Me & Mr. T.

Or, That faithful night in Bastilla.

This story starts roughly ten weeks ago. After leaving the Bastilla Club – definitely not a classy spot, but let’s call it a characteristic, music club – my right ear was deafened by about 20%. This is a normal occurrence for me after being exposed to loud music for a couple of hours. But it was different this time: my hearing didn’t return to 100% over the next couple of days. Quite to the contrary: it got much worse as all kinds of beeps and buzzing noises started to develop. In the weeks that followed, while I kept hoping for my ear to ‘just fix itself’, the noises spread to my left (good) ear as well. A period of panicking followed. “Would I ever be able to experience silence again? Why didn’t I wear earplugs? Is this going to get worse?!”.

The concept that your brain generates sound by itself, sound that you can’t silence by sticking your fingers in your ears, is mind-boggling. I had had my official tinnitus warning a year before, in April 2012, but back then I got off easy when it suddenly disappeared after a week. This time Mr. T. didn’t stop his tormenting after a week. By the fourth week of sleepless nights I had read just about everything I could find on the topic. I’m not really a big fan of self-diagnosis (whatever symptoms you search for on the web, it’s always cancer … never lupus), but this actually helped me to relax a bit.

Granted, the confessions I initially encountered of people suffering from severe depression, and even having suicidal thoughts, because of tinnitus were a bit off-putting. But the more I read about it, the more I realized I was in good company. Over 30% of the population suffers from tinnitus at some point in their life, usually after the age of 50. People I admire, such as Richard Attenborough, Thomas Bangalter and Paul Simon, have tinnitus. And you would be amazed by how much has been written about tinnitus by people suffering from it. I quickly familiarized myself with all of the causes, jargon, and the many nicknames people have given it (“Mr. T.” and “T-Rex” are my absolute favorites).

It turns out tinnitus isn’t just caused by loud noise. According to the people who were with me on that faithful night, the music wasn’t extremely loud and they didn’t have any problems. There isn’t a definitive understanding of what causes (or worsens) the condition. However, there’s been a lot of research on influential variables. Let’s review them:

  • Check! Alcohol consumption (hey, I moved to Brno after all)
  • Check! Lack of vitamins (the only green I encounter is the ‘decoration’ next to a big steak. Real men don’t eat decorations.)
  • Check! Stress (Me, stressed? Never!)
  • Check! Lack of sleep (this has always been a problem for me)
  • Check! Caffeine consumption (goes hand-in-hand with the above points)

I’m guilty on all charges.

And so my journey to get better again started. Funny how people always want to get better, instead of good, when they’re sick, but it fits this condition very well. It turns out, recovery rates aren’t great and there’s no medicinal treatment yet. The only thing available is a therapy called ‘just deal with it‘. And after getting this confirmed by my ENT it’s exactly what I’m doing.

I accepted this is a condition I have and that it might never go away. Being the positive guy I am, I quickly turned this into a very important lesson for me. Apparently, sleeping 4-6 hours a night, drinking a bit too much of that fantastic Czech beer and off-setting that with a caffeine intake that impresses the average barista, isn’t a good life-style. So, my healthier lifestyle was born. I started to fix all the things I was doing wrong and meanwhile tried to let go of all those doom-scenarios I was painting for myself. And guess what: it did get better. Although I’m looking forward to that morning where I wake up and suddenly experience true silence again, I am dealing with this much better now than I was in the first six weeks.

But, I want to be very clear: tinnitus isn’t something you can easily shrug off. Although I’m slowly, but surely, learning how to deal with it, I can assure you that it’s one of the most annoying things I’ve ever had to deal with. The impact it has on my life is huge. I avoid silence at all costs, always opening windows to take in as much ambient sound as possible. I’m longing for a proper eight hours of sleep that doesn’t feature being woken up by sound created by my brain in my ears. The mornings are specially awful, I sometimes even have trouble hearing my girlfriend talk.

So, at the risk of sounding like a big know-it-all, let me conclude with some very important advice: buy earplugs and lower the volume on your earbuds! Getting earplugs is a very small investment to make when it comes to keeping your ears healthy and retaining the privilege of enjoying silence. What’s more: earplugs can make it much easier to talk to other people as they only filter certain (dangerous) frequencies.

Trust me, once your ears start to fail on you, it’s hard not to have it impact your quality of life in a very big way. For me Mr. T. taught me an essential life lesson and it serves as a constant reminder for me to stay on track. That said, I wouldn’t wish you the same lesson, so learn from me instead.

Take care of your ears!

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