Long story short: While I was sick with a virus in January of 2017, I woke up in the middle of the night completely deaf in one year. I assumed my ear was blocked with mucus; I’d had ear and sinus issues in the past. Months later, my hearing had recovered leaps and bounds but still wasn’t normal. Several ENT appointments and a brain MRI later, I was diagnosed with some hearing loss and tinnitus in my left ear. Medically: sudden sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus.
As a normal human being, I was relieved that my diagnosis was fairly cut and dry. “We don’t know why this happens sometimes. The virus strikes your cochlea and that’s it. It’s like a lightning strike,” the ENT explained to me.
I can do everything I used to, but have to wear earplugs at wedding dances, in movie theaters, and concerts are something I really consider now to protect my remaining hearing. My remaining hearing in my left ear and my perfectly healthy right ear are probably fine. That’s mostly reassuring.
As an anxiety warrior and a musician, this diagnosis was devastating. My left ear truly doesn’t work quite right. Tones are perhaps a an eighth tone higher than in my right ear. As of right now, I do not wear hearing aids or employ any sort of hearing devices. I can most likely hear you just fine if we’re having a conversation, but put me in a bar, crowded room, or somewhere with high ceilings and background noise? I’m going to have a little trouble making out a few words or what you’re saying. If you have a deep baritone voice like Benedict Cumberbatch, and especially if you have a deep voice and a non-American accent, I’m going to have to focus pretty darn hard to get the gist of what you’re saying.
My husband’s voice is probably right on the edge of “getting too deep to hear.” There are probably up to 10 times a day where I repeat what he said, or ask him to repeat the word so I can try again. He’s very understanding and has never been short with me. He has started turning closed captioning on when we watch movies, but I never asked for it and I don’t use it on the normal TV. I do limit how loud I listen to the car radio and TV- just out of precaution and a weird notion that I can perhaps train myself to hear better if I just deal with things being quieter. That knob doesn’t go above 10 in most cases, and that’s all right.
It’s the tinnitus that really grinds at me. If I was just a bit hard of hearing, I think I could handle it and go about my days. The constant droning tones are annoying. On weeks when I have heightened anxiety, like this week, it’s maddening, panic-inducing to remember that this ringing will never go away until some genius scientist comes up with a cure.
Treatment has consisted of appointments with my tough-love you-can-do-this-you-tough-fucker therapist. I saw him for several months following my sudden hearing loss and ringing. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has really helped my anxiety with what Brain Doc calls my “disability.”
So has chatting with a former colleague/current friend who has dealt with tinnitus for years. Without his near-constant reassurance that “yes, that’s normal,” or “Yes, I know what you mean,” I’d likely have worried myself into several panic attacks.
What do you need to do to help me? Nothing. Please be patient if I can’t understand you. Don’t be afraid to bring up my ears if I have questions or offer information, but don’t be a dick and ask how the ringing is just to freak me out. That’s like reminding someone to blink and breathe manually. A big fuck you to anyone who wants to try that.
Like my lifelong battle with anxiety has taught me, there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. Some months will be easy, and suddenly a week will seem impossible to get through. I promise not to give up.