’ of a snake could save my life. The brain, knowing that the awareness of a snake in the room could be a matter of life and death, does something curious. It amplifies the sound and engages the bodies fight or flight mechanism allowing me to live to see another day. Good job brain.

Now without getting too sciencey, the tinnitus is the snake…

I’ll let that hang in the air for a moment for cinematic effect.

Every time I came back from a gig and as I prepared for sleep, I’d hear that damn snake ringing loudly in my ears. You can imagine the profanity… In my mind I had made the connection that I was hearing that ringing sound because my hearing had worsened. Every single time after a loud noise exposure, I’d become aware of the tinnitus and the fear of losing yet more hearing would encapsulate me. Now my brain had noticed the importance I had put onto tinnitus, and how it was a matter of saving my hearing, so it cranked up the volume of the snake.

Now something was flawed in my way of thinking. After another couple of years of regular hearing check ups, my hearing had barely changed. However the tinnitus was louder than ever. This suggested that tinnitus was more of a mental issue rather than something physical.

I mentioned ear protection earlier. As I became more and more cautious, I started wearing ear plugs when going to watch acoustic performances or when going to the pub (if it was particularly rowdy). When I’d take the tube I’d plug up too. The thing is, this added to my anxiety of losing more hearing. And as I blocked out more and more of the noises from the outside world, guess what happened? My perception of the noises in my head became more refined. In addition, I started to suffer from hyperacusis which is where some sounds becomes unbearable or even painful.

I needed to unplug. The truth is our ears are capable of dealing with loud noises (up to a degree) and do recover providing we give them plenty of breaks. Take the London Underground for instance, according to this BBC article
some trains peak at 118dB. So why aren’t Londoners going deaf left right and centre? This 118dB is not constant and the fact that you pull into a station every couple of minutes or so, allows the ears time to recover.

This is not to say that earplugs are a waste of time. If you are around loud music for a sustained period of time, then you need to plug up. Just that a more moderate approach is necessary. In the last gigs I did, I used to wear foam earplugs and over-the-ear ear defenders. Not only did this look ridiculous, I couldn’t hear any hi hats or count ins. But even with all this protection everything still felt too loud. This was the hyperacusis coming into play. My tolerance for sound was dropping.

 TRT uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques to monitor thoughts so that over time I could see how my mind was responsible for much of my suffering and not just with tinnitus.

You see, every time you have a thought, it makes a footprint in the wet sand of the neural pathways in your brain. The more you have a particular thought, the deeper the footprint becomes, until one day you are only able to walk in those footprints.

As I began to monitor my thoughts and feelings in relation to tinnitus, patterns of thoughts started to emerge. I would often exhibit ‘all or nothing’ thoughts such as “I cannot enjoy playing the piano anymore” or ‘magnification’ thoughts like “I am going completely deaf”. By seeing that these thoughts were false, I was able to counter them with more accurate responses. New footprints. Over time, my reaction to tinnitus began to change and with the science I had learned about the brain and how we perceive sound (the Jastreboff model) tinnitus became less of a problem for me and I am able to enjoy music and social activities like before.

For more detailed information about the Jastreboff model and TRT visit http://www.tinnitus.org/

At about the time I started TRT I began to reassess my mission in life. I made a vision board and came to the conclusion that my life was about music and helping people. As much as I loved dropping a ‘dirty wabwabwab’ in my live drum n bass band, that was not the reason why I started playing music. I started playing music because I loved expressing myself through sound and sharing with others. Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of this and focused instead on whether this tune was commercially viable and if I was good enough to hit the big time.

So when I quit my bands things changed rather rapidly. Out of nowhere I landed myself a sweet job teaching piano in schools. My desire to explore sound led me to acquiring my beautiful Hang and my Native American flutes. The Hang awakened in me the desire to play music in hospices. Playing in hospices allowed me to start confronting some of my repressed memories and emotions. And this has led to me being more whole and happier than I have ever been.

