Ear nuggets!

Ear nuggets!

These are my purple ear nuggets! I got them from ACS in 2016 after developing hyperacusis; they helped me return to every-day life with all its noise(s) and now allow me to go to the cinema and to gigs again.

They filter the sound you hear, reducing or blocking out the worst/loudest noises while still allowing you to answer the phone or follow conversations around you. (As a downside of that, people who can’t stop talking during performances or folks eating crunchy snacks throughout a movie become more noticeable —as if they weren’t annoying enough…!) As yet I haven’t been able to get used to the different sound of my own voice* when wearing these ear plugs, so I prefer not to talk, but in my case that’s not necessarily a downside.

Custom ear filters not cheap, but I think they are worth the investment; alternatives for someone with hearing sensitivity issues might be to withdraw from a normal working and social life and/or spend months on NHS waiting lists for an audiologist, otologist and/or therapy (if you can even get the referral). Once my GP had confirmed my ears were free from infection and, after syringing, free from wax as well, ACS created moulds of my ears. A couple of weeks later I received my custom hearing protectors, which essentially do the opposite of hearing aids, except there aren’t any batteries involved; you choose a specific ‘strength’ of filter in advance, and if that turns out to provide either insufficient or excess noise reduction, you can opt to buy a different type. All in all the process took 3-4 weeks and a significant amount of money (£170-180 + travel time & expenses), but to me that was less of a price to pay than the alternatives I mentioned would have been.

I started off by wearing my custom ear plugs pretty much all day every day (either in addition to or in place of noise-cancelling headphones), and then slowly reintroducing myself to sounds and noise, by taking out my ‘purple ear nuggets’ and wearing standard in-ear headphones (<£20 Skull Candy earbuds provide a soft, warm, non-screechy sound while blocking out outside noise, yet without leaking much sound themselves); first with pink noise (something I’d already used with my noise cancelling headphones), then without noise (pink or otherwise), and then slowly reintroducing the music and podcasts I love at increasing volume, or wearing no ear buds or ear plugs whatsoever. My aim was to build up my pain threshold in relation to my hearing, and I figured this might work best by practicing with those sounds that I used to love before sound and noise came to equal pain.

Nowadays I only wear hearing attenuation when there are loud sounds around me (building work, loud music I didn’t pick played through crappy speakers, noisy old tube trains, a vacuum cleaner, the washing machine during its spinning cycle, low-flying helicopters and so on), be it at home or elsewhere. I’ve worn my ‘purple ear nuggets’ whenever I’ve gone to the cinema, and at the time of writing this I’ve just attended my first rock gig wearing them (not wanting to force things I didn’t enter the venue until after the support act had finished, only attended the main act, and didn’t stick around for any afterparty).

Custom ear filters like ACS’s are clearly great for gig-goers, clubbers and ravers and the like, and although they can also be a great aid for anyone affected by hyperacusis, they’re by no means perfect for the latter, as they don’t block out the horrid hiss of office air con or rainy-day traffic on wet roads (noise-cancelling headphones** may work better for those).

Also, the little cord ACS supplies with each set of ear plugs is useful to attach when you’re wearing the ear plugs to crowded events where you could be at risk of losing them (it even has a clip to attach to your clothing), but the way the cord itself conducts sound into your ears via the plugs is a hyperacusis sufferer’s nightmare; the same applies to the cream supplied with the plugs: comfortable, perhaps, if you hardly ever wear the plugs, but not pleasant if you’re a regular wearer with hyperacusis or another type of (hyper)sensitivity to sound.

Because I found very little had been written about using custom hearing attenuation as a (fast-tracked) means of dealing with hyperacusis or other hearing sensitivity issues, I decided to write this in the hope it may help someone else in a similar situation to mine.

Please note I am not medically trained and have written this only to share my personal experience and my opinions based on this experience, and not to provide any medical advice. If you have any issues with your hearing, please get yourself seen by a doctor; it’s what I did but perhaps I left it a bit too late — and that’s not something I’d advise anyone.

For more information about the specific hearing protection pictured, go to acscustom.com/uk/products/hearing-protection/pro-series.

To learn more about hearing sensitivity issues, visit braininjurysociety.com/information/acquired-brain-injury/hyperacusis-noise-sensitivity-hearing.

If you do not suffer from any issues relating to your hearing, but you do love music and you love going to clubs or gigs, hearing protection is worth considering, anyway. In my opinion – and I stress, it’s my opinion only, based on personal experience alone – good hearing protection will not take anything away from the immersive experience (whereas turning down the overall sound may) but it does prevent pain and damage.

*This issue – called occlusion – is more of a problem with standard foam earplugs than it is with custom plugs; for me, the problem is not so much the sound of my own voice but rather the volume, in that I have no idea whether I am speaking too loudly or softly when wearing my custom ear plugs.

**Note: If you’re going to invest in noise-cancelling headphones: my Sennheiser PXC 250-II are fab on aeroplanes where everyone’s cell phones are switched off or on the tube in tunnels where there is no signal; but attached to or near some – not all – mobile devices the GSM buzz they pick up can cause sheer agony for anyone with (hyper)sensitive hearing. I had to buy my noise-cancelling headphones in a rush, with no time to research or shop around, but I wish I’d known this before I spent an arm and a leg on them.

Self Help

Although I’m a great fan of investing in self improvement, I’m not the most compatible with talking therapies. There are countless self help and therapy books available, many of them utter rubbish that just make you feel as if you’re being taken advantage off (ripped off, scammed, whatever you wish to call it).

Thankfully, there are exceptions. I would like to use this blog post to list a number of books that seriously helped me out over the years.


