A peculiar hearing loss was the first sign
I was born profoundly deaf. What little hearing I had from the beginning, I tried to protect. In 1992, when I was 17, I was listening to some music as a typical teen. I played it at maximum volume on my ghetto blaster. Often I would lie flat on my back, and place the speakers right next to my ears to maximise the sound transmission to my ears as much as possible. I wanted the vibration sensation as well. At maximum volume, it wasn’t loud to me – it was to my family, even though they were in another room! I think I was lucky that my family was patient with me, something I didn’t realize at the time and therefore couldn’t appreciate.
There was a moment when a part of my hearing spectrum, somewhere in the middle frequencies, suddenly vanished. The music was different, as if a key instrument in the track had become muted. Thinking it was an oddity, I immediately put it down to a malfunction in the hearing aids I was wearing. I tinkered them with a mini screwdriver, hoping to find and rectify the cause. After a few changes, I put them back in with no improvement and no restoration of the hearing I had previously. I tried my back-up hearing aid as surely two can’t break at the same time. It made no difference. I spent the rest of the day disappointed and despondent.
The following day, I woke up. I thought, “maybe yesterday was just one of those days, and everything will be back to normal today.” I put the hearing aids back in, hoping that my hearing could go back to where they were the previous day. It did not – there had been no overnight change. Immediately, I felt resigned to having another day like yesterday. Negative feelings surfaced and consumed me for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t think of what to do. It appeared there was no available way forward to having my previous hearing restored. I struggled, with difficulty, to adapt to the change in my perception of my hearing – it was like a universe with the colours taken away, leaving behind only a greyscale. As life felt less enjoyable, my confidence dropped too.
Tinnitus starting up can be very challenging
The next day, I got the weirdest sensation. I was hearing some repetitive sounds in my left ear. I assumed that the hearing aid was faulty, making these sounds. The solution seemed easy, just take out the hearing aid and the sounds would stop. But after taking the hearing aid out, the repetitive sounds were still present. I was stunned and surprised. I panicked. Life was no longer working the way it was supposed to! It was an experience unlike any I had before. I had no idea how to make sense of what was happening, and less so how to move forward.
Now that my hearing was no longer the problem, I assumed I was now the problem. I had thoughts of “there’s something wrong with me.” I already believed that I was “faulty goods” as a person with my considerably less-than-stellar hearing. I didn’t need another fault to uncover. In a state of disbelief, I even double-checked to make sure I had actually taken out my hearing aid, in the hope it was that I was just living in an alternate reality. I completely freaked out and even screamed a few times along the way. I rarely use swear words, but they were in plentiful supply.
My parents saw me and they intuitively knew I was in trouble. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do except get appointments for me with the local health service and have things checked out.
I was having thoughts of the future and none of them pleasant. All I saw was a future version of me becoming more faulty than I already was, unlovable, and a tremendous burden on others. “Why me?” “I’ve tried to be good and you do this to me?” (At least Father Christmas wasn’t so judgmental – I still got presents even when I was naughty and faulty!)
Throughout the day, with all these horrible thoughts playing out in my mind as if they were actually happening for real, I was losing my energy and zest for life.
The noise in my ear got louder and louder, to the point I was making a fist and banging my head with it to see if there might be a loose part in the ear, hoping that the loose part might go back to where it was supposed to be, hoping it would stop the repetitive sounds. Unfortunately the only result was a headache and a rather sore wrist.
I became so down, I fell ill. My sense of balance was disappearing and now I had vertigo. Everything was spinning right to left. My freaked-out meter continued sped up towards 10. Overnight, my health continued to deteriorate to an extent that I couldn’t stand up safely, my reactions became somewhat uncontrollable, and I became sick. The decision was made for me to go to the hospital immediately, as I was now beyond my family’s best efforts.
