by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
For years my tinnitus has been a kind of sound of which I was rarely aware. Now, with a new, loud tenant upstairs, I recently started being able to hear his phone calls and conversations with people in his home upstairs. He speaks very loudly. I have a 25 – 30 dB loss in my right ear and a 75 – 80 dB loss in my left ear. I hear him as if he was in the room with me. Music plays all day, telephone calls all day, TV all day. He stays up playing music till 4 or 5 a.m. I have no escape from it. I hear him throughout my apartment, which is fairly large, but when I leave the apartment, the conversations he had stay in my head and I can walk away for quite a distance before it dwindles, or I try to distract it away.
The same thing happens with music. And actually with music, I can be listening to nothing and hear an actual song as sung by a famous singer in the singer’s voice. I hear it through the ear that has very little hearing, at least it feels that way. I thought “recruitment” might be an explanation, but I know nothing about it.
I have sought help for this, but it is not well-known where I live. I’ve read a lot and know it is not a hallucination, but is an illusion—it’s still miserable no matter what it’s called. I hope you have some ideas on this.
I think I know exactly what you are experiencing. You say this is not an hallucination, but rather an illusion. You might be interested to know that your above statement is one of the proofs that what you are “hearing” really is an hallucination. With true auditory hallucinations, you “know” what you are hearing is real, but you are totally wrong, because, in reality, it is totally phantom. That is the nature of an hallucination.
On the other hand, an illusion is where you hear something real, but you ascribe it to something else. For example, an illusion would be where you hear a person talking, but it seems to be coming from your cat’s mouth.
With an hallucination, there are no real external sounds around you, so your ears are not hearing anything, yet at the same time you “hear” sounds as though they were coming from your ears. This is what you are experiencing.
You say that your tenant upstairs is very loud. Yet at the same time, you have a severe hearing loss in your worse ear. You also say you hear the upstairs sounds and what he’s saying as though he was standing right beside you talking to you it’s so clear in your bad ear.
If you think about it, you know your bad ear can’t hear anything from the tenant upstairs. You have enough trouble just hearing sounds around you. Thus, if he is upstairs talking on the phone, you’re not going to hear him at all. Yet, you believe you are hearing him. That’s how hallucinations work. They totally fool you into believing they are real. And you justify your opinion by believing that you have a loud tenant, when in reality, he may be as quiet as a mouse.
Incidentally, this is not recruitment. Recruitment is where sounds become abnormally loud much faster than normal because you have a sensorineural hearing loss. Nor is it hyperacusis where you hear all sounds louder than normal. What you have is a condition called Musical Ear Syndrome. With Musical Ear Syndrome, you hear phantom sounds that you swear are real, but in truth, are totally phantom.
An easy way to tell whether your upstairs tenant is, in fact, having the TV on all day, having the phone ringing all day, playing music all night until 4 AM, etc. is to have somebody with normal hearing come to your place and listen. When you hear the phone ringing or the loud music, etc., ask the hearing person if she hears the same thing. If she is not hearing exactly what you were hearing, you know that these “sounds” are not real, and that you are experiencing an hallucination.
If there is no one that can come and listen with you—say it is 2 o’clock in the morning when the music is bothering you—record the music that you are “hearing”. Then, the next day listen to the recording and see if you can hear any music on it. If you don’t hear anything, you know you were “hearing” phantom sounds (again). Alternately, take the recording to a hearing person and have him listen to it. If he can’t hear any music, again you know it was all in your head.
These kinds of hallucinations are not psychiatric problems. In other words, you are not crazy. You do not have a mental illness. You are not going nuts. You are not schizophrenic. Rather, something is not working quite right in the auditory circuits in your head.
Furthermore, you are not alone. Thousands upon thousands of hard of hearing people hear similar things to what you are experiencing, yet they seldom talk about these things, for fear of being thought crazy and misunderstood by their family, friends and doctors.
That is why I wrote a detailed article on this very subject. It is called, “The Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music & Other Spooky Sounds Many Hard of Hearing People Secretly Experience“.
In addition, you can learn even more about Musical Ear Syndrome in my book, “Phantom Voices, Ethereal Music & Other Spooky Sounds“.