How I cope with tinnitus

It was in the year 2000 that I first got the hint something was wrong with my hearing. It was over a phone conversation. When I transferred the receiver from my left ear to my right, the pitch dropped drastically and I struggled to hear the voice at the other end; I switched the receiver back to my left ear and the voice was audible again.

The doctor I saw told me that my stapes bone, located in my inner ear, had hardened and was preventing external sound waves from entering. In medical parlance this is known as otosclerosis. I would need surgery to replace the stapes bone in my ear with Teflon and restore my hearing.

I had always prided myself on my good health so the news of my hearing loss and impending surgery was a shocker. The doctor explained that a lot of people experience hearing problems due to constant exposure to high decibel levels, which are especially prevalent in cities.

I wondered how my family would react once I broke the news to them. Frankly, we all felt there would be some minor explanation like ear wax and a simple cleaning would solve the problem.

The date for the surgery was fixed for the following week. I was admitted to hospital a day before the operation and subjected to a series of tests normally taken as a precaution. The hair surrounding my left ear was shaved, which made me look awkward.

On the operating table, I was given a partial anesthetic first as the doctor wanted to call out my name and find out how well my ear responded. I remember the doctor repeatedly calling out my name, which sounded faint and distant, before I passed out.

When I regained consciousness I saw blurry faces inclined towards me, and the walls never ceased spinning. Then followed a bout of vomiting and severe vertigo. It took some time to recover from the post-operation hangover. An audiogram after the surgery indicated an improvement in my hearing.

When I was discharged I was barely able to walk – I was still feeling dazed and groggy. The doctor told me that the vertigo would remain for 48 hours, but in my case it persisted for days on end.

As far as my hearing was concerned, I didn't notice any perceptible change. In fact, as the days and months went by I found myself really struggling to hear. And it was gradually worsening. When I reported this to my doctor, he took out an audiogram and compared it with test results from before the surgery. He insisted that the post-surgery report indicated a marginal improvement. After that I stopped going to him.

On a fine Sunday morning two years later, while I was working on my computer, I sensed a faint ringing inside my operated ear. It might be my imagination, I reckoned, and went on with my work. But the ringing continued. It persisted throughout the evening, and when I went to bed it became more pronounced in the silence of the night. I sat up in bed and waited patiently for it to disappear.

When the sun rose outside I realised it wasn't a trick of my mind and rushed to a nearby doctor. He carried out an audiogram test and declared that my operated ear was as good as dead and the ringing was a symptom called tinnitus. I walked home shell-shocked.

After looking up my symptoms on the internet I discovered that medical science has yet to find a cure for tinnitus. For two years I've been coping with hearing loss and now I have to put up with something more irritating for the rest of my life. It's not life threatening, but depression and suicidal tendencies are common among sufferers.

I took tranquillisers and anti-depressants to control my rampaging nerves and stop me from going insane. The days that followed were agonising. In the pin-drop silence of the night, when the whole world slept, I would lie awake struggling to shut out the ringing. My ear bellowed relentlessly and showed no sign of abating.

The ringing would vary with intensity and tone depending on the state of my mind. When I was calm the ringing was like the sound of the sea, but at times of stress my ear would whistle and screech like a pressure cooker blowing its lid off.

Besides the ringing, I had lost my hearing too. Listening became a painstaking exercise – at times I would simply nod my head without making head or tail of what I heard. Keeping mum was sensible to avoid embarrassment. Ironically, while the whole world was going global and boasting faster and easier communication, my world was slowly closing in.

I realised that the ringing was having complete sway over me and my life was beginning to drift apart. It suddenly felt like a do or die situation. The first thing I did was give up tranquillisers before I got hooked. I plunged into my work and stood up to my shortcomings. During my most trying moments I took to yoga and meditation, which helped me retain some mental balance.

"You only live once, so why not make the best of it?" is what I say when I am laid low with the high-pitched ringing. Remaining calm and cheerful has become my mantra. It was an important moment when I realised that the ringing in my ears was going to stay with me till the end, whether I liked it or not . So why not accept it and make it my companion?

Five years have passed since I was first affected with hearing loss and tinnitus. I used to have a computer business, but have cut down my hours due to communication problems and to avoid stressful situations.

Writing and photography have given me solace. I am now a freelance photo-journalist, which brings in enough money to keep me going. I have come a long way since the ringing started, leading a simple, limited, and cerebral life. My ringing, like my inner soul, I keep to myself.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.