Victoria Didenko: On tinnitus and mental health

My name is Victoria Didenko. I am writing down some reflections, thoughts and a brief account of my tinnitus story.

How to stay solid, balanced, and maintain a robust mental attitude to life when one’s ears are screaming with high pitched sonic sound that NEVER stops? I wish I had the answer in a nutshell, but living with tinnitus is one hell of a gig, and it certainly has had a negative impact on my mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Seven years ago, a roaring sound arrived in my head. It was as if white noise static had meshed with an ear-piercing ringing and it was here to stay. I was filled with the greatest anxiety and fear.  

I visited my GP.  I visited my ENT.  I visited my dentist. I had MRIs, scans, audiology tests and x-rays. In the end, I was diagnosed with mild upper frequency hearing loss as well as ‘garden variety’ tinnitus.  These were the exact words used by my ENT.  I was told ‘not to stress’ (no-one told me HOW to do this) and that it would go away in time and I would stop noticing it (I continue to notice it and it HASN’T gone away). I was prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, which I didn’t take. 

I walked away from this process feeling depressed and let down by the medical community. I started to think: ”I’ve had a good life. If I die now, then I will be at peace. If the ringing won’t go away from me, then I will go away from the ringing.” These were the darkest moments of my life.  My thoughts frightened me, but at the same time offered a bizarre type of comfort. I had an answer to the ringing.  I had an ‘out’. I had control.

To reveal these experiences, so personal and so disturbing, is not easy. I feel compelled to share my story though, because I know that someone out there is going through this trauma right now. I know someone’s mother, father, family member, friend, work colleague will wake up tomorrow with ringing ears and a buzzing brain and will struggle to find prompt, professional, ethical, affordable support to learn how to live with it.

I don’t want to see anyone go through what I went through. What I do want is for GPs and ENTs in Australia to know how to successfully triage someone who presents with disturbing tinnitus.

If doctors can’t help by prescribing a pill or a method to stop tinnitus, if surgeons can’t operate the tinnitus away, this doesn’t necessarily mean that help isn’t available. People need to be given hope, and I don’t mean false hope, but a sense of positivity around their tinnitus symptoms. They must also be directed to others who can help them overcome their tinnitus trauma.

All too often, it takes too long for people struggling with troubling tinnitus to find that much needed support to return to them to full health and wellbeing. It is in that ‘too long’ that people can fall through the gap of time and into despair. 

It took me more than a year to find the help I needed to lift me out of my tinnitus fugue.  One year too long by my reckoning. I eventually found that much-needed support at Better Hearing Australia (Vic), now Soundfair.  My tinnitus counsellor at the time helped me through my darkest days and got me functioning again.

I was fitted with a pair of hearing aids, introduced sound therapy into my life on a daily basis, cut down on caffeine, and started feeling mentally robust again. I started feeling I was getting control of my life and of my tinnitus.

I won’t say it was easy. I continue to struggle with my tinnitus, but I have more joy in my days now than darkness. I have become a tinnitus activist, raising awareness of the condition, helping to educate people to protect their hearing.

Medical conditions that contribute to the decline of mental health need to be addressed. Tinnitus is certainly one of those contributors, yet is often dismissed by doctors, ear surgeons, and audiologists as a mere trifle in the larger scheme of medical conditions. Tinnitus is a conundrum and continues to confound the medical community.

The current attitude towards tinnitus HAS to change if we want to see a decrease in mental health issues in this country. Almost five million Australians are living with tinnitus on a daily basis. Anxiety, depression, insomnia and feelings of isolation are common in tinnitus patients.  If we can reduce the emotional and social impacts of tinnitus on the individual and in our community, we will certainly have a nation with significantly less mental health issues and hey, that’s a good thing! So, what are we doing about tinnitus? Tinnitus Australia, hosted by Soundfair, is an alliance of medical professionals, associations, audiologists, and passionate people who are working hard to eliminate the emotional and social impacts of tinnitus on the individual and the wider community. I am proud to be a member of this organisation.  Being proactive and helping others helps me feel more positive, mentally stronger, and less a victim of this auditory torment. If you’d like join us and/or to stay in touch, sign up to our mailing list here.

Victoria talks about her journey with tinnitus in this video.