“When the tinnitus was at its worst, it seemed so loud that nothing would mask it. Combined with an extreme lack of sleep, it was as if I could hear an electrical storm in my brain constantly, and it was even making my gums vibrate. “It really was testing times, the worst thing I had ever experienced, and yeah I did feel pretty suicidal.”
Starting his career as a teen hip hop prodigy in the mid 80s, Jody Wisternoff became a star Dj on the underground West Country rave/ techno scene, teaming up with Nick Warren in the 90s to form soon-to-be massive Way Out West. Touring the world routinely as one of the world’s most popular DJs, he enjoyed what seemed to be a charmed life until he developed tinnitus which almost ended it all.
“My life as I knew it was over,” Jody recalls. “I couldn’t hear properly anymore, had cancelled all my gigs and couldn’t do any work in the studio. Sleep was impossible; I was maybe getting two hours a night maximum. All this just made the tinnitus loads, loads worse, and I was properly tripping out by this stage. I lived in this hell for about four months before I started to accept my condition and find a way to get on with life.”
His experiences echoed those on fellow British house star Jon Carter, who last month revealed how the hearing condition wrecked both his marriage and almost his career.
“I know I’m getting a bit personal, but it got me into a really deep depression, Jon told Skrufff, “The only help I received was from other sufferers, and you know, when they say you’ll get used to it, you never believe them. But eventually you will get used to it. Jody from Way Out West called me one day because he knew I had it too and talked to me as he was also in a state,” he recalled.
“All I could say to him was ‘one day you will get used to it’. There’s nothing more you can do. And, one day after eighteen months, eventually I did too. Now I don’t even need to sleep with the music on at night anymore.”
Two years down the line Jon’s predictions have happily come true for Jody, who, chatting to Skrufff this week, confirms ‘it’s all good, mate.’
“I’d say the tinnitus doesn’t affect my quality of life in any way now. I’m not gonna’ lie to you, I can still hear it in a quiet room (but then so can most people if they really try) however it doesn’t cause any negative reaction and therefore isn’t a problem.”
"Though, I’m glad people are paying attention to it now, it’s a big issue.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): How did you actually develop tinnitus in the first place?
Jody Wisternoff: “It was after a gig in Slovenia during the summer of ‘06. I DJed at an outdoor party and I distinctly remember removing a piece of gaffer tape that was stopping the master level going any higher. I took it off and boosted the level to the max because I was playing really quiet, un-mastered track that needed some extra power. After that I just left it up and forgot about it, such was my drunken state. The monitors must have been blasting extra loud, not to mention the PA. I went straight to an afterhours club and played another set, where I stayed until the early morning. When I left, I remember thinking my ears were ringing more than usual, but didn’t really care because this was normal after a gig and the ringing always stopped the next day.”
When I woke the next afternoon I could still hear the ringing, but still assumed it would soon pass, however, the next day it was still there. And the next day . . . By this stage I was starting to get a little anxious and I was beginning to pay a lot of attention to the sound in my head. It was as if my brain was really tuning into it, my automatic nervous system had identified It as a threat and as a result the perceived volume was just getting louder and louder. Over the next month It just got worse and worse. I was really analysing it, which is the worst thing you can do, but I couldn’t help myself. My auditory system was in a right mess, and It changed the way I was hearing frequencies to the point that I couldn’t even listen to music, let alone do any studio work.”
Skrufff: How did it sound initially?
Jody Wisternoff: “Everything just sounded a bit wrong, certain tones stood out as louder than others, not to mention the overwhelming super hi-pitched screaming that I couldn’t hide from. I saw a hearing specialist and discovered that Id lost 40db at 4K, which really freaked me out and I basically fell into a deep depression.”
Skrufff: The Tinnitus Association have some VERY scary audio samples of tinnitus on their site: do any of those sounds match yours?
Jody Wisternoff: “The high pitched tone, 4th from the end is pretty close to what I hear. It’s basically the sound of a high-pitched whistle, similar to a boiling kettle, but mixed with an ultra high frequency. Sometimes this changes to a mid/low humming sound which I actually find quite pleasant.”
Skrufff: how did you eventually start to cope with it?
Jody Wisternoff: “I got some Elacin ER25 earplugs (something I should have done years ago , tsk tsk) and decided to start going out to clubs again, socially at first. The way I was hearing was starting to normalise, so I was doing some studio work and really making an effort to get my life back. The ringing was still a major issue, some days it was extremely loud, others it was a bit quieter, but at least I could hear music properly again. I made sure I had constant background noise at all times, such as fans, dehumidifiers, radios etc and this made it all a bit easier to deal with. Slowly, I got back into DJing, but I always had a fear that the ringing would get worse because even with earplugs I still wasn’t totally protected.
The major turnaround happened after a conversation I had with Andrew from Trafik (Global Underground). He had gone through the same thing as me, and recommended that I try TRT which stands for Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. I found it really hard to believe that he had learned to habituate his tinnitus, which means to ignore it at a subconcious level, to the extent that it ceases to be a problem, but I made an appointment and gave TRT a try. From my first session I really felt that things started to improve and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. They explained to me how the hearing system works, and why we hear tinnitus, which contradicted what the doctors had told me regarding permanent damage to the inner ear hair cells. I won’t go into exact details now because it will take ages to explain, but check this website: http://www.tinnitus.org and it will all become clear.”
I highly recommend anyone who is suffering from tinnitus to examine the readers email section of this website, where Doctor Jonathan Hazell explains the Jastreboff model and why tinnitus becomes persistent, and hence how it can be overcome. As soon as you realise that its not irreversible damage that is causing the sound, but actually the filters in your auditory system tuning into a very weak signal that is in fact always present but is subconsciously ignored by most people, then it really makes it easier to deal with. Yeah, there may be some damage to the ear, but this is just the trigger for the tinnitus to be heard because the filters are so dynamic (whenever you leave a club etc ) and is not the reason it becomes non-stop.”
Skrufff: What impact does tinnitus have on you today?
Jody Wisternoff: “I’m still undergoing TRT (it takes about 18 months), I wear white noise generators on my ears for a few hours a day which speed up the habituation process ( this is only required short-term ), and I always use earplugs when I DJ.”
Skrufff: What would you say to DJs/ clubbers who don't think tinnitus will happen to them? Or think they'll be able to cope?
Jody Wisternoff: “Everyone deals with things differently. I’m sure some people wont be bothered by it at all (Nick claims to have had it for years but doesn’t give a shit), whereas for others it can turn their lives upside down. I do thoroughly recommend Djs and clubbers to wear earplugs, not only for protection but also because music sounds better ( the ear compresses when exposed to loud volume- hence the sound quality is diminished . With proper musicians’ earplugs this doesn’t happen, it may feel strange at first but it doesn’t take long to get used to the experience. If your brain does decide to pick up on tinnitus and it becomes a major issue, I can fully recommend TRT (contact details can be found on that website) . I would also be happy to talk to anyone if they are suffering and need some help, as I know how scary it can be.”
http://tinyurl.com/4szhx6 (Tinnitus soundclips: click here to hear just why tinnitus is such a distressing condition)
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)