A couple of weeks ago, I developed tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that affects millions of people. It’s likely as a direct result of my slow, early hearing loss. I am going for a repeat audiology test in a couple of weeks, but my hearing loss is not the typical age-related pattern. They suspect, but aren’t able to really confirm, that the pattern I display is part of a class of millions of other young (or young-ish for hearing loss) people are going to begin to display in the coming years – premature hearing loss as a result of earbud use. I suspect it’s from the years I rode the Rapid, Cleveland’s heavy rail system, to work, when I had to have the music turned up louder than normal to be able to hear it because of the noise of the train (take note, friends in NYC). It doesn’t matter so much why, it “is what it is,” as people say now.
The hearing loss has been a little difficult to deal with but not terrible. I have trouble now at busy parties or dinners where there is a lot of background noise – it’s hard for me to pick out individual voices, particularly if the person speaking is a quieter talker. I have trouble with people who mumble or don’t speak clearly – like my son, who, at almost 5, is still working on some of his dipthongs and such. A couple of weeks ago at Chipotle, with music playing and people talking in the restaurant, the girl behind the counter mumbled a question to me the exact same way 4 times and I couldn’t hear her – the woman next to me had to tell me what the girl was saying. It was embarrassing, and I know, part of what my future is going to look like.
When I had the hearing test last year, the woman who gave me the test said I would “know” when it was time to pursue getting hearing aids – when I got tired of asking people to repeat themselves or found myself in numerous situations where I strained to hear things correctly. Following that theory, that time would be now. Alas, with none of the cost being covered by insurance, hearing aids are not an option for me. If you have ever been annoyed with an elderly person who couldn’t hear and wondered why they don’t just get hearing aids, try to dial back your irritation, if you can. They’re out of reach for me, a 40-something, full-time worker bee with work-supplied insurance. I can’t imagine how unaffordable they are for people on a fixed income with Medicare.
The hearing loss has been an annoyance more than anything, but hasn’t really interfered with my life that much. I have actually started to proactively tell people I’m hard of hearing when I have to ask someone to speak up or repeat themselves. Hopefully the loss will be very slow and will take a long time to get really bad. But the tinnitus is driving me insane. I’m having a really hard time dealing with it and find myself filling every spare minute of silence with noise, as the minute there is quiet, my attention is drawn to that high-pitched whine in my head. I’ve had trouble sleeping and concentrating, all of which I understand are normal when dealing with this.
I looked for free white noise apps to deal with this over the weekend – the noise of the fan I always have running in my bedroom no longer enough to mask the tinnitus. I can’t listen to music, any kind of music when I am trying to sleep. I don’t know if it’s because I trained as a musician early in life or what, but my brain hears the notes and pictures the instruments and chords and it’s very much an “awake” brain activity, even music with no lyrics, and keeps my mind active instead of calming it down. I’ve never been able to sleep with any kind of music on at all. I’ve had to wear ear plugs if I have had neighbors who listen to loud music at night because otherwise, I just lie in bed with my mind wide awake and my body so tired, and it’s a fight that goes on all night.
I found an app that plays a dozen or so different type of rain. Forest rain, summer rain, downpour, rain on a roof, etc. This free app is about the only reason I’ve gotten any sleep in the past several days. I can turn it up just loud enough that my ears and mind go to that noise and concentrate on that, rather than on the whining. The whining doesn’t go away – it never goes away, but it distracts my mind enough that I can relax and go to sleep. As I get drowsy, I sometimes actually picture that it’s raining outside, visualizing the ground becoming wet and the fat droplets plopping into puddles.
But I tell you, after a week or so, I feel like I’m in some kind of Ray Bradbury story or something. It’s weird to always have it raining, every night, when you fall asleep.