March 16: Tinnitus & The Victorian Lady (Charcoal)

Tinnitus & The Victorian Lady

Tinnitus Richter scale: The tinnitus just about fits onto a scale of 1-10. It’s 9 for brief moments when I’m motionless but the slightest head movement causes the thunderous crashing sound to return and it’s off the scale again. There’s a burning sensation like a red hot poker is being stabbed into my ear.

There are so many dilemmas I never thought I’d face.

Dilemma 1: How to spend time?

How do you spend your time when being near any sound, moving your head an inch and even your own voice triggers a sound in your skull which cripples you in pain?

The answer? Embroidery.

I don’t sew and I don’t have a creative bone in my body so I am astounded that this idea popped into my head. It must have been over 15 years ago but lurking deep in the vaults of my memory is the recollection of me doing a random cross stitch pattern.

I decide cross stitch is the answer to all my problems and order a couple of patterns online – an easy one to get me started and a more ambitious one to tackle later. It’s an absolute godsend and provides endless hours of silent, motionless enjoyment.

Three months ago I was being drunk and mischievous in slinky dresses at Christmas parties but now I’m like a dutiful Victorian lady silently sitting doing her needle work. Oh how we all come crashing down.

My ear has improved but it happens unbearably slowly and any improvements are only noticeable in two week intervals. I use texts as a way of recording my progress and scroll through the messages I sent a few weeks ago desperately searching for evidence and reassurance that I’m better than I was.

Dilemma 2: How to have company?

A Victorian lady might have written in her diary: “A life of solitude dampens one’s spirit and I so long for the enjoyment of society.”

But I can only bear the company of one person at a time, no more than twice a week.

For Mother’s Day, my mum wants nothing more than to see me, and we arrange for her to visit for an hour or so with my sister and brother. My brain is consumed with anxiety and panic about the potential uncontrolled noise that three people might create. Anyone may laugh, move a plastic bag or rattle a teaspoon in their cup. I wake up with a cricked neck, unable to move my head or shoulders. I have to receive my guests in my bedroom, with a hot water bottle wrapped around my neck.

It takes two trips to the osteopath, costing £100, to resolve the neck issue. It takes another eight months before I have three people in my home again.

Dilemma 3: How to eat?

Food has become a nightmare. In the kitchen pots and pans clank together, food wrappers rustle and the kettle whistles. Eating is a noisy business: your food crunches, your teeth grind together and swallowing makes your ears click.

The obvious answer when you’re unable to chew is to have soup but here lies another unimaginable dilemma. What’s less painful – the sound of chewing food or using a blender?

Friends kindly offer to cook dinner for me after work but this isn’t the solution. I go to bed so early that I’d be asleep by the time they arrive after work and, in my small flat, the sounds of cooking would be inescapable.

In hindsight I should have asked them to bring pre-cooked dishes which could be divided into individual portions and stored in the freezer. But in the moment of crisis this sensible solution occurs to none of us, and I’m stuck with the dilemma of chewing or blending.

After many weeks of agonising experiments I can confirm the blender is marginally better than chewing because the sound is a lower pitch and it doesn’t aggravate the tinnitus as much. But the best option is to have overcooked, sloppy food as this requires neither.

A Victorian lady would have had a large house and a cook.

Here’s the ambitious embroidery pattern. I made two and framed them for my wonderful friends Nikki & Ro.


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