*WARNING – this blog talks about suicide, anxiety, depression,trauma and mental health. If these topic triggers you in any way, please seek professional help.
Where do I begin….well imagine a loud ringing that only you can hear from the time you wake up till the time you fall asleep and that to if the ringing lets you sleep. Diagnosed with hyperacusis (hyper sensitivity to noise) & tinnitus (which is ringing/buzzing in the ear). Its cause is either subjective or objective. In my case there were no physiological underlying factors only psychological factors- I had been operating in a freeze and high alert state from the trauma of my parents passing away and the circumstance in which it happened. Writing this has not been easy. There are some experiences that cannot be put into words so I have left those out. It has taken a lot from me to share my recovery which is ongoing.
Mine began on Aug 9th and at that time the ringing/buzzing was not mild but enough to cause minor disturbances. I would fade in and out during the day depending on the activities I was doing, noise level would either increase the ringing or drown it out. It slowly got worse to the point where it left me distraught. I went downhill quickly and hit rock bottom like a heavy weight falling hard to the floor. This sudden change left me incapacitated. I began to isolate myself from everyone and from the outside world. I could not cope with what was happening to me. Stepping outside became uncomfortable and the sofa became my crutch, I would sleep for long periods exhausted from the strain of this ringing. I subconsciously watched myself being pulled into the abyss.
The ringing/buzzing consumed every aspect of my life which left me helpless, shutting down, feeling trapped, numbed and silent. Dark thoughts surfaced and getting through the day was extremely hard and took a lot out of me. There were many times where I would vocalize about not wanting to live and giving up was my only way out BUT I chose to stay because the impact it would have on my loved ones would be detrimental…….my cries and deep howls were a combination of anger, frustration, pain, hopelessness and HELP.
Depression and isolation lingered on into September. My dark murky thoughts and cries became frequent and it would take every fiber of my being to get myself out of this funk state. Keeping busy till it tired me out was a way to distract myself from all the inner disturbances . My yoga practice was disjointed - body, mind and breath were out of sync but I carried on even if it meant sitting on the mat and howling.
Towards the end of the month a trip that was planned ahead of time was approaching needless to say I became even more anxious as I doubted myself and worried about being triggered by noise, crowds flying and away from my home.
Like a baby learning to walk I had to re-learn and adjust with the outside world. When the ringing is constant, interacting with people, traveling and doing everyday activities becomes a strain. I could not be in a noisy or crowded place, eating in restaurants required me to wear earplugs and traffic noises became unbearable. My attention span and focus had dropped drastically. The inner turmoil that I was going through could not be seen by others…only those close to me could see my pain and despair. Their continuous support and simply being there for me in whatever capacity they could allowed me to lean on them. They heard me when I needed to talk …. even to this day. (only my immediate family and 3 close friends knew what I was going through)
By the mid-September, I had experienced 2 days of no ringing- a welcomed relief but sadly it did not last, the ringing returned this time the intensity had spiked, this broke me into several pieces.
On the 23rd of Sept I started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and began implementing the exercises into my daily routine. Understanding the nature of tinnitus/hyperacusis was the first step and replacing the word ringing with something that was relatable to me was the next step and so ‘sound’ was it. Learning to pull myself out of negative thinking was the next step. Then progressing to monitoring the intensity of my ‘sound’ to incorporating breathing and relaxing techniques to practicing shifting focus to help distract the mind from feeding my ‘sound’.
Come October I was learning to live with the ‘sound’ but socially was still a recluse, smiling and laughing was nonexistent. Around the 10th of Oct I began Safe and Sound Protocol Therapy as well. SSP tells the body “you are safe”. It does this through specially engineered music. Throughout the program, the music teaches the nervous system to shift states.
The first sessions included five 1-hour sessions of music which is broken down into segments of 15 mins a day. The first 2 hours took me 8 days to complete and was relatively calm but by the end of the 3rd hour something began to shift and when I entered the 4th and 5th hour things really began to shake. It took me 25 days to complete the last 3 hours as I could not listen to the music for more than 5 or 10 mins a day because my body was experiencing severe anxiety, palpitations, strong emotional and physical outbursts. The outbursts were a mix of anger, rage, panic, frustration, fear - this was called the deactivation period or coming out of freeze and the flight/fight sate. This was the most difficult and horrible time as sleep was erratic and needed medication to calm my nervous system.
Someone who enjoyed her own company… well now could not be alone. I found it difficult be myself as I was scared and unsure of how I would cope with the outbursts. My body and mind were filled with so much agitation that the only way to expel this energy was by taking long/short walks 2-4 times a day and doing sun salutations during the day and yin before sleeping. I was experiencing strong agitations and so my yoga bolster turned into my punching bag!
After completing the 5 hours there is a cooling off period for 2 weeks of not listening to any music. Unfortunately, the body still experiences the outbursts but this time not as frequent or strong as before. By mid November I had become aware that there was a connection between the intensity of my ‘sound’ and what I was experiencing were. Things seem to have calmed down for now. Anxiety is still there but not as strong and my ‘sound’ has softened except with the odd spike due to lack of sleep or the onset of anxiety, in my case palpitations is the main symptom. The symptoms for anxiety of which there are many varies from person to person. There are moments when my recovery looked like I had taken a step forward and other times it seemed I have taken two steps backwards.
It will be 4 months on the 9th of Dec and am not out of the woods yet. I can have 3-4 better days and 2-3 bad days (what is better and bad is all relative). CBT and SSP therapy are ongoing with regular follow ups with my GP. I am able to go outside and do things on my own. Traffic noises do not bother me as much except for sirens and construction work. Being home alone (unable to be alone is one of the symptoms of anxiety) is not so bad…. but not for days at a stretch. I do everyday things differently. Less rushing more mindful of how I do things. Creating less noise when cooking. Making space for rest, quietness and reading. My yoga practice is simple and no longer disconnected. I continue to take my daily walks and venturing out on my own is no longer stressful.
Recovery is not quick nor is it linear, it’s a process and requires plenty of patience and listening to one’s body. Emotionally am being gentler, kinder and more compassionate to myself. Physically am listening closely to what my body needs and mentally am learning to navigate my thoughts away from negative thinking to alternate healthy thinking. My nervous system has been operating in this freeze state for too long that bringing it back into balance requires time. One cannot put a time stamp on recovery, the body has its own healing rhythm and this cannot be sped up.
My CBT therapist had asked me to record a ‘Compassion to Myself Note’ and to listen to it several times a day (this has been so comforting and helpful in my recovery) and if necessary to record it again and notice how my tone changes. You see I have always been harsh and critical of myself. Always being the strong one and rarely leaning on anyone for help. Below is just an excerpt.
It must feel strange to listen to your own voice. I know how hard it must be for you to feel only criticism, coldness and disappointment from yourself. You are dear to me even if I don’t express these feelings towards you. I know how hard it is to be kind and compassionate to yourself. I want you to know that I am with you every step of the way and together we will overcome life’s obstacles………..