Updated: May 18, 2019
This is a story from my book : Talking about Tinnitus
( all names and details have been changed)
A: “So, tell me about the tinnitus noise”
C : “Yes, well I know it is tinnitus because I looked it up online, and that’s what Dr P said as well, he said it’s tinnitus, you just have to live with it. well it’s not happening to him, is it? He doesn’t have this racket going on all the time. It’s all very well him saying just live with it. why should I?”
A: “So, Dr P referred you to ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic) at the hospital? What happened there?”
C: “Well, that was a complete waste of time. I went as an emergency, I told Dr P I couldn’t stand it, and he had to do something, had to do something right now! It still took nearly five weeks! What kind of emergency was that? I could’ve died, you know. They didn’t know what it was, could’ve been anything. I could’ve dropped down dead for all they cared.”
A: “But you do know now that you aren’t going to die from the noise, don’t you?”
C: “Oh yes they told me that. They said it isn’t serious. But it is. It’s very serious. I’m not sure I believe them when they say there was nothing there on the scan. How do I know they looked properly? You hear all the time about them rushing, and not looking properly and misdiagnosing serious stuff. I asked for a second opinion, but Dr P said I should come and see you first. But you’re not a doctor, are you? You’re not going to be able to look at my brain and see what’s there. What can you do?”
Colins’ anxiety had coalesced into a perception that no-one was telling him the truth. Understandably, he could still hear his tinnitus, but no-one else could, and he found that mystifying. If it was so loud in his own head, how was it possible that this level of noise could be contained in his head? Equally reasonable from his perspective was that no-one seemed to be paying him adequate serious attention. Like many other people with tinnitus, he felt dismissed and disregarded. That no-one was listening, and no-one cared. He was angry and frustrated, and couldn’t see a way forward.
Extreme distress means when someone is completely unable to function in everyday settings. GPs and psychologists will be able to measure the degree and type of distress.
Colin also worried that he could die. These distressing feelings are often experienced by people with anxiety. Believing that you have no control, and that the reason for your ill-health or symptoms are much more serious than other people are taking into consideration, are very common altered psychological symptoms as part of an anxious behavioural pattern. These feelings are very real and valid, and shouldn’t be simply dismissed as irrelevant. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy terms these feelings are called “cognitive distortions”.
Recognising that these are “cognitive distortions”, Colins’ behaviours and attitudes are more understandable. Colin was still looking for affirmation that his feelings were understood and genuine. He did understand that he wasn’t actually going to die from his tinnitus, but that still didn’t prevent him feeling that he might.
Unfortunately, we can’t give people like Colin definitive answers to what caused his tinnitus, nor can we offer a cure for it. But what we can do is give him the space to talk about his feelings and begin to coax him towards a change in his perception of his concerns.
Therapy offers time to listen and take peoples’ concerns seriously and respectfully, and gives us the tools to change our behaviours and preceptions