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“One loud moment could trigger something that won’t ever go away”

Matthew wearing a leather jacket and looking at the camera standing in front of a dark brick wall

Matthew, aka Forest Swords, is a musician, producer and DJ from Wirral. He’s had tinnitus for 10 years, brought on by loud music at gigs and clubs.

“I spent many nights as a teenager going to gigs without earplugs, and at university I spent lots of time in club and concert spaces – I didn’t protect my hearing there either.

My ears usually ‘rang’ after I’d been out, but after one particular gig they didn’t stop ringing – the tinnitus has been there ever since. It was pretty horrible at the time to think I had ear damage and it took me ages to come to terms with it, but once I accepted that it wasn’t going away and not to ‘fight’ it, that’s when I started to feel better about it. In a strange way, it was quite liberating.

Approaching it as a part of my body in the same way I can’t change the size of my feet or how long my fingers are was quite a different way to look at it rather than something to constantly fight and battle against and get frustrated with. I might not enjoy it, but it’s something I can try and control and moderate as best I can.

Tinnitus is a very subjective thing to suffer from because I’m aware everyone’s is slightly different: mine is a high-pitched whistle, for instance, while a lot of people I’ve spoken to ‘hear’ other sounds. It increases noticeably when I’ve had a drink, when I’m stressed or haven’t slept properly, which is quite a lot when I’m out on tour, so I’m careful to take care of my overall well-being as much as possible. If I’ve had a late night the night before, for instance, I try and rest and eat healthily the day after, just so I can feel a bit more balanced out. I’m hopeful that at some point in my life I’ll see a breakthrough to combat tinnitus, but at the moment I’m doing my best to make small adjustments to my life to ensure it doesn’t get worse.

As a musician and producer, I’m wary of the type of volumes I expose myself to. Working on my own music in the studio, I try not to expose myself to hours and hours of noise every single day – it’s a lot better for my ears when I work on it all in chunks, a couple of hours at a time.

I use earplugs a lot, not only for playing live on stage. I take earplugs out every day just in case I need to pop them in – even sometimes mundane things like being on a certain tube train or in a restaurant can be extremely loud and shrill. It’s difficult to say how much of an impact having earplugs in helps in those kind of spaces, but I certainly feel mentally better for being proactive in trying to protect my hearing.

My tinnitus does impact on my social life sometimes. Most noticeably, I struggle to pick out voices in noisy places like bars or pubs, but I’ve learnt not to be embarrassed to ask someone to speak up.

Some days can be a real struggle, but I’m lucky that my tinnitus has never really made me depressed or anxious like I know it does for a lot of people.

I’ve been quite surprised at the number of people I’ve come across who’ve told me that they have the same thing – but either don’t understand what it is, or hadn’t heard anyone else talk about it before. I don’t think young people are aware of the risks or, even if they are, they think: ‘Oh, it won’t happen to me.’ But the truth is that just one loud moment could trigger something that won’t ever go away. If young people knew how distressing tinnitus can be, they’d protect their ears at all cost.”

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