Felipe, a doctoral student in philosophy and a native Spanish speaker, lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his wife Bianca.

What I want to say to you is this: I know the pain. I know the pain you go through every day and I know what it is to hurt your loved ones because you are an annoyance around the house, because you become anguished for no apparent reason. Hyperacusis is invisible. They do not comprehend what is going on, even if you explain. They may retort in befuddlement: “Sound — it is air, it is harmless, it is life, how come it is so hurtful to you!”

Here, he shares his story of hyperacusis and how he copes.

All my life I have been susceptible to sound, whether it be the thundering bark of a dog or the quiet tweet of a bird saluting the morning. Some may confuse this sensitivity with a gift — super hearing! — but instead it comes with unnerving stress. Loud noises always scared me and made my heartbeat rise. I recall the dread that New Year’s Eve fireworks caused me as a child, when I would try to muffle those explosions with a pillow. I caused anguish to my family, who could not understand what was going on.

My mother remembers a time at a relative’s birthday party when I claimed that the loudspeakers were “beating at my chest,” and I ran outside, away from the malignant noise that made me so distraught.

Later, throughout my adolescent years, I would blast music on my headphones almost daily, either to avoid the typical teenage brooding temperament or to entertain myself during the bus and train rides that took me to school. Moreover, I spent hours playing video games using headphones. In retrospect, I reckon that made my disability even more acute.

After a few years, I started to hear some sound, but the source was nowhere to be found. I realized it was coming from within. This unrelenting sharp sound of tinnitus disallowed me to attain any form of rest, and no matter how gently I rubbed my ears, how much I unclenched my jaw, there it remained, devilishly fixed upon my sleep, as if quietness were an insult to its presence.

I assumed that it would eventually go away, that maybe if I stopped listening to music too loudly, it would heal. I was mistaken, for it is now 10 years later and I am 27 years old. I hope my story may help those who are distraught by this same situation, who — at the joyous giggle of a little boy, the playful shout of a young lady, the innocent bark of a passing dog — express nothing but suffering, as if their soul were being pinched.

As I lived in a rural area, at night I would hear this piercing, earsplitting noise in my head that drove me nuts. I was suffocating mentally. So there I was, a teenage boy suffering a first encounter with tinnitus, which would stay with me in companionship for all my remaining life. And, unfortunately, new things would develop.

The first indication that something else was happening was when I found that my neighbor’s kids, playing outside, were increasingly irritating. I would stare at them from my garden, wishing for them to shut up, completely unable to let things be. Sound, noise, vibrations, heavy thumps, anything that would disrupt the acoustic equilibrium I was comfortable with became an ineluctable annoyance.

Then came my clock ticking  on the nightstand and the slight clicking of the curtain gently moved by the autumn breeze. These were torture! I would tell my mother “please speak more gently” as she chatted with me about her day in her usual tone of voice. Sound became excruciating. It was always there. Even if to my relatives it was not loud or galling, for me it was.

During the time of Covid, I was able to graduate from university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy. As a researcher and professor. I mostly write journal articles and teach undergraduates. Moreover, I became a doctoral fellow, which demands quietness. To someone like us, reading is a demanding task, and as I delved more into this profession, my hearing became ever more brittle. As I tried to focus, I began to comprehend that it was not just “loud” noises that bothered me. Even the subtlest bubbling or breeze was distressful. I also realized that certain noises did not bother me; soft, steady sounds that were constant allowed me to stay in focus. For example, the rotary motor of the fan and the caressing wind that passes through the leaves — these are, to this day, an oasis.

During these years, I was dating my now wife, who has become the sustenance of my noise-filled life. We started to develop ways in which sound had a lesser impact on my life. We would speak to each other as quietly as possible and we are conscious of what causes me acoustic pain. We would go for walks if things were unbearable at home, and she would gently ask people to keep their voices down in the public study room.

The University was in the city, which implied the highest possible amount of noise contamination to ever exist. So we came up with strategies — for example to attend public spaces with a high density of trees, or a low amount of noisy events.

Now that I have been living with this incapacitation for a decade, I understand what overcomes me when a single, distinctive and punishing sound cries through my hearing threshold: It is as if someone is poking at me constantly. My day-to-day life is this: Awaken, have a cup of coffee, skim through e-mails, sit down and study or write. Then I go for a walk or a brief bike ride to the park.  But new challenges come to be.

Not having much financial solvency, my wife and I were only able to rent an apartment next to an elementary school. Yes! Screaming kids, teachers loudly beckoning them back to class, the infuriating ringing bell that claims “Brace yourself, for here comes the worst!”, it all lived just next door to us! The school assemblies, the daily soccer games at the yard during breaktime, it all makes noise, and there is no way around it. It is insufferable, so difficult has it been for both of us, that it makes you comprehend how our condition drags your most beloved to the everyday struggle you are subjected to.

We tried to dull the noise in the house. My wife created some homemade panels that work as insulating boards that absorb most of extremely loud noises. These I would pile next to the living room window (where the school’s sound directly comes through). Then I would shut the adjoining doors and roll down the shutters. Our almost-thousand books and bookshelves help in the absorbing task as well.

I bought earplugs to reduce the acoustic stress I suffered from the school’s noise.

However, sometimes this is both uncomfortable and not enough. Sometimes a long bicycle ride awaits me, as I must escape home and go to either a public study room or the University’s library (where tinnitus will welcome me with all its wrath).

Other strategies we came up with: Always carry earmuffs or earplugs when leaving the house! You never know what instance may arise that demands them. If stressed or hurt, and if you are unable to request for the noise to stop or lower down, or if you forgot the ear protection (something you should never do) and there is no way in heaven to make things better, I found that taking a deep breath, strolling about a little bit and focusing on a new thing allowed me to pass time until it stops. If it does not stop, as a last resort I just leave. Of course, focusing on something else means that you are impeded to continue whatever you were doing, but that is our life I guess. We are handicapped, and I would rather act accordingly than suffer for no reason.

Our biggest innovation: a typology of noises. I listed the type of noises that I can bear and work with, those that require me to use earplugs, those that require maybe some light music to shroud them, and those that just command me to leave. For example, I know that I can listen to The Lounge Lizards with no problem, and I know what number the television’s noise bar must be at when we wake up. The more I recognize what hurts me and what does not, the better I can go through life. I know my threshold, the dos and dont’s of my life with hyperacusis.

Recently, my wife and I were able to move away from the school. Life has drastically improved since then, at least in comparison with what we were subjected to. Little by little I have reduced the use of earplugs at home, and I have been able to open the windows and tolerate the sound of the streets for a couple of minutes. Moreover, just by our balcony there is a strong treetop, through which the air dances, leaving behind a musical trace that alleviates the reactive tinnitus.

Sometimes, and in some circumstances, you get distracted enough to almost live a normal life — and suddenly, this little jester, this hyperacusis, returns with a vengeance just because some car drove by! Not much we can do, unfortunately, for now. I am more than grateful that, at least for the time being, mine hasn’t become any worse.

Still, we ponder if, in the future, I will be able to enjoy playing with our children, if taking the subway will be impossible for me, if things will get worse or not. It is daunting to think that  maybe you won’t be able to tolerate listening to your child music lessons, or that simple things, such as a heartfelt sob, a playful laugh, a bouncing ball, or even a little rattling toy would be problematic. I struggled. I still struggle.

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