Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012: Not the Start I was Looking For


We are in our last week of March and the first full week of spring.  Around this time, you might come across some New Year’s resolutions update posts.  As you may recall, I didn’t make any official resolutions this year.  Mainly, I just wanted to focus on the good things in life.  A new year and a new start are always exciting—there are so many possibilities out there for us.  However, the first three months of 2012 were not the start I was hoping for.

First, let me go back to the start of 2011 for a minute.  Last winter, I had a lot to deal with.  Because of fall allergies, getting infection after infection before even knowing I had developed fall allergies, I was diagnosed with Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD) and retracted eardrums (a condition in which one’s eardrums are pulled in towards the middle ear).  Because of these conditions, I developed a constant white noise in my left ear—nothing that I haven’t gotten used to, nothing that interrupts my daily life.  Neither condition is life threatening or prevents me from doing anything.  However, at the time, I wasn’t getting many answers for what was going on.  I felt as if I was constantly under water, I had never-ending ear pressure and congestion, and I was diagnosed with some hearing loss.  I was convinced that I could have a cholesteatoma or the beginnings of Meniere’s disease and would eventually lose all of my hearing, though no one ever said that specifically.  This was the cause for all of my anxiety and mild depression.  (I still struggle with anxiety and probably always will—but this was the catalyst for my having to deal with the anxiety, as it took over my life for a while.)

But the real problem was that no one was really addressing the issue with me.  My then-ENT just wrote it off as a condition that happens, not really giving me any information.  When conducting research online, everything makes ETD sound like a temporary condition.  But I can tell you it is not; not for me anyway.  It is always present, and while it hasn’t physically changed my life, I am often uncomfortable and the only thing to do is just live with it.  The level of discomfort is what changes; for me, it depends on the weather, as any change in barometric pressure is what triggers the change of pressure in my sinuses and ears.  In any event, I have learned to live with the condition and have moved on with it as a part of my life.

What does that have to do with the start of this year?  Well, while I had to learn to live with my physical conditions, the real issue for me was learning to deal with the anxiety that came with it.  Last year’s episode was really a lesson for what was ahead at the start of 2012.  It started in December when I got a bad cold.  I had a hard time getting rid of it and my ears were affected a great deal.  I assumed it was because of the ETD—because so much pressure had built up in my ears, I had a hard time getting rid of the pressure caused by the cold.  It’s a miserable cycle.  But this is the type of thing that no one told me I might experience with ETD. 

So I made an appointment with a new ENT.  During this doctor’s visit she did what neither of the original ENTs did—she did a nasal scope.  It’s not a difficult procedure by any means, so why no one else thought to do this, I don’t know.  And she actually found a spot in my nasopharynx (the cavity behind your nose) that was cause for concern and could indeed have something to do with all of the trouble I had had over the past year.  During the last two months I had a regular hearing test (which came back normal), an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) hearing test (using electrodes, this test examines your brain’s response to certain noises to determine if an acoustic neuroma [tumor] is present) (which came back slightly abnormal but not enough to cause concern), two MRIs (one to double check that no neuroma was present and one to see the nasal spot in further detail), and finally a biopsy of the spot behind the nose (to see whether cancer might be present).  The biopsy was a hospital out-patient surgery, something I had never experienced before and was very nervous about.

Talk about anxiety.  The odd thing is that even though this round of issues was more serious than the original ETD diagnosis, I wasn’t as anxious about it.  Yes, I worried about what the results would show.  But I wasn’t up at night pacing the floors while having full-blown panic attacks.  Perhaps Cognitive Behavior Therapy works after all.  (Just for the record, I didn’t doubt that it could work; I just wondered if I could make it work for me.)

As I said before, because of my personality and make up, I will probably always struggle with anxiety on some level.  And who wouldn’t be at least a little anxious when a doctor is using words like “abnormal,” “lesion,” “MRI,” and “biopsy”?  But thankfully, from last year’s experiences, knowing what I know now, I was better able to deal with everything that came my way at the start of 2012.  That’s a positive thing—I have progressed, if only by a little bit.  (By the way, the biopsy came back benign—no cancer.  My doctor believes I had a blocked gland of some kind.)

