My Sounds and Me – by Therapist Amy James

And then, just like that, it all changed.

As I watched the television programme’s picture move, there was a gradual increase in volume of the piercing sound that began to tear through the usual hearing of my left ear. I could feel my whole body tense, as this alien tone, gatecrashed my senses. Human instinct kicked in and I frantically moved my ear with my hand, rotated my jaw, tried to relieve what I’d hoped was an air block. I’d experienced slight tinnitus before, but it was only mildly obstructive to my hearing and fleeting – usually dying down before I’d had a chance to fully recognise it.

But this was different. It wasn’t going away.  My chest tightened and gave me a shooting, burning sensation that I’d quickly come to know as anxiety. The mundane only seems so, when that comfort is taken away. And even just a few minutes into this experience, I was longing to rewind to what I knew.

Everyone else around me being completely unaware, I took myself off to the bathroom to see whether the sound would change, if I were in a different environment. I shut the door and crouched on the floor, pressed my fingers hard against my ears to hear what was going on inside my head. To my horror, I could now hear three sounds in my left ear and one in my right.  All competing for my attention. My breathing became short and I began to panic. This can’t be happening. When is it going to stop?

I called my boyfriend at the time up to the bathroom. I was sobbing uncontrollably – fighting to get my words out to try to explain something that he could not see. I pressed my ear up against his, in sheer desperation, to  see whether anything in my head could be heard. But it was no good. It was inaudible to the rest of the world.

I spent the rest of that evening stiffened with fear – eyes widened and continuously analysing the sounds and frequencies that were constant. There had been no break from the sound and, sleep deprived, it became the only thing I could hear.

That was my first night with tinnitus.

As the days and weeks passed, I became more and more unwell. The mental strain seemed to exacerbate the physical symptoms, and every doctor, consultant and specialist I saw concluded with the same line: “There is no known cure for tinnitus. It’s just a case of learning to live with it.”

But I didn’t want to learn to live with it, I just wanted it to go away. In fact, I couldn’t see how I could live with it. That prospect was the scariest of all.

I was exhausted. Exhausted from thinking about the noises, learning their changes, tonal qualities and variations. It was the central point of everything I did. I feared making any of them worse, so I stopped socialising. I walked down busy streets with my fingers in my ears, I spent evenings in the freezing cold, because the outdoor sounds and cold air somehow made me calm.

My life had changed and it was never going to be the same.

Reluctantly, I packed my bags and moved home. I needed to stop and adjust. I had become quiet, as if I somehow didn’t need to make more noise than I was already experiencing. I drank a lot, which numbed the droning in my head and gave me a sense of “normality” for someone in their early twenties.

It took the best part of a year for me to accept that it wasn’t going away. Friends and family gave polite hope that it would one day just fade. But I knew it wouldn’t. It was with me for life.

I spent the next few years idly battling against something that I had no control over. Unfortunately, at that time, I just couldn’t see that fact. Socially, this meant I was the awkward one – not really wanting to go to loud places but not wanting to be left behind. Trying to build new habits but feeling isolated in doing so. My twenties had become a relentless tug of war between pleasing others and preserving my symptoms as they were. And I was resentful that I had been mentally robbed of what should have been carefree years.

So what changed?

Well, I became self-absorbed, self-centred and downright selfish! No two ways about it, I began to put myself first.

Even this small tweak made me realise that I’d not just been looking for all the answers to be handed to me on a plate, but also that I’d been asking all the wrong questions.

I began to make changes – big changes – and with each one I felt a sense of identity again. Something I’d completely lost.  Whatever didn’t work positively in my life was left, and I made space for new ideas, ways of being and new opportunities. Not all of this was easy. In fact, there were times when I thought I’d completely lost my mind.

It meant tough decisions.

The ending of relationships, friendships… I changed career, I changed city. I began to forge a new direction for myself that meant I could learn. Learning became everything to me.  It was something in my control that I was giving to myself. It gave me the breathing space to think and consider other things other than the sounds in my head.

Learning became my therapy.

With knowledge comes wisdom and so, instead of shunning the medical world, I went back, tail between my legs, to see what else I could do to help myself, instead of expecting them to simply cure me.

It didn’t take too long before my perspective shifted and with the help of referrals from the healthcare system, I found myself not just developing new coping techniques but learning more about the world than I ever had – about who we are, our capabilities and how powerful human beings can be.

This opened a whole new world of possibilities to me – ones I would have never been in touch with if I hadn’t developed tinnitus.

Fast forward 20 years from that first night and here I am. I like to say that I made it! I’m now using what I’ve learnt to help others with tinnitus to overcome the hurdles that I faced to a better life.

The noises in my head are still there. They never went away and I didn’t have a break from them. But now I don’t fear them.  They’re part of me and that’s it.

I used to say that I’d lost the sound of silence. But the reality is I’ve simply found my sound.

by  |

Amy James has always been inspired by meditation and yoga. She says that her journey from ill health to self-realisation brought her to her work, guiding others into wellness. Her business BecOMe Wellness is the product of many years of learning, experience and practice including yoga, reiki and reflexology, in order to support others on their own individual journeys.

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says " has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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