I finally just got round to going to see the much talked about movie of the moment “A Star is Born” last night. While I knew before I went that alcohol and drug addiction would be key to the storyline I was also surprised to see another topic even closer to home also highlighted - a condition I have lived with for 4 years now… The ‘silent’ illness called tinnitus.
I am by no means a movie critic and I also don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who have yet to see it , however, the movie is based on the story of musician Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) who discovers − and falls in love with − struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga). When she meets Jackson in a bar she has just about given up on her dream to make it as a singer but he manages to coax her to fulfill her dream by inviting her on stage at one of his concerts. However, after their romance blossoms and Ally's career takes off it is soon discovered that Jackson is battling an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol and is also affected mentally by tinnitus and hearing loss since childhood.
According to www.audiology-worldnews.com “The drugs that he is addicted to have been prescribed to help with his tinnitus, which periodically brings him close to anxiety attacks and temper tantrums. Maine's manager and otolaryngologist urge him to wear in-ear monitors, − custom-moulded ear plugs that block sound and allow musicians to hear their voices and instruments over loud audiences and speakers − but he refuses. Over the course of the film, the tinnitus gets worse, and Maine fails to manage it appropriately.”
David Stockdale, CEO of the British Tinnitus Association said of the depiction: "Tinnitus features in a Star is Born throughout - from when the lead character, Jackson Maine comes off stage in the first scene and hears ringing. Jackson dismisses using hearing protection - feeling it impedes his live performance. He doesn't look to address his tinnitus and hearing loss - which he has from childhood. The film gives a harrowing, raw account of the very real impact tinnitus can have."
The ‘SILENT’ Illness
The thing with suffering with something like tinnitus and hearing loss is it is can be so difficult for anyone who doesn’t suffer with it to understand, as like any other invisible illness if someone sees you ‘looking well’ they can often presume you are ‘doing well’. It is so hard to describe the feeling of not being able to escape from the sound. That is why for me personally my meditation and mindfulness practices have helped me daily to acknowledge the sound and try to teach myself to allow it to just be. Some days are more difficult than others but once again the beauty of mindful practice is you begin to understand that every day is different and how you are feeling in one moment - no matter how bad that is or how loud the noise is in that very moment - it will change again in another. Okay, it won’t stop or go away but you might feel differently.
Some people may watch this movie and not pay too much attention to the tinnitus part unless they either know someone with tinnitus or suffer with it themselves but it is great to see a movie of this magnitude bring attention to this ‘silent’ illness (that’s in actual fact far from silent to the tinnitus sufferer!) so that people suffering with it don’t feel alone.
The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) have also been raising awareness of the condition and the extreme impact tinnitus can have on people. In seeking to depict Maine’s condition as realistically as possible, Cooper cast his own doctor, Dr. William Slattery, president of the House Ear Clinic, to play his doctor in the movie. In their press release, the ATA say that Cooper portrays with exacting detail and mirrors the reality of someone struggling with tinnitus.
I was also delighted to read that the American Tinnitus Association have also been raising awareness of the condition and the extreme impact it can have on people and also to discover other articles that had been written about the tinnitus since the movies release - one which I discovered on the Refinery 26 website with the headline “A Star Is Born Shows How Serious Tinnitus Can Be” written by health writer Cory Stieg. She writes:
“Tinnitus is defined as a perception of sound in the head that's not produced by sound waves, says LaGuinn Sherlock, AuD, a research audiologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Technically, tinnitus is produced by extra electrical activity in the brain after there's been damage in the ear and auditory system. Damage could be a severe injury to the head and neck, excessive earwax, sinus pressure, or a traumatic brain injury. Often, tinnitus is associated with noise-induced hearing loss, which is why it's common among musicians, explains Christopher Chang, MD, an otolaryngologist in Warrenton, VA. In fact, some studies suggest that between 17-43% of rock musicians have chronic tinnitus.
Simply thinking about an incessant buzzing, beeping, humming, or static noise in your head is annoying enough to make most of us cringe, but tinnitus can affect people's mental health and well-being in a very serious way. "A lot of people with bothersome or intrusive tinnitus are experiencing depression and or anxiety because of the ringing," Dr. Sherlock says. On top of that, "some people who are already depressed or anxious are more likely to react to having ringing in the ears than if they were not already depressed or anxious." An estimated 48-78% of people with severe tinnitus also have depression, anxiety, or other behavioral disorders, according to the American Tinnitus Association. In some cases, these associated conditions can lead to suicidal ideation, according to the Hearing Health Foundation.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, so people have to simply manage symptoms. To keep tinnitus from getting worse, the best thing patients can do is protect their hearing by wearing hearing aids, or noise-maskers, Dr. Sherlock says. Sometimes, people with tinnitus are prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications — like Xanax and Valium — to alleviate some of the emotional effects of the condition, but psychiatric medications are typically not considered the best first approach for treatment, she says. "Such prescription medications are addictive and have gone out of favor; such medications are no longer considered appropriate in the treatment of tinnitus," Dr. Chang says.
David Stockdale, CEO of the British Tinnitus Association have also spoken about the movie and said: "The film gives a harrowing, raw account of the very real impact tinnitus can have."
48%-78% of people with severe tinnitus suffering with depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders (American Tinnitus Association - see above) is a very high statistic so I hope people to continue to be informed about tinnitus and the effects it can have. I also hope that others who suffer may also find help in living with theirs like I have from the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) Programme, and by introducing mindfulness into my life. While those difficult days are still there - and today happens to be one of them - I will still do my best to think of it as my internal alarm bell which has allowed me to pause, move a bit slower, connect with myself a bit more and be more present in my life. I guess it also led me here - to start MoMe - and also given me the courage to speak publicly about my journey and to write - here on this blog - and share my journey with you. So in a way - even though it has taken the external sound away from going into my left ear, and there is no escaping the ringing that never stops form inside my head, on bad days like today I guess I can still feel some gratitude for all the more things it has allowed me to see.
If you are or know someone affected by Tinnitus and or hearing loss Deaf Hear provide excellent support and can be contacted on Tel: +353 (0)1 8175700 and also have offices nationwide
If you are suffering alone with tinnitus and finding it particularly difficult at the moment please talk to someone or call:
Samaritans on 116 123 or
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