After suffering stress and anxiety, 54-year-old Beverley Frowen from Cardiff then developed ringing in her ears which convinced her she was going to have a stroke or die. But, thanks to learning more about tinnitus and help from a National Lottery-funded project, her fears about the condition have eased:
I have a very stressful national job advising on health, social services and public health to local and national politicians in Wales. In the last five years I also got divorced, moved home and generally had to rebuild my self esteem and my life alone. 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. During a particularly stressful period in my job almost one year ago, I started to hear ringing in my ears, dizziness and nausea. I was unable to sleep and visited my doctor where I was treated for an ear infection which subsequently was dismissed. Over the next 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 and now thinking back, I realise how distressing this was for me and I would like to help people understand more so that if they develop symptoms they know a little bit about what to do. I was convinced that I was going to have a stroke or die which of course fuelled my over whelming anxiety as the noises intensified.
I would really like is to share my experience with people in my similar situation to help them guard against the effects of chronic fatigue and not managing stress levels effectively and maintaining a solid work life balance. I think I am a typical example of “executive burn out” which people are beginning to talk about now and is getting air time but usually because of the rising incidences of depression. I rarely hear tinnitus associated with it.
Listen to sounds that people with the incurable condition tinnitus can hear:
My doctor prescribed me medication to sleep and as my brain started to function again I started to research about my symptoms. I found the British Tinnitus Association 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, took up exercise and generally started to come to terms with what had happened. This took six months.
The last six months are better and 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. I 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, listening to my music helps. My coping strategies are developing but still I think have a long way to go with this. It’s definitely trial and error.
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 really as people learn about tinnitus, and you can see them mentally thinking about their own personal circumstances as I am talking. I am fortunate to have a new job that allows me to play music whilst I work – I laugh about this sometimes and replace “whistle whilst 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 case studies about people like me are needed to re dress the balance of high profile rock stars etc. I believe that work life stress particularly as you climb the ladder is a silent epidemic and I have no doubt that many people are suffering in silence – afraid to admit that they cannot cope. In fact since my condition started and talking to people, I have seen many people open up and share with me that they have been suffering in silence and without any help for a long time – I think that is something I would like to avoid and help reduce.
I am happy to talk to journalist and to share my story which is simply one of so many. My approach has been to be honest about it, talk openly about it and to show that people are at risk if they do not look after their mental as well as their physical well being and despite us thinking we are invincible and great at our jobs – in the end our bodies need to be nurtured not abused. I also want people with tinnitus to learn to feel positively about their problems and to be able to develop coping strategies that work for them. If the way i am doing it is of help to others or not, then the more we have case studies and an open mind, the better people will be able to continue with their lives with tinnitus
I am simply learning to love noise!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The British Tinnitus Association received £4,948 through the National Lottery Community Fund’s National Lottery Awards For All programme to hold an awareness raising and coping strategy event in Cardiff. Beverley was one of around 200 people who attended the event.