It was close to 11 am on a Thursday of late June when I suddenly noticed a ringing noise in both of my ears. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it and the day went by almost normally. The night came and it was still there but I managed to fall asleep normally and the next Friday I continued my life as if almost nothing had occurred. The noise was still there and its volume didn’t interrupt me from living my life.
On Saturday, at around 4 pm I remember sitting down on the sofa to watch a TV show when I realized the ringing was significantly higher in volume than it was just a few hours before. In a matter of seconds, that awful noise was the only thing I could pay attention to, and everything else—the sound that living life makes—went to the background and became the “everything else” I have to focus on to be able to hear it.
I’m no stranger to anxiety episodes and I learned to tolerate them and live with them (or rather, in spite of them) early in my life but that Saturday afternoon, after realizing that noise was not going away, the anxiety attack that was triggered by that sudden loss of control was the worst episode I have experienced in my entire life. At least that’s what I thought at that time. Little I could imagine it was actually a mild one compared to the ones I was yet to experience a few days afterward.
Saturday night was horrible but I managed to control my mind and set myself the short goal of going through the night as best as I could. I told myself that the next day was going to be better and that if it wasn’t, I would visit the ER to get my ears examined to get it “fixed”.
Sunday came and it didn’t get better so I went to the ER and I was attended by an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor who ran some tests and quickly concluded that there was nothing wrong with my ears and that I had a case of tinnitus of unknown cause. There was no medication for it and there was no way of making it go away either. In short, she told me that there is no cure for tinnitus and my only option was to adapt to it.
In the back of my mind, I was fearing I was going to be told they didn’t know the cause and that there wasn’t a short path to recovery in consequence. As obsessive as ever, I already knew an awful lot of things there was know about this condition thanks to the prior research I made where I concluded I was going to die of it more or less. Googling symptoms is never a good idea if you can’t prevent your mind from wandering to dark places.
Sunday afternoon I started spiraling down with so many anxiety episodes I lost count of them. The constant ringing became so loud that it was getting hard to hear anything else to the point I couldn’t concentrate. I could only think of that noise and it became the unintended center of my universe.
The night came and I tried to sleep hoping for the best the next day but I must have slept 2 hours in total in the 12 hours I tried to fall asleep. It was torture.
For two weeks I went to many doctors: my main physician, one dentist, one traumatologist, one physiotherapist, three ENT doctors that contradicted themselves about their diagnoses, and two psychiatrists. I was desperate for answers trying to find again that precious silence I always took for granted.
Those weeks went by and I only have a blurry memory of them since sleep was nearly impossible. The anxiety produced panic attacks, involuntary tension on my back and neck that caused sometimes both of my arms to go completely numb, I started fearing the night and I was afraid of staying in my apartment because it was overly silent making the noise in my ears even more noticeable, and the worst of all by far, I started contemplating harming myself, to put it in nice words.
So how am I doing now you may wonder?
It’s almost the beginning of October when I’m writing this and the noise is still there. The volume came down from a 9/10 to maybe 3 or 2 in the best days. Sometimes it can go up to that 9 and come back down to lower volumes a few seconds later. That’s in fact how I know the previous volume so objectively and I can be sure it actually got better.
My mind is also in a better place. I am learning to live with it and I sometimes let myself think it will never go away so that I can make peace with that potential reality. I am almost back to normal thanks to being able to sleep again, something I’m very grateful for.
This entire ordeal has put things into perspective for sure as it clearly showed me an alternative reality for two weeks where I lost control of my mind and things I thought to be important became insignificant really really fast.
It also made me understand how depression works and how it affects the mind. Contemplating my own death and the irrationality of that “solution” for a person that only a few days before was perfectly happy and ready to live the good life, made me see why some people opt for that option despite seeming irrational from the perspective of a healthy person.
In the most macabre way, I think this experience caused me to become a better and more empathetic person even. I saw firsthand how can one lose control of his life so fast and so unpredictably that I can no longer unsee that. It has made me contemplate mortality at the age of 34 and reevaluate my values and what I consider important in my life.
I consider myself lucky after all. It is, of course, not ideal that I had to go through all that shit to learn what I learned but it is our choice how we see the experiences we get to live and I chose to be the optimist in this case.
I don’t know if I will get my silence back. Right now, I will just focus that I’m better and be grateful for having survived one of the most dramatic experiences of my life so far.