It’s been a long three months.  And even though it’s not exactly the way I wanted to start a new year, it’s been a positive experience, one I can carry with me for future reference.  Maybe that’s a sign that 2012 will be good after all.  (Looking at the glass half-full rather than automatically as half-empty is another positive step that I seem to have taken.)  I am determined to enjoy the rest of the year no matter what comes my way.

Until December 21st, that is.  But that’s looking at things in a negative light…

8 comments:

  1. Oh no Kanalt, sounds like you have had a really rough time! Glad that the biopsy was benign that must have been such a relief. Also it is amazing that you still found it a positive experience albeit a rather scary one.

    I hope the rest of 2012 is much better for you and glad to know that CBT works :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, CP! Yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking, but I keep telling myself it could have been so much worse. I am truly lucky and grateful that things turned out well.

      Delete
  2. Talk about anxiety- you had me panicking that this post was going to end a lot worse. I guess we're both glass half empty sometimes.

    But, I'm SUPER happy that you are ok, and glad (and proud, if that doesn't sound too weird) that you were able to stay so calm and positive throughout. I don't think I could have done the same if I were in your shoes.

    So, yay for a happy 2012. And if December 21st is really the end of it all, let's just hope they have Filofaxes wherever we end up next :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh no, J, no panicking! ;) If it had been a different outcome, I probably would not have posted about it so soon, if at all. Thanks for being glad and proud (I feel so honored!). In all honesty, I didn't think I would handle it as well as I did - but you do what you have to do. I had my moments of negativity, that's for sure.

      And I love the idea of a Filofax heaven/Mecca/holy place (add the term of your choice)!

      Delete
  3. Thank you for sharing this detail - and your outcome so clearly. I am happy for you. I think your outcome has a good bit to do with your commitment to You and Your health. The CBT, the good health steps, and your inner strength. Well done. I hope the ear is doing well. I am having ear troubles, so I hope with my Malden - I will channel you as my Role Model.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, 007. I wouldn't call myself a role model by any means, but if my sharing my own experiences might help others, then it's definitely worth it. I hope you figure out your ear issues soon!

      Delete
  4. I know this post is quite old now but I just came across it. I have the same condition as you. I've had it for nearly 6 years, and have found the doctors here in the UK so unhelpful. They refused to even let me see an ENT. Do you have constant pressure in your ears and a popping sound everytime you swallow as well as the tinnitus? That's been the most difficult part for me to deal with. Make me feel like I have my head in a bubble!
    I have not found anything that helps. Is it really just a case of 'live with it?'
    Best wishes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thanks for your reply, Cazzle. I don't know anyone else who has ETD, so it's been a case of "deal with it as it comes." Thankfully, my insurance doesn't require any kind of referral to see a specialist (in fact, I find it's easier just to go right to a specialist since general doctors here don't like to deal with anything outside of their realm).

      Yes, I have constant pressure in my ears with popping as well as the tinnitus. The tinnitus is the least of the issues actually since it's a quiet white noise. I don't even notice it unless it's very quiet. I hear some people have a high pitched loud noise, which I can only imagine would drive me nuts.

      The ENTs have really provided no insight to the ETD. I have seen three and they all say it is what it is, there's no cure, not even anything to help it. I do find that when my ears get very clogged decongestant helps, but I don't like to take too much of it. But I also have environmental allergies which make my sinuses get clogged, which makes the ears worse. So they never really feel normal. My allergist also has me on a prescription nasal spray (during high allergy season) which helps but doesn't make it go away. I have come to accept that it will never go away no matter what.

      You can Google ETD and find a lot of discussion groups about it, but with that you'll also find people who have all kinds of other issues, which is bad for me since I think I have whatever I read about.

      If you want to talk further on the topic, feel free to email me (kanalt17 AT gmail Dot com). It's good to know there's someone out there who is dealing with the same issue (not that I wish it on anyone).

      Delete