I have had noises in my ears for as long as I can remember. You could say I do not know silence. Silence to me is, and always has been a difficult concept; I have constant ringing in my ears so even when I am sitting alone in an empty room it feels like things are going a hundred miles per hour. The noise that I refer to in my ears, or in my head, changes all the time. It is not one repetitive noise that never goes away, it ranges in pitch, in loudness, in annoyance. Sometimes it feels like there are hundreds of people talking at once, or an owl hooting or it can be a high pitched buzz.
As a child, I can remember trying to sleep but having this funny noise distracting me. Even after all my efforts to get rid of it, cotton wool, my fingers in my ear, listening to Harry Potter tapes, the noise would not budge. My parents say they don’t remember me telling them about the noises, but they do remember me having the TV and radio especially loud because I struggled to hear. Whether or not this is linked to my tinnitus is unsure.
In my case I have always had bad ears. I was born with very weak eardrums and have had four sets of grommets in each ear, between the ages of 3 and 11. These grommets left me with perforated ears drums, which will not heal without surgery. Again this is not a known cause of my tinnitus and rebuilding my ear drums will not heal my tinnitus.
I went to my first gig when I was 14. It was a punk band and they were pretty loud, but I don’t remember my ears ringing any more than usual. All throughout my teens and University years I didn’t shy away from loud gigs or night clubs, dancing right up against the speakers without earplugs. I would always wake up with my hangover intensified by the ringing in my ears.
It’s hard to explain what the sensation is like, my mind and ears will be rushing even though I am lying in bed doing nothing. This happens to me every morning now, it wakes me up and its keeps up. I am lucky that my sleeping has not heavily impacted my tinnitus, as I know many people who have tinnitus also suffer from sleep deprivation. It is an annoyance that I seem to have control of for now.
Not wearing earplugs at loud gigs, club nights and festivals whilst at University definitely impacted on my tinnitus. It was only when I moved to London in 2014 that my tinnitus started to become a real burden on my life. I began to wear earplugs every so often, nothing special, just the foam ones you get for free at some venues. I knew I had tinnitus because I had spoken to doctors about it in the past and would always ask if there was a cure? “No” was the answer that stopped me asking more questions, ignorance in this case was bliss. I hadn’t known what the ringing was before and it didn’t bother me too much then. I had read stories of tinnitus suffers who felt the same way, the less you think about it the less control it has over you. So I decided to ignore it.
It wasn’t until I started working at Help Musicians UK, the leading charity for professional musicians, that I accepted it. One of the charities campaigns is #HearForMusicians. I started to learn more about looking after my hearing and wearing earplugs. 2015 was the first time I actually wore proper earplugs, realising it was the only way to control my tinnitus and not further damage my hearing.
As I write this now, my tinnitus seems to be at an all-time high, in my left ear I have a low purring humming noise, in my right a constant high pitched ringing. I haven’t spoken to many people about my tinnitus, friends may see me putting in my earplugs whilst at gigs or nights out and some may question it. I normally would just say “tinnitus” and may explain further but a gig or a club is hardly the place to start talking about my issues.
I try to conquer my daily tinnitus struggle by listening to music. The irony is that listening to music for long periods can damage my hearing and make my tinnitus worse. However listening to music calms me and helps block out the ringing, I feel normal at last. Music is a huge part of my life and who I am, so even though I know listening to it in my car, or at work, or at the gym could eventually cause me more problems, it eases my tinnitus and keeps me sane.
Whilst working at Help Musicians UK I came across the amazing Plug’em campaign run by the British Tinnitus Association. The campaign was the only one that I had heard of that encouraged people to wear earplugs in loud environments. It was inspiring that so many people were coming forward and talking about their day to day struggle with tinnitus. I wasn’t alone.
Plug’em is a fantastic campaign that I urge others to promote and take notice of. All it asks is that you wear earplugs. Your hearing is precious and so are your ears, so look after them, cherish them. Wearing earplugs now seems like a given, when I see others without them I can’t understand why. Good earplugs still let you listen to music, they just protect your ears whilst doing so.
I have tinnitus every moment of every day but I am dealing with it for now. I do live in fear that one day it will get worse and I won’t be able to handle it. For now, all I can do is keep protecting my ears and teach others to do the same so they don’t have to suffer too.
If you would like to share your experience, or get more involved in the Plug’em campaign, please get in contact via email to: email@example.com