The ambulance picked me up and turned on the flashing blue lights. They didn’t need to put on the blue lights, but did so for two reasons. The first one was that the crew was nearly at the end of its shift and they wanted to finish on time. The second was that saw a boy so despondent they thought that turning on the blue lights would cheer me up a little. They succeeded. I enjoyed the ride, a momentary experience of more important as the traffic making way for me! Upon arrival at the hospital, it did not take long before I went back into my illness and the worry returned.
They put me into a cubicle in the emergency department while I waited for someone to assess me. A nurse came to do standard diagnostic testing, things like pulse, sugar levels, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. Fortunately, the department wasn’t busy, and it wasn’t long before a doctor came in. The prospect of not being seen for a long time would have been hard to take otherwise. He prescribed some medications for the vertigo, sickness and pain and something else I never heard of. I didn’t care in the slightest what I was given – anything was better than what I was going through.
I started to feel exhausted and worn out, physically and emotionally. The drugs had probably kicked in as well. Overnight, I calmed down and my nausea disappeared. But none of the drugs had any effect on the noise in the ear.
Another set of doctors came in. I described the noise in my ear and it was then that I received the diagnosis of Tinnitus. I had no idea what that word meant, and Google wasn’t around in those days. I completely dependent on their knowledge.
The noise in my ears continued to increase, becoming unbearable. I tried something that I knew wouldn’t work. I curled up into a foetal position on the bed, facing down with my hands blocking my ears. It had zero effect. Then I got the pillow and placed it over my ears. Still no effect. I was so desperate that I wished I had no hearing at all. I had so many thoughts of “just shut up and give me a break,” the thoughts spinning around in my head all day long. My frustration boiled over, I felt like I needed something, someone to blame and vent my frustration on. Cue my parents, who stood by me at my bedside. Looking back on it now, I admire their courage and bravery as they bore the “assault” destructive thinking and my often being horrible to them.
I had a blood test to see if it could shed more light on what was going on. When the results came back, the doctors said, “Brett, the results show nothing unusual.” I automatically assumed that the doctors thought I was making it up, and that there was nothing wrong with me at all! Suddenly, more thoughts: “my family thinks I’m a liar”, “I will be rejected”, “I should be ashamed” and a never-ending-cycle of critical thoughts about myself in the eyes of others.
The failure of the coping mechanism
The doctors tried some other drugs, and one of them did have an effect. It brought about a small but welcome quieting of the tinnitus, to a level where I was just about coping. The other drugs had helped clear up my headaches and nausea, and my balance was slowly returning. After a few days in the hospital, the staff felt I was well enough to return home and placed under the care of my parents.
I had a follow-up appointment with the audiology department discuss tinnitus, its treatment and ideas to manage the condition. They said there was no known cure for tinnitus, or any known effective drugs. They weren’t out of ideas, though. They suggested that I listen to some relaxing and soothing sounds. They gave me a cassette tape to listen to in my Sony Walkman (remember them?). They were sounds of ocean waves gently crashing on a beach. The intention was that by hearing them, it would drown out the tinnitus noise.
But that’s not what happened. Because I was far too aware of my tinnitus, even while I was listening to the waves, I would be constantly searching out the tinnitus sounds to see if they had really gone. I discovered that my tinnitus was louder than the waves.
I thought, “that’s easily rectified, just turn up the volume on the Sony Walkman so the waves would be louder.” Unfortunately, every time I did, so did the volume of the tinnitus. Freaked-out-o-meter rising again! I increased the volume of the Sony Walkman again, even though I knew something wasn’t adding up. As the waves got louder, tinnitus was always one step ahead. I had reached the end-game when the volume reached its maximum setting and the loudness of everything was just way too disorienting. Seeing the utter hopelessness of managing my tinnitus in this manner, I dropped this “wave treatment” altogether.
After a while, with no cure and no further ideas for managing the condition on the horizon, I realised that tinnitus was going to stay with me for the rest of my life, and that I would just have to make the best of it.
