Caris Lount, a 21-year-old graphic communication student, shares her experience of living with tinnitus since birth and how social media advocacy helped her find a support system.
Discovering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Surprising Journey of Self Discovery
Is CBT another scam? A question I asked myself in a world full of them. Turns out, it’s not, and I would never have known this if I didn’t start my tinnitus awareness communities. I initially started posting about my experience with tinnitus on TikTok. I hoped to reach an audience that didn’t know anything about tinnitus. I ended up reaching over 25 million people in less than 30 days. So many of whom were having similar experiences.
All my life, I have felt alone with tinnitus. I never thought I’d meet anyone in the same boat as me. 21 years of life and 21years of tinnitus and I’m only just finding the support I’ve always needed. So, because of that, thank you, social media.
From Birth to Breakthrough – Accepting and Understanding my Tinnitus
My name is Caris Lount and I'm a 21-year-old graphic communication student. I have struggled to deal with my tinnitus all my life. Socialising is hard, attending university lectures is a challenge, waking up in the morning is painful. All because of the ‘EEEEEE’ noise that doesn’t shut up.
I've had tinnitus since I was born but didn't realise it wasn't normal until my early teens. The ringing is 24/7 and feels more like it's in my head than my ears. I now know that I have mid-range hearing loss and that my tinnitus is described as subjective bilateral tinnitus. I’m not just going insane.
At a young age, I would have sleepovers with my friends and ask dumb questions at night, one being "When it's quiet do you actually hear silence?" their response being "Yeah? Why?" This shocked me. I've never heard real silence, so finding out what I was hearing wasn’t the norm made me so confused.
Since that day, my emotions related to my tinnitus have been pretty negative. It aggravates me a lot and I’ve started realising that I have a bad habit of blaming my day-to-day stress on it.
I had been pretty busy living the student life up until lockdown. For me, as with a lot of people, lockdown made me a lot more self-aware. I was stuck with myself and no distractions for a long time. I became more in tune with my body and began to notice my tinnitus a lot more. I have heard that over half of those with tinnitus found an increase in their tinnitus through lockdown and, for many others, it was the first time they realised that they had it.
It bothered me so much that I started seeking help. The help doctors gave me was limited and the words ‘there’s no cure’ overpowered everything else they said to me. To me, no cure meant no hope. The stress of this made it worse than ever and with university on the horizon, it was a struggle to manage.
University and Clubbing Culture
After lockdown, I enrolled in my first year at university. Before clubs opened back up, we would have flat parties. I would wake up the next day with ringing so loud that even having my phone at full volume couldn't mask it. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, that was until the clubs opened back up. It got 10x worse.
To this day, the unavoidable student combination of loud music, sleep deprivation, stress and alcohol makes my ringing unbearable at times. It makes it hard to engage in lasting conversation. Something most people take for granted.
So why do I put myself in this situation? In the moment, loud clubbing environments are amazing because everyone else can hear the same thing. Socialising is a pain when your tinnitus is spiking so having an environment where everyone is struggling to hear each other is comforting to me. I pay the price the next day, but I refuse to let my tinnitus stop me from doing what I enjoy.
Obstacle to Entrepreneurship
For my third year at university, I had the opportunity to commence with a placement year. I came across the ‘enterprise year’. The Year in Enterprise is a scheme that enables students with a business idea to turn it into a reality. This route allowed me to free my inner entrepreneur and create and work on a business for a year. I’ve always had an entrepreneur flare within me but have never found the right business to put my energy into. Thinking of what to do was stressful. What does stress create? Tinnitus spikes. It was in a stress spike like this that I realised creating something that could help other people with tinnitus whilst educating and helping myself at the same time was a no-brainer.
The first thing I do when my tinnitus bothers me is ask Google for help. As a young graphic design student, the assumption that I’m older has always annoyed me. I have always felt like an outsider to the tinnitus community. So when I started thinking through what I wanted to create, it became plain very quickly. I wanted to create an engaging community for young tinnitus sufferers.
Tinnitus Social Media Communities
I have created social media communities on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok aimed towards those who are young and suffer with tinnitus. At first, I started sharing short edutainment videos about my experience with tinnitus. I didn’t think I would get much reach, but my passion towards tinnitus was rewarded. I now have over 15 thousand followers and have reached over 25 million people in the past 30 days.
You can find my socials here:
My initial aim was to produce a book combining all my researching into a physical product. What was meant to be 'a year' in enterprise, has now turned into a lifestyle. I have educated myself and connected with people I never thought I'd find. I have distinguished the scams from the real help, and I am now on my way to habituation.
Before my entrepreneurial journey I didn’t know what habituation meant, let alone knew it was possible in relation to tinnitus. After having tinnitus all my life, it’s unbelievable that I hadn’t reached the point of not caring about it. If I didn’t take the leap to build these communities, I would have never known that it was even possible. I thought 'CBT' was another Facebook scam.
That was until I came across Oto.
Discovering CBT with Oto
I was completely shocked to find real help designed for those with tinnitus. Knowing there were other people out there dedicating their time to help the condition filled me with joy. I have just started my habituation journey and am on stage 2 / 5 in Oto’s progression timeline. I have a long way to go, but I’m realising it’s not just the destination that counts. The process will not only help my tinnitus but make me more self-aware and mindful about my physical and mental wellbeing.
When I take a break from my studies, instead of playing loud music through my headphones, I find myself opening the Oto app to listen to a quick CBT session. It’s CBT sessions that make me realise I’m blaming all the bad things in my life on tinnitus. And actually, I don’t need to think ‘This will never end because I have tinnitus’. I can think ‘I will learn to habituate, this is a small step back but tomorrow I will step forwards’.
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Finding Hope and Staying Optimistic with Tinnitus
It’s taken me a very long time to understand my tinnitus, and I’m lucky enough to know what it thrives on. I often think of my tinnitus as a ‘sixth sense’, a way for my body to communicate its needs to me. It quite literally feels like it’s trying to scream at me to stop doing certain things that are bad for me. For most of my life, I lacked a positive attitude towards my tinnitus. Although it’s hard to get to this stage, I now realise it was a huge problem and fuelled the volume level.
If my day wasn’t going well and I was stressed, I’d blame it on my tinnitus. My tinnitus would get the blame for any slight inconvenience, when in reality if my tinnitus wasn’t there, my life still wouldn’t be faultless. In order for anyone to start the journey to habituation, hope is the first step. How can you possibly habituate if your mindset is one that lacks hope?
Life At University
Now in my third year at university, I thrive on keeping busy. I don’t have time to blame my tinnitus for inconveniences or even listen to it at all. I sometimes enjoy how much my tinnitus ‘puts me in the zone’, it’s kind of like a built-in noise machine.
There are still harder times. For example, I’ve made the mistake of sitting at the back of a lecture theatre having forgotten my hearing aids many times. But now I see moments like this as learning curves. I wish I could tell my younger self what I’ve learnt from my mistakes, because these are the personal tips doctors can’t tell you. This is partly why I started my social media communities. I’m striving to be the person I wish I could have talked to when I was once struggling.
Spreading awareness is truly helping me just as much as its helping other people. I now have a podcast, a community and a book soon to be published. Along with this, I have found people, like those at Oto, who have educated me and helped me gain peace of mind from the ringing.
I’m still on the journey of habituation but I’m on the journey with others - with you, if you have tinnitus.