Last week the tinnitus community came together to raise awareness through Tinnitus Week and #ThisIsMySilence, and what a heart warming and breaking week it was. Stories of acceptance and acclimatisation were mixed with anxiety and depression, people at their lowest, not seeing a way to cope with the sounds in their head. I was proud of the responses from the community, filled with empathy and suggestions of where and how to get help.
I shared my tinnitus story on social media, including the ways I cope and activities I do to ‘silence’ the ringing, and I was surprised by how many people responded asking me about outdoor swimming. I’d listed ballet, walking and outdoor swimming as my three main coping strategies, but it was the swimming that piqued interest. “Does your T really go away when you swim?” Yes, absolutely, from the minute I get in the water and for quite a while afterwards, there is silence.
It’s interesting if you search “tinnitus swimming” all the results talk about the negatives – swimmer’s ear being the main one, and how to prevent it. I know several swimmers who use earplugs and other methods to prevent water from getting in their ears, especially in the winter – perhaps this is something I’ll look at in the future. But for now, the positives.
My tinnitus is a barometer for my stress and anxiety levels. At the moment, after a week of sinusitis and hospital visits my T is at peak attention-seeking. Swimming is my ultimate relaxant – although it has to be outdoors, I find indoor pools noisy and a bit grim (think used plasters floating by at eye level!). Outdoor swimming can also be a massive challenge. When I first started outdoor swimming in 2019, I was not a confident swimmer. The thought of not being able to put my feet down or the extremes of swimming in the winter took me so far out of my comfort zone, I’m not sure how I ever got back in the water, let alone fell in love with it. But fall in love I did, to the point I now swim in an old quarry that is 36 metres deep, with a 6m drop as soon as you kick off – no chance of putting my feet down. And this was the beginning of ‘silencing’ my tinnitus because the challenges meant I had something else to focus on.
Now I find outdoor swimming the most relaxing thing in the world. The moment I step into the water, everything else in the world disappears. My mind is either silenced and I just bob along, chatting with the cormorants, great crested grebes and kingfishers, or it awakens my creativity – many stories have been conceived and plotted in the silky ripples of a lake. With my stressors removed, my tinnitus no longer has a place in my consciousness.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to swim since lockdown in December, and I miss it so much*. Instead, I’ve been having cold showers, apologies to my neighbours who have to put up with the regular shrieks, followed by giggles and laughter. This has something of a dampening effect, but it is shorter-lived than the effects of swimming. I’m counting down the days until I can don my tankini (it has to be skins, no neoprene here, although a bobble hat is essential and the absolute in outdoor swimming chic) and get back in the water.
Go back to 2016 when my tinnitus started and I never would have said that swimming would be my go-to thing for silencing the ringing. And I guess that’s kind of the point. You don’t know if something’s going to work for you until you try it. So, please try not let tinnitus get you down. Meditation is often cited as something to try, but it might not work for you – it doesn’t work for me. But what about knitting, or gardening or mountain climbing? I find the best way to silence my T is to do an activity where my brain has to concentrate, so it doesn’t have time to become obsessed with the ringing, music or humming.
I’d love to know what works (or doesn’t work) for you. Perhaps something you never expected to work has become your go-to way of distracting your brain. Feel free to share in the comments below.
*My usual lake is closed, and I feel it is too far to travel during lockdown to other private lakes. I’m also not confident swimming in winter rivers. So for me, for now, it’s cold showers!
If you are interested in outdoor/ wild/ cold water swimming please check out Outdoor Swimmer’s guide to swimming safely.
If you need help or support with your tinnitus the British Tinnitus Association support line is available Mon-Fri 9-5 on 0800 018 0527. If you feel like you can’t cope and need help outside of these times the Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123.