At 28 years old, my hearing deteriorated, with no apparent cause. My hearing aids could no longer make up for the additional loss of hearing. An ENT specialist suggested I look into having a cochlear implant. I agreed and specifically asked for it to be in my left ear, hoping that it might knock out the tinnitus too, as that was the ear where the sounds were coming from. Immediately after implantation, the tinnitus was gone…I thought, “Have I finally defeated tinnitus?” I was naturally delighted. However, that was only because the ear was recovering from the operation. Once the ear had fully recovered, the tinnitus returned once more.
Over the years, the volume of tinnitus went up and down in phases and I never bothered going for any further treatments. When it went up, I remember that I was having unhelpful thoughts about it, even though I didn’t see them as thoughts in those days. I believed that tinnitus was giving me some horrible thoughts that I always failed to rise above. It seemed that how I felt was closely related to how the tinnitus was doing. The louder the tinnitus was, the worse I felt, and the quieter the tinnitus, the less down I was.
The Three Principles Paradigm
In 2011, I came across “The Three Principles” on a recommendation from a friend. I went to a conference on it where I heard a speaker who had gone through an exceptionally difficult trauma. It would be so easy to think, “He’ll never recover from that.” And somehow he did! That struck me and still does today. Then I heard from others who experienced a similar transformation. So this wasn’t a one-person thing anymore.
I took on the Three Principles as a very keen area of study, and bit by bit my life got better. I thought the Three Principles could help me come to terms with tinnitus, but it didn’t. Even though I was despondent, I continued to develop my understanding of the Principles and though my experience of tinnitus didn’t change, there were some minor improvements in other areas of my life.
In October 2015, nearly 4 years after first coming across The Three Principles, I had a chat with Keith Blevens and Valda Monroe, to arrange a webinar series for an online project I was doing. They were kind enough to agree to do one. They also wanted to have a chat with me to see how I was getting on learning about the Three Principles. I found them to be generously kind. In our discussions together, I had a couple of profound realizations that completely changed my understanding of the Three Principles. “All” they did was to introduce a paradigm into my comprehension of the Three Principles. And that changed everything about the Three Principles.
For the first time, I felt like I was finally getting some real traction with the Three Principles. It was just unfortunate that it took four years to get to this point. As improbable as it seemed, I was making more progress in just days than the earlier 4 years put together. I was a “recovering Three Principles-aholic!”
I finally saw some errant thinking as thought and it naturally fell away, bringing about a deeper quiet and peace than I had ever known. And I had done nothing to make it happen, which was quite bizarre to experience.
The Tinnitus Insight
Shortly afterwards, out of nowhere and completely unplanned, I had such a profound realisation about my tinnitus.
I saw the totality of thought creating my experience of suffering. 23 years of thinking about tinnitus just dropped away in that moment, and the most profound wave of peace washed over me. Tears were falling from my eyes as I saw my innocence over those 23 years of suffering.
A cascade of insights followed. I saw that tinnitus had no ability to take away my peace of mind; it was only my outside-in thoughts that did. I saw that tinnitus had no capacity to generate any thoughts to make me suffer. I was the one who gave life to thought and incorrectly assumed that it was tinnitus that did it. Basically, I gave away my peace of mind to the tinnitus and I never knew it. Suffering came to a permanent end.
That’s not to say that tinnitus itself has gone, it hasn’t. But it is much quieter than ever before. The horrible thoughts have virtually disappeared. I am now psychologically secure and I did nothing to make that happen!
Today, I asked myself, if there was a cure for tinnitus, would I take it? I’m not sure I would. I have peace of mind with tinnitus. And tinnitus is not compromising my quality of life.
That doesn’t mean I don’t hope for a cure that will help people. But cure or no cure, I have peace of mind and no drug can ever produce that.
Today, I enjoy confidence, wellbeing, resilience, creativity and love – a wellbeing that seemed totally unreasonable and improbable whilst I was suffering.