Published by Debbie Featherstone in Discovering tinnitus series · 18 March 2020
Something I find really interesting is ....
When I happen to mention to patients that I too have tinnitus, they are often quite surprised. Mine began in 1993 and hasn't stopped since. Lucky for me I knew what it was - once I'd sussed it wasn't a noise from "outside" - and I never attached any emotion to it. I wasn't scared of it, I didn't "hate" it - it was just something that was there that I'd prefer wasn't, but as there was nothing I could do other than ignore it, that's what I did.
As a result, I became one of the 1 in 10 of the population who has tinnitus, and one of the 85% that 'habituated' (got used) to it being there.
A few weeks ago, I had a bit of a bee in my bonnet (no pun intended!) as I happened to have several patients I was working with simultaneously who were struggling to get beyond there being a noise there at all! If their noise was "loud" - it meant they were in for a bad day. If the noise was quiet - they might have a better day but it wouldn't last.... and surely enough, their 'prediction' usually came true.
In fact, this reaction or 'behaviour' is very VERY common. Listening to (and for) and 'monitoring' the tinnitus is invariably the last habit behaviour to go at the end of a habituation process.
I decided to carry out a personal experiment. I can't think why I had never thought of doing it before, but sometimes these ideas come to us and we wonder "why didn't I think of this before?"
I chose a weekend, a time of the week for me that has less likelihood of there being any unexpected stress around, to MONITOR my tinnitus. Just to observe what it did in terms of loudness. I used a simple scale of 1-10, 1 = very quiet, and 10 = as loud as I believe it can possibly be.
First day - Saturday 25 January 2020:
12:30pm: Tinnitus loudness 3 Mainly left ear and head
I have no more entries for the Saturday because I forgot to monitor it!
Second day - Sunday 26 January 2020:
09:55am: Tinnitus loudness 6 Left and right ears, and head with pulsing
15:15pm: Tinnitus loudness 8 Left and right ears, and head piercing
17:50pm: Tinnitus loudness 4 Left and right ears
21:55pm: Tinnitus loudness 7 Left and right ears
So, I proved to myself how much variability there was with my own tinnitus. In fact, a thought popped in to my head when I did the 15:15 monitoring..... "How on EARTH was I NOT noticing that?????" It was so shrill and piercingly LOUD!
I had recorded those results, and must admit, it did cross my mind at the time "I hope this doesn't trigger me off "monitoring"!
And indeed, the anticipated experiment DID have an after-effect. It wasn't until 4 days later - the Thursday - that I realised I had stopped monitoring! Monday and Tuesday, my mind kept thinking about the tinnitus, Wednesday less so, and I realised on the Thursday evening that I hadn't thought about it all day - other than the usual times which is when I am talking to a patient about their tinnitus, and I internally-relate to my own - which makes me notice my tinnitus. I don't "notice" when I stop noticing of course! It's not until the next time I "notice" it, I realise I've not noticed it.... That's just the way it works!
This after-effect made me consider why it takes a long time for the patients I work with to 'stop monitoring'. I only did it for a day, and it took 4 days to stop. Plus, I really don't care about 'my tinnitus'.... I consider myself one of the 85%, fully habituated and although I have tinnitus, it has no effect on my life. Other than occasionally being a good teacher that over the years has at least allowed me to have some idea of what it is to have a 'phantom noise'.
And lucky for me, because it has never carried any strong negative meaning for me, my mind doesn't go in to overdrive about it, doesn't care about it, has no interest in what it's doing.
27 years later, I look back at a career that has been spent helping others to achieve what came so easily to me. They have had to work harder than I ever did to change, but change they have and they continue to do so. That career has been helping some of "the 15%" become part of the 85% which, of course, is why I am still doing it!