So actually yes, there is life after tinnitus and it’s a bit bloody good.

Check out my new music for meditation album here.

Written by Andrew Ford 10/12/13

Advertisements

26 thoughts on “Is there life after Tinnitus?

  1. Hey fordy, i’ve done 2 sessions at the TRT royal surrey, and in my next one i’m starting the CBT, i’ve got hearing aides playing soft white noise in my my ears which is telling my auditory cortex to turn my hearing levels down. It’s good to know there’s more of a positive outcome, until i read this i didn’t know how well the treatment would work, but reading that it has helped you through a more emotional means is filling me with a lot of hope. Jakob

    • Hey man, good to hear from you. Royal Surrey is where I went too. I wonder if you are seeing the same therapist I am… It took a while for the TRT to work, it is a big process as you are basically reprogramming you mind. But once you get the hang of it, it’s quite empowering to know that you can overcome tinnitus and other challenges that pop up.
      Good luck 🙂

  2. Wow !!!!

    Loved reading it ….. Beautifully written this article is a therapy in itself.
    Merry Xmas and prosperous new year ahead.
    Best wishes
    JillsK

  3. So great to hear that, Fordy! I remember all those years ago bumping into you at a gig at InSpiral and you telling me about your hearing issues. So glad to hear things are better now. I too have witnessed how the mind can effect the body, as I have M.E and have used NLP (similar to CBT) to help. Although it is a very physical illness, like with most illnesses – the mind can influence the body. I almost made a full recovery afterwards. Unfortunately I’ve been in a major relapse over the past year, after having an appendectomy but I’m determined not to give up and I think that is key for any recovery. Keep up the good work! 🙂 x

    • Hey Lainey, really good to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words. I hope you are ok and I am wishing you much healing and joy as we enter 2014. X

  4. Hi mate, lovely article, really well written!! I am currently struggling with my hearing issues, tinnitus!! Just wondering how you got offered TRT on the NHS? Just through a ENT or Audiologist? Your help would be much appreciated! Cheers

    • Hey Tommy, it took a while. I went first to my GP who referred me to the hospital for a hearing checkup, then finally referred to the TRT guy. Hope that helps

  5. Gracias por compartir esto con todas las personas que padecemos tinnitus, y también por recordarnos lo maravillosa que es la vida cuando nos centramos en ella.
    Saludos desde Mexico.

  6. Hello Andrew. This is a fantastic site thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with others. I am currently really struggling with intrusive tinnitus. I have just started TRT at the royal surrey. I am trying to keep a positive attitude but on some days its very hard. I was wondering if it would be at all possible to talk to you on the phone. I think it would help me to talk to someone that has been through bad tinnitus and come out the other side. I
    understand if you do not wish to do this but i thought i would ask. My email is ckes101@yahoo.com i would call you so no cost on your part. I wish you well my friend and thanks again for the site.

  7. I love music but quit 8 years ago after getting T. I play electric guitar and had constant job offers. Just recently I thought my T was getting better so I decided to pick up my electric guitar again. I got an immediate job playing in a band that plays quit frequently. Sadly, after the first gig the T, which had been more like a background noise suddenly again came into the forefront. It’s all that I can hear and it feels my head.
    I tried to be very positive as I started playing in this band and to believe the best but again T has become very loud after just one gig and it’s telling me to stop!!! So, according to your article I’m supposed to ignore the irritated T and keep on gigging regardless? Are you saying that the T will eventually go down again anyways, so why stop playing? I’d really love to keep playing of course but I fear that I will cause me T to keep on escalating and then it will stay like this. Since gigging I have also lost more sleep. What do you suggest? BTW, I use ear protect. A professional custom ear plug in one ear (so I can hear the music better…but it feels like less proctection), and a foam earplug in the other one. I know there is no generic answer. I guess I’m just hoping I don’t have to stop playing, especially when I have so many opportunities to play.

