Learning to Walk with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis

By Francisco Rodriguez

On January 1, 1998, I woke up to a world of complete silence. At 30 years old, the sudden loss of my hearing was unfathomable, terrifying, and overwhelming. Doctors discovered a benign growth on my hearing nerve, which caused deafness in both ears.

I lived entombed in silence for three months. Then ever so slowly the fog, as I called it, began to dissipate. As my hearing returned, the sound of a piercing siren, which doctors labeled intrusive tinnitus—the type that is unrelenting and painful—came with it. To make matters worse, I now had hyperacusis.

The urban world of San Francisco, in which I had previously enjoyed living, became a nightmare of sound. Tinnitus and hyperacusis felt like a sadistic pair that took over my life, invading my head and turning sound into an enemy in every scenario and on every street corner. As a result, I developed chronic insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, and worst of all, suicidal ideation.

During that first year, I hardly left my bed. I burned through my savings, like many others with tinnitus, in desperate search of a cure. The physical pain warped my thinking and distorted my sense of logic. When my money was gone, I lost my apartment and everything I owned. I had allowed tinnitus and hyperacusis to destroy my life.

My fall from grace was spectacular and sad. But when I hit rock bottom, it wasn’t money or medicine that helped me rebuild my life.

My first step toward emotional healing was taking a free course for two years in sign language at a local community college. Learning sign language made me feel less like a victim. It also gave me a sense of control over my future, in case I lose my hearing again, which remains a possibility.

The second step toward healing was joining a tinnitus support group connected with the San Francisco Tinnitus Clinic, where I found shared experiences with other people. I wasn’t alone.

The third step, which was perhaps the most important, was developing deeper and more authentic spirituality. Through deep breathing, meditation, and prayer, I discovered I could cope with the daily extremes of tinnitus and hyperacusis.

I also left the city, moving to a rural community in California, where I could walk without fear of sirens, cars honking, barking dogs, and whistles blowing. Living in San Francisco, I wore musicians earplugs when I went outside, but I was never calm. Now I can walk outside without feeling on edge. There’s far less man-made noise. There were major tradeoffs, like losing my support group and access to great medical facilities. But, by moving to a rural area, I learned to breathe again.

Over time my perspective of tinnitus and hyperacusis has changed, because I made a conscious decision to view things through a different lens. I forced myself to stop thinking of tinnitus and hyperacusis as arch enemies that had to be defeated, because that was giving them power over my life. My life has purpose, value, and hope—even with them in it. But I can’t say that I’ve embraced them, because they both are medical conditions that deserve serious attention and recognition. Moreover, today it’s no longer my worst health problem, so it seems more benign.

Also, I have stopped trying to explain tinnitus to people, because most just don’t get it. The concept of hyperacusis is even more foreign to people. However, it is helpful to be able to refer people to ATA’s website or show them an article from Tinnitus Today about the condition, without me having to explain my condition. It’s like ATA is my advocate when I need them.

This Is Me Leaving

By Francisco Rodriguez

This is me leaving.

Can you hear the sound of the car door slamming shut?

I’m no longer the person I was before.

No need to shout above the sirens leading me astray.

I can hear you perfectly well.

Your voice, the music that you play, the clamoring noise of the world; all of it echoing in my head.

Night is no longer Night.

It is a violence unto my senses.

As for Silence? Was there ever such a memory?

This is me leaving. The person I once was is no more.

I mourn the loss of who I used to be. I thought I was done with the grieving.

It seems to come in waves.

I recognize this moment. I’ve lived it before.

O, Foolish Caprice. It is you who are deceived, defeated.

For this is the moment of my Triumph, still breathing, yet I love.

I love the person I am becoming.

I am the hammer upon the rock!

As well as the bare foot against the floor.

I still Feel! Though sleep may prove evasive, neither my senses, nor the vistas of my dreams have diminished.

This is me living.

I leave you behind, the darkness and bitterness belong on the other side of the door, slammed shut.