James Clark, owner of Pyramid Fitness Gym, shares his experience with hearing loss and tinnitus and why he has been involved in Challenge RNID – both as a participant and as a personal coach.
We interviewed James to find out how he manages tinnitus and the benefits of physical activity.
What has been your experience of hearing loss and tinnitus?
My first experiences of recognising difficulties hearing came at an early age. As it became clearer to others around me I wasn’t always hearing everything they said, I would describe fire alarms going off in my head. I remember being taken to clinics and being hopeless at those hearing tests, as the various pitches blurred into a constant stretched beep that would build inside my head.
How did you live with tinnitus as a child?
Honestly, it’s something I just lived with through childhood. Beyond ’selective hearing’ jokes, I’d only notice the tinnitus when I noticed it. Then when I noticed it, it would build and get louder and louder. Only really a problem if I was trying to get to sleep but aside from that, not something I would lose sleep about.
It only became a concern again when I decided I wanted to join the military. “I’m full of cold” I said, when the test came back failed. “My tubes are all blocked up.” I called my serving brother and asked him what to do for the retest. With my cheat codes in front of me, I scraped through barely, but it was clear the hearing in my left in particular was not where it needed to be.
What was it like working in the military with tinnitus?
You can’t wear ear defenders all the time when you’re playing soldiers. And, coming back from Iraq in 2006 I noticed for the first time as an adult that my hearing had degenerated significantly. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated when having to ask people to repeat things, sometimes more than once. More often than not, not even to bother asking again if I missed the repetition. Nodding, smiling, agreeing but segregated from knowing what was going on. The relative murmurs and mumbles would be joined by those ringing sounds of my childhood as I became more and more aware of the issue.
How did you get into personal training?
Mental health needs, allied with physical performance reasons post-service to persist with me pushing my fitness levels and becoming a Personal Trainer (PT) at Pyramid Performance. But a happy, unexpected consequence was that those bouts of tinnitus seemed to diminish. And as time went on, I clearly learned to lipread as a subconscious skill, which meant no longer would I feel regularly excluded from conversations. At no time has this skill been more appreciated than during this epoch of COVID and face masks. I honestly didn’t appreciate how much I had come to rely on it until I couldn’t again. And how that in turn can have an impact on how you feel in certain situations.
Why are you taking part in Challenge RNID?
This is why supporting Challenge RNID is important to me personally. I know how it can feel. But I also appreciate how engaging in something positive, something requiring activity with its knock on mental and physiological benefits can help something like hearing loss and tinnitus. I have experienced those benefits and am lucky enough that mostly, my hearing loss doesn’t overly impact my daily life. But it’s also good to know there is support out there for those that need it, with a charity like RNID working to improve the quality of lives affected by this.
I hope my story is one that resonates and gives encouragement for others to get involved in this challenge, as part of this community and go out there and smash it. Good luck everyone!