    • Hey thanks for your comment. Do you have a hearing loss as well as the tinnitus? For me, I was paranoid about going deaf as I already had a hearing loss. So I was always checking in and worrying about my tinnitus. When I learnt that I wasn’t actually going to go completely deaf, things got easier. I had a lot of negative thought patterns that I learnt to challenge using CBT.

      I can’t advise you on whether you should keep playing or not, my lifestyle changed dramatically and like you I quit playing live music. And I can’t tell you to just ignore it, as tinnitus is much too complex a problem to just do that. This year however I have started playing in a reggae band again. Sometimes the tinnitus flares up, like it did this weekend when I played two shows in one day and went to a wedding. But I know it will drop back down again, so I don’t worry like I did before. I don’t think I will ever play as intensely as I did a few years ago, but my life is on a different path now.

      My main advice would be to get you hearing checked out first and if possible see a tinnitus therapist who knows CBT. It was a lengthy process for me to start seeing the benefits, but CBT and TRT was possibly the most important thing I’ve ever done.

  8. Yes, I had hearing loss from a hearing trauma. Lost some of my high frequencies. Therefore my Tinitus is a very high hiss with some slight whistling overtones when aggrevated. Sound strange but I’m not so worried about further hearing loss as I am about my Tinitus getting louder and staying that way permanently. If that were the case I’m not sure I could keep my sanity and live with it. But if I knew 100 percent that it would go back to normal everytime I would be more relaxed about it.

    • I do remember thinking that if it got any louder I might take a running leap out of a window. It’s a bit of a feedback loop, it’s the worry that amplifies the tinnitus and the tinnitus causes more worrying. For me, learning about what tinnitus is, then watching and challenging the kind of thoughts I was having in relation to tinnitus, things began to turn around. You can read some good info at tinnitus.org. My tinnitus is not cured, but it doesn’t stop me doing what I want to, not anymore.

      • Hey, thanks for that reply. It’s really helping. I already made an appointment here in town at a Tinnitus zentrum for next week.
        So, what it sounds like your saying is that further exposure to loud noise is not what’s aggrevating my T or causing any potential, further hearing damage. …..That is of course as long as one wears hearing protection which I do.
        So ,it’s the worrying about it after I have a gig or practice that is aggrevating the T?

        I do hope that is the case! If that were true than I’d have more confidence to continue on.

        For me it’s the fear of aggravating the T into a worse permanent state that frightens me..

        I’m afraid of it getting stuck like this by some stupid act of mine.
        The other thing that concerns me is that my T has been more reved since my first gig and it has stayed like that since 2 weeks. My next practice and gig comes up next week. We’ll see.

        Thanks, I’m hoping you’re right.;)

      • Good luck at the tinnitus zentrum. Do ask if they have a CBT service as well. Negative thought patterns take a while to break out of.

        In my case it was definitely the anxiety and worry that aggravated my tinnitus and it sounds like that this may be the case for you too. But everyone is different and I’m not a doctor so hopefully the tinnitus zentrum will help 🙂

  9. Yes, I think that’s the key- everybody is different. T is very personalized like so many chronic and difficult to diagnose diseases.
    In my case playing just two gigs over the span of a week was enough to bring my T back to the forefront. It has gone from about a 4-5 to about a 9 in disturbing factor. I protected my ears with plugs but I wasn’t anxious while playing. I enjoyed it immensly. Still afterwards T made me pay my dues.
    That could be an arguement that T is not merely a battle with the mind. The logical thing for me to do would be to quit if I ‘offended’ my T again by doing what I enjoy. There is also though suffering involved when you quit what you enjoy and again give the victory to T. It’s diffucult. It doesn’t look possible but I’m still hoping for a win. thanks !

  10. Hi Fordy, just re-read this as I was online researching your inner pieces music for meditation purposes. It’s great to know that one can heal ones physical self through ones mental self. You are living proof! It really is mind over matter isn’t it! Anyway, great article, thanks for sharing 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s