People think that cancer is the worst thing that can happen to their health. Everyone has heard of cancer. Everyone fears cancer. They think it’s an awful, scary, painful disease — which it is. Sometimes it’s a death sentence.
But the damaged ear symptoms I struggle with are far worse than cancer. To me, noise is painful. Scratch that — ordinary sound, even if it isn’t especially loud, is painful.
There is no escape. Sound is everywhere.
A friend said to me, “Brother, you beat cancer. Hyperacusis should be a walk in the park.” The complete opposite is true. In comparison with Hyperacusis, cancer was a walk in the park.
I had lymphoma for just under a year, and it was gone after chemotherapy and radiation. The doctor said that the treatment had a good success rate. It worked for me, thank goodness.
But partway through the treatment, I developed tinnitus, and a few months after that I developed hyperacusis. This may be because of chemotherapy — many anticancer drugs are known for being ototoxic.
I had a great deal of noise exposure prior to lymphoma. I was in the music and restaurant business for nearly 20 years. At work there were constant yelling voices, clanking dishes and loud footsteps like large animals running around. It didn’t seem overly loud at the time, but I know that exposure for so many years contributed. In the music business I was always in close range of pounding speakers and music blasting in headphones.
My hyperacusis feels like my ears are filled with hot lava and dripping with burning acid. Every sound feels louder than it actually is, and almost any sound causes a very sharp pain in my ears and head. My tinnitus sounds like Christmas bells going off 24/7. I also get zaps in my left ear, and the sound of a staticky broken radio.
Nearly four years ago, when my ears started going bad, I could not figure out what was wrong. No doctor could, either.
I was moving from one residence to another, looking for enough quiet, and there was always something wrong — loud neighbors, loud roommates, loud construction. In five years, I moved 10 times, no joke.
In July of 2018 I attempted suicide. I drank a big bottle of alcohol in one go, swam out into the middle of Lake Ontario, and tried to drown myself. I lived in Toronto and could not get the quiet I needed, which is why I tried to take my life. Obviously, I failed, which is why you are reading this story today. Toronto was way too busy, with traffic and an ambulance with sirens driving by every few minutes.
I am still on the hunt for a sufficiently quiet residence, and it is the hardest task to accomplish on a disability budget. In Ontario, Canada, the government doesn’t provide enough financial help for people with disabilities to live comfortably. Living with hyperacusis is expensive, as the patient needs quiet, which usually means assorted kinds of soundproofing.
With cancer, suicide never crossed my mind. I was not isolated from society. I could go to restaurants with family and friends, grab a coffee whenever I wanted, perform music in clubs, play sports and do everything that healthy people do.
Now, because I cannot handle sound, I barely leave my home. I go for walks only at night when it’s quiet out, and I rush into the local shops quickly. I use ear protection when I must go out. I double up and wear ear plugs and over-the-head earmuffs, and still some noises cause me pain.
I needed new hobbies to replace my life after being diagnosed with hyperacusis. So I have taken up poetry and photography. They give me a sense of peace and tranquility.
I am grateful to be alive, but I am not grateful that I must live a tough life with hyperacusis and tinnitus. I talk online with others who have the condition, and I try to raise awareness to keep my mind in check and to keep busy throughout my days.