POP CULTURE: How my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has affected my hearing.

In my last post I talked about how I am living with brain injury and how living with it has certainly made me live the Brain Injury Association of America’s campaign theme: “Change Your Mind.” I knew very little about brain injury before I had one myself. Honestly I had seen brain injury and comas used as plot devices in TV and movies much more than I had seen or met a brain injury survivor! And we all know how accurate TV, movies and novels can be (and don’t get me started on soap operas and how they portray brain injury 🤦🏼‍♀️). So I had plenty to change my mind about. Plenty. And once I began to really live with it myself I started to experience things that had never been depicted in any pop culture I had seen. The one symptom I’m experiencing that really took my family and I by surprise is incredibly compromised hearing. (I joke it’s like having a horror movie soundtrack in my head.)

From what I’ve been told, hearing problems with TBI are not uncommon. I, however, haven’t really come across someone whose hearing issues are exactly like mine. If you read this and recognize yourself or someone you know in what I describe, please reach out to me (comment on this blog or come find me on Twitter: @popwatching). I’d love to know how someone else is handling it, etc. I described my hearing issues on my other blog already, but I will condense what I said here.

I made this graphic that’s a timeline of how my hearing has changed post TBI.

As I said before, when I was in the accident, I was in a coma for 3 weeks. Once I came out of the coma my brain injury presented the aural difficulties as complete deafness. I was completely non-hearing for a period of 3-4 months.

After those first 3-4 months of non-hearing my hearing started to come back slowly but still incredibly distorted. When my brain started to let me “hear” again it was very selective and it ended up gathering around 7 sounds and repeating them on a non-stop loop. I called this my “sound loop.” I would “hear” this “sound loop” on repeat every second I was awake. In addition to the sound loop all voices (even my own and even a dog’s bark) were heavily distorted. And I also heard something akin to the “white noise” from a white noise sound machine (again at all times). While the “sound loop” dropped off, the white noise and voice distortion remain. My brain also can’t process music. It registers as more metal on metal noise (not the genre Heavy Metal 🤘🏻, but sheets of metal banging and rubbing against each other). This has improved slightly in that now I can process singular instruments played at a medium to soft volume. However they don’t sound like I know they should. Instead, they sound horribly out of tune and generally awful. Again my hearing is really akin to a horror movie!

Here’s an image I created in Photoshop to show sounds clouding around my brain but not really penetrating. And music notes are widely represented because my brain can’t process music at all. Boy how I miss it!! I didn’t realize how much I used it as a coping mechanism to help me through chronic pain and stress. I was also really getting into audiobooks and podcasts (My Favorite Murder was a true crime one I enjoyed). There were also lots of pop culture ones (Pop Culture Happy Hour by NPR). I have found that some of them are transcribed by podcast fans so I can enjoy them now. However, it’s not the same because part of the fun was the respite from reading.

Well I certainly have a lot more I could say about hearing and TBI. However, I think I’ll leave that for another blog post.

I will leave you with a final thought I had last night:

I had as Oprah would say an “a ha moment.” I can be hard on loved ones for not remembering my hearing impairment. Yet I realized for me the garbage sound I hear and distortions are constant and so obvious that they practically have a physical manifestation. Yet they aren’t physical. They’re invisible. No one but me knows they’re omnipresent. So that’s why I need to be more patient. For 30-plus years I heard normally. And now that most of my physical injuries have healed I look the same (except I have a cute new pixie haircut). So it’s really no wonder people who knew me before forget about my hearing impairment.

This wasn’t really about pop culture but I promise my next entry will be!

Don’t forget to check out BIAA: https://www.biausa.org/



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