Living With Tinnitus


As Featured in "Quiet Ireland" - A Deaf Hear Publication

I’m Niamh, mum to Fay and Luke, wife to Paul and a creative director of my own design company. I set up Designers Ink almost two decades ago and since then we have had good days, bad days, and like everyone else - those want-to-run-away days! I have been lucky enough to have designed some well know brands such as Munster Rugby, Thomond Park Stadium and Kildare GAA and went on to win national and international awards for some of those branding projects. Each role has taught me important life lessons  - but one invaluable lesson I have learned is that life is moving quickly and sometimes we all need to slow down. Recognizing the need to slow down is crucial. Learning how to is the hard part.

When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with Scoliosis - a curvature of the spine and I had to undergo two major back surgeries, one which involved two titanium rods being fused parallel to my spine. I never left this slow me down or deter me from living life to the full. However after further injuries in my life, I was encouraged by my excellent physical therapist to explore Pilates which was the start of me slowing down and learning to Breathe.

While Pilates was starting to work for me I faced a set back in september 2014 when I woke up one saturday morning with a loud ringing in my ear. I was soon told by my doctor that I had tinnitus which should go after a few weeks once I took the medication the doctor prescribed - no biggie right? As the weeks went along with the tinnitus I also discovered that I was deaf in the same ear. I visited consultants, had hearing tests and MRI scans but received no answers. While ultimately it was a relief that this wasn't something serious I still felt slightly frustrated that I couldn't get an answer as to why I had this and why it wouldn't go away.

 Meditation: Learning to sit with the sound

Meditation: Learning to sit with the sound

BEING GUIDED BY DEAF HEAR:

After one of my meetings with Kathleen Daffy at Deaf Hear, Limerick, she was suggested that I explore Mindfulness to see if it would help me manage both the tinnitus and deafness better. I had only heard about 'being mindful' through a friend once but other than that I had never tried it. I was normally too busy running here and there juggling the variety of roles between work, the kids, my pilates, physio, the house and everything that life throws at you. I hadn't taken the time to think about something else. It was Kathleen’s encouragement and support that gave me the courage to explore it further.

This is how my Mindfulness Journey began, I enrolled on a course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR Programme) which is run over 8 weeks. The impact it has had on me has been fantastic and thus had such a knock-on effect on my husband and kids. I can honestly say it has changed my life and under no circumstances am I exaggerating when I say it has also helped with my hearing, as just one of the many things that I learned was how to embrace my tinnitus and my deafness. I remember really struggling with meditation at the start of the course. I could never imagine myself liking it until I started to understand Acceptance and acknowledging the loud ringing in my ear. Once I started to do that it seemed to become a bit quieter - a little less intrusive. The funny thing is that almost 4 years on while it has never once stopped it now is just part of my everyday life - and while my curved spine is something I have got used to living with the tinnitus has now also become part of me - part of who I am.

"YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE WAVES BUT YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO SURF":

Life is all about how we deal with things that are thrown at us and as I started to introduce mindfulness and meditation into my life I found that swell as starting to accept my tinnitus i also started to become more creative. My mind became clearer - that is how MoMe was born. I wanted to share some of the things I had learned with my family and friends, and with a creative mindset that wasn't used to slowing down easily, I realised that if like children we were taught to learn some of these quotes then they might just sink in if we take the time to appreciate them. I wanted to create straight forward messages that are tangible; that you can stick anywhere you think you will see them. I have one in the mirror in my bedroom, one on my dressing table, one as a bookmark in my favourite recipe book. Place one anywhere you think you will notice it.

I gave my MoMe cards a test drive with my family and the feedback was very positive and it means a lot to know MoMe is helping other people. It's amazing how we get caught up in all the complexities that life throws at us but if you look at a simple message every day like: "Don't be too hard on yourself, you're doing the best you can" just while you're drying your hair, you'd be surprised at just how fast it will start to sink in.

Since I started MoMe I have had an active social media presence on Instagram which has allowed me to connect with so many others who are suffering from tinnitus. People from all over the world including Peru, the US and Australia but what stood out most to me was how I was contacted by a guy who I have known for years who has been suffering with tinnitus, he told me that he hadn’t spoken about it to anyone for fear that people would think he was “going crazy” as he didn’t want anyone to know he was 'hearing sounds in his head'. This made me realize how much people need to talk about it.
 
I have had discovered from research and from talking to other people who are suffering with tinnitus that there are different types of sounds - for some it’s a buzzing, for some it’s a ringing. Some have it on one ear - like me and others have it in both. We have discussed the things that flare it up for us or situations we can no longer be in, and we have also tried to suggest ways that we can get relief from it. For me the 2 most noticeable thing that bring me relief are my daily meditation and also getting on my bike as the whistling of the wind in one ear seems to drown out the sound in the other. I also now tune into other sound more such as the sound of the rain outside or when I go for a walk I will often stand for a moment and listen to the birds chirping, the sound of the wind blowing or even the sound of cars driving by.

 Cycling: Finding distraction from the ringing in my ear when I am on my bike

Cycling: Finding distraction from the ringing in my ear when I am on my bike


THERE ARE DAYS THAT ARE TOUGHER THAN OTHERS:

While I am very fortunate that practicing mindfulness and meditation have helped me deal with my tinnitus and deafness there are still those times that I find it more difficult than others. One of the things that I used to love doing but don’t do much of anymore is going shopping. I find that being in shops now disorientates me and I can often feel confused. I now do the majority of my shopping online as this makes it more comfortable for me and I can make decisions clearer. I didn’t want to cut out shopping altogether as I don’t want the tinnitus to control me but you have to see what works for you. I still go shopping but now I am aware that this can happen so I am ready for it and I will shop more leisurely as opposed to having to shop to pick something up. If I need to go food shopping and my children are with me they are thankfully now at at age where they understand. My 7 year old will often say something to me a few times and my 12 year old is old enough to say “Luke, mum can’t hear you!” They also both know to go to my right hand side too as they have a better chance of getting heard!

Socialising has also been difficult as there have been a few times when I have been out with friends friends and they often forget I am deaf so I haven’t a clue what they are saying but as time goes on that is getting easier as they go my right ear more often now than not! I also avoid going to venues with high ceilings as I’ve also noticed that the crows and high ceilings don’t mix well with the tinnitus sufferer!

Along with that for me personally, it’s looking at one of my favorite MoMe cards that says “Accept what is. Let go of what was and have faith in what could be” as this sums up me living with my tinnitus. I have learned to accept that my hearing has changed, I can’t remember not having a rising sound in my ear and I have faith that it has made me stronger and in a way, because of my mindful practice, maybe it has even benefited my life.