When Simon & Garfunkel sang about the sounds of silence I’m sure they weren’t talking about tinnitus.
Almost fifty years to the date Simon & Garfunkel released ‘The Sounds of Silence’, a track that has become synonymous with The Graduate and down tempo nostalgia play lists.
This blog post isn’t actually about the song itself but the fact that it acted as a trigger for me to think about my inability to enjoy the sound of silence due to some pretty hectic tinnitus. My basic and non professional description of tinnitus is that it’s like a buzzing sound in your mind (it kind of feels and sounds like a high or low frequency noise erupting from the bones in your ears that flows to the centre of your brain). It can be constant, regular or intermittent. Sometimes it’s an extremely high-pitched sound that just buzzes away in the background, at other times it is a low-pitched sound (dull as hell) that rattles your whole brain and leaves you completely unable to concentrate and, at times, hear.
It isn’t a real thing, as in it is something created by your mind that only you can hear (no matter how loud it feels and sounds), but the impact it has upon your life is very real.
I’ve gotten used to it… it’s always there zinging away. Although sometimes I am surprised at it’s intensity and how able it is to engulf silence. It’s very rare for me to actually experience silence. Tinnitus is one of the most constant things in my life. It is my sound of silence.
In studying mental health I’ve learned a lot about auditory perception, hallucinations and the affect this has upon someone’s brain. In class our tutor sat a student down and asked them to write a list of all the things they needed to do that day. As the student began to write their list the tutor began to whisper in their ear, to inhabit the form of a voice in someone’s mind. She swore at them, questioned the things they were writing, whispered cruel words. The student laughed a little but you could see her whole body tense and a look of visible relief once the role-play was over. Seeing auditory hallucinations in action really made me identify tinnitus as something similar to an auditory hallucination; it strips you of your ability to concentrate, to communicate with other people, to even communicate with yourself. You experience symptoms similar to a mental health issue of low moods, the inability to sleep and agitation. Like a mental health issue, you might try to fix it by ignoring it, unlike a mental health issue, there isn’t a medicine available that tackles tinnitus, a professional will advise you to try and ignore it or suggest you stop drinking coffee, wine, and that you exercise more, wear your hearing aid and drink lots of water. None of these things are proven to actually aid in reducing or removing tinnitus, but when you’re grasping at straws the suggestion of healthy living and sound to block out sound is as good as it gets.
On those days where my tinnitus soaked sound of silence precedes my actual hearing I get a small glimpse into the world of a person who is profoundly deaf and experiences tinnitus. It’s hardly quiet.
N.B – someone should really write a song about tinnitus, it legit provides it’s own terrible musical backing.
Also, this vid about tinnitus totally gets me. For an idea of how distracting tinnitus can be, check out this vid from .34 seconds. My tinnitus is usually at a much higher and louder pitch than the one shown in the video but you’ll get an idea of how distracting it is.