This terrible affliction could severely damage my quality of life, but I can’t sacrifice the thing that makes me happiest
I have not been able to hear silence for about four years now. The high-pitched whining that you may temporarily hear after you leave a gig is, for me, a permanent fixture. The worst thing about this is that regardless of the ear protection that I use religiously when DJing these days, I will never be able to repair the damage that’s been done. In fact, if I continue to DJ, my condition will deteriorate: I find this terrifying.
The tragic death of James Ivor Jones this week highlights the need for better help for sufferers. Jones took his own life after living with an extremely severe case of tinnitus. I cannot imagine the suffering he experienced, since I have a mild form of the condition and a recent test found that I have an unexpectedly low level of hearing loss given my 10 years as a DJ. But far from invalidating my opinion, even my mild case demonstrates the impact on sufferers; not a day passes during which I do not worry about my hearing.
From the moment that I realised the temporary ringing in my ears was no longer temporary, I have been haunted by an image of myself in which I am sitting with my (yet to be created) children, unable to hear a word they say. Is the excessively loud – and often painful – conversation that you have with a partially deaf, elderly relative the type of interaction I’m doomed to have with my children? I sincerely hope not. But the persistent ringing in my ears is a constant reminder that it could be.
Two years ago, fear was a big factor in my decision to give up my DJing job. It’s not every day that a hip-hop DJ hangs up his headphones to take on a career in the city, but with the longer term in mind, it seemed to make sense at the time. Surprise, surprise though: it proved it to be the wrong choice and I’ve recently gone back to my former passion.
So what does this demonstrate? Even mild tinnitus can alter your outlook and push you to make the wrong decision. I sacrificed the thing that makes me happiest to embark on a career that made me truly miserable. While I cannot compare my situation to that of James Jones, whose tinnitus was so extreme that he experienced agony as a result of the softest of sounds, I can make one inference: the condition reduces the quality of life for sufferers on a daily basis.
From September there are likely to be weeks when I am DJing daily, often twice a day: I have a residency at Ministry of Sound, which has one of the loudest speaker systems in the UK. My spare time is filled with practising in my home studio, listening to new music and checking out artists and other DJs in loud venues. So I will never be able to stop worrying about my tinnitus and my increasing inability to hear silence.
Should I reach a level of hearing damage that makes me hate my own life again, I know it will be my own fault. I’ll always feel anxious about the outcome of my decision to return to DJing and each time I pick up my headphones, I have a feeling of guilt.
Given my awareness of the potential severity of the condition, I take every precaution. Nonetheless, fear of tinnitus now prevents me from truly enjoying the thing that makes me happiest: playing music.