“During a particularly stressful period in my job, in summer 2010, I started to hear ringing in my ears, and get bouts of dizziness and nausea. I was unable to sleep and visited my doctor, where I was treated for an ear infection. I have a very stressful national job advising on health, social services and public health to local and national politicians in Wales. In the previous five years I’d also got divorced, moved home and generally had to rebuild my self-esteem and my life alone.
Over that following week I was severely distressed, unable to sleep and very frightened. I thought quite simply I was going mad and having a severe mental breakdown. The sleep exhaustion coupled with not knowing what to do or what was going on made me very frightened. At this point in time, I had no knowledge of tinnitus at all. Looking back now, I failed to recognise the symptoms of long-term stress, chronic fatigue and anxiety. My personality is such that I have always been the one to ‘sort things out’ and my family and friends and colleagues consider me to be a very strong and capable person.
I was convinced that I was going to have a stroke or die which of course fuelled my overwhelming anxiety as the noises intensified. My doctor prescribed me medication to sleep and as my brain started to function again I started to research my symptoms. I found the TA website and started to read all I could about the condition.
I also instinctively played music to mask the noises and quickly learnt over the following few weeks, which noises helped and which did not. I quickly moved from a high state of anxiety and sleep deprivation to rapid and horrendous depression as I realised there was not a quick fix and that this could very well be my life from now onwards. My GP referred me to a tinnitus clinic.
Over the next few months I took anti-depressants, went onto long-term sick leave, took a holiday and commenced a twin track approach of re-evaluating my life - trying to understand the trigger points. I took up exercise and generally started to come to terms with what had happened, which took six months.
Since then, I have received a lot of help from a tinnitus clinic, friends and my work colleagues. I wear hearing aids which play sounds into my ears and use sound therapy to sleep. I exercise a lot, which helps to make me physically tired and I try not to get too panicky. Something that still persists if I have had a very bad day. Not a single day has gone by without the noises in my head and some days it’s very difficult but being in company and listening to my music help. My coping strategies are developing but still I think have a long way to go with this.
One of the main decisions I made was to talk about my condition and to be honest with people about why it has happened. This has been quite empowering as people learn about tinnitus, and you can see them thinking about their own personal circumstances as I am talking. I am fortunate to have a new job that allows me to play music while I work - I laugh about this sometimes and replace ‘whistle while you work’ with simply ‘music or singing’!
Everything I generally read gives the impression that tinnitus comes after long exposure to loud music. I feel that more stories about people like me are needed to raise awareness about other causes of this condition. I believe that work life stress, particularly as you climb the ladder, is a silent epidemic. Many people are suffering in silence - afraid to admit that they cannot cope. In fact since my condition started and I’ve been talking to people, many have opened up and shared with me that they have been suffering in silence and without any help for a long time.
My approach has been to be honest about it and to show that people are at risk if they do not look after their mental as well as their physical wellbeing. Despite us thinking we are invincible and great at our jobs I think it’s important for all of us to remember that our bodies need to be nurtured, not abused.
I hope my story helps others to guard against the effects of chronic fatigue and not managing stress levels effectively. I’d like others with tinnitus to learn to feel positively about their problems and to be able to develop coping strategies that work for them.”
Beverlea Frowen, 54 from Cardiff.
Beverlea's story was provided by the British Tinnitus Association.
For further tinnitus information and support visit: www.tinnitus.org.uk