The Tao of Pooh – by Benjamin Hoff

Really?! Yes, Really. This light bed time reading is the best book ever to slowly, simply change your outlook on life to a more positive one. Nothing flippant whatsoever, it seriously changed me for the better; so much so that whenever I can afford it I buy extra copies to give out as presents to friends and strangers.

The Tao of Pooh is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Dit boek is ook beschikbaar in een Nederlandse vertaling bij Bol.com.


Negaholics: How to Overcome Negativity and Turn Your Life Around – by Cherie Carter-Scott

Once upon a time I was convinced Murphy had it in for me, that everything that could go wrong, would always go wrong as far as my life was concerned. And I prided myself on being a level-headed realist when, in reality, I could only view life in terms of (potential) problems and so I often failed to see or reach solutions and too often found myself in unnecessary (often futile) conflicts. A regular customer at the bookstore I worked at when I was 19 suggested I read this; I did and it changed me for the better.

Negaholics is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.


Self Help for Your Nerves: Learn to relax and enjoy life again by overcoming stress and fear – by Dr. Claire Weekes

My GP in 2003 suggested I read this, because at the time I didn’t really ‘believe’ anxiety and depression were anything more than figments of people’s imaginations, even though I was clearly suffering from both conditions. This book helped me acknowledge and appreciate what was going on with me (and other sufferers), and what I could do about it myself. There are a number of other (audio) books with similar titles accredited to the same Dr Claire Weekes, but personally I’d stick with this one and accept your doctor’s prescription for medication to help you out while you help yourself forward.

Self Help for Your Nerves is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.


Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Be a Happy Non-smoker for the Rest of Your Life – by Allen Carr

I nearly forgot to add this book to this list, because I haven’t smoked since February 2009 and I don’t really think about it anymore. It was only when going through my past book purchases to compile the list of books for this blog post that I bumped into it again. It’s brilliant! It didn’t get me to quit smoking for good straight away: I read this book, then I quit smoking, then I started smoking again, then I hated myself for smoking, then I quit smoking again, then I read this book again, then the penny dropped: Carr wrote about the ‘liberation’ from one’s addiction to smoking, and indeed I felt liberated from it; but I also realised the same principle could be applied to every and any other addiction (including eating disorders, which in many ways are like addictions too).

Carr himself quit smoking too late to save himself: he died from lung cancer. But what a legacy he leaves with all the people who didn’t and/or won’t die thanks to his books.

Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Dit boek is ook beschikbaar in een Nederlandse vertaling bij Bol.com.


Change Your Thinking with CBT: Overcome Stress, Combat Anxiety and Improve Your Life
by Dr Sarah Edelman

The term CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is bandied about everywhere these days, just like NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) was a few years ago. It’s become something of a fad, meaning there are a lot of books and practitioners out there and I doubt each of them offers high quality; but I do believe the basic principle of CBT makes perfect sense.

Over 20 years ago I was seen by a married couple (he was a psychiatrist, she was a psychotherapist) for rather heavy, confrontational, intense/intensive therapy over the course of three or four months. The name CBT wasn’t being used back then (was it even known in the 1990s?) but in hindsight I believe the therapy I received from them probably was cognitive behavioural therapy. It equipped me with coping mechanisms and tools there and then at the time, and still works for me to this day. CBT doesn’t just change your mindset or attitude, I found it’s changed me so profoundly that even how my emotions operate today are down to the aforementioned therapy as well as books like this one by Dr Sarah Edelman.

Change Your Thinking with CBT is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.

Additional/alternative reading:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies – by Rhena Branch and Rob Willson

Available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.


Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life – by Raymond Chip Tafrate and Howard Kassinove

Punching a pillow can only do so much when you’re a hothead like I used to be. Once upon a time I was the queen of tantrums and grudges, who could get make myself really angry and upset (usually over things not even worth getting angry or upset about); nowadays I am by no means perfect, and I am definitely still learning, but the aggression I used to harbour is most definitely gone.

Anger Management for Everyone is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.

Additional/alternative reading:

Anger Management for Dummies (UK Edition) – by Gillian Bloxham and W. Doyle Gentry

Available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.


Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation – by Jon Kabat-Zinn

‘Mindfulness’ is another current fad, but this book predates the fad by years and years and helped me meditate. I should be picking up this book again, really, and re-read it, as I’ve let slip of the meditation in recent years… even though it really does a lot of good for both my mental and physical health.

Full Catastrophe Living is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.


Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness – by Erich Schiffmann

To this day I find yoga pretty boring, but it does me the world of good, particularly for my physical health. It steadies my balance (I have a minor balance disorder due to oxygen deficit in birth and meningitis when I was two years old) and improves my posture (reducing pain and discomfort from my endometriosis and other gynaecological issues). Better posture also means I sit/stand/walk more steadily and straight and people might interpret that as confidence on my part, which isn’t a bad thing either.

This book was my introduction to basic yoga exercises that you can do at home without risking injury (if you take things slowly and carefully) and I rely on it now that I cannot afford yoga classes.

Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness is available here from Amazon UK.

Voor Nederlandse lezers: Van dit boek bestaat geen Nederlandse vertaling, maar het Engelstalige origineel is wel verkrijgbaar bij Bol.com.

Boob job

NO MORE BOOB JOBS ON THE NHS!” scream some of today’s headlines. “We should not be doing cosmetic work on the NHS,” says Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. With the next election less than a year away, that’s possibly a popular statement to make to voters. But what if the context of such a statement isn’t as black and white as presented? 

Mention ‘NHS’ and ‘cosmetic surgery’ in one sentence, and middle England will undoubtedly be reminded of tabloid stories like this, this and this, about nobodies ‑ with agents ‑ who had cosmetic procedures courtesy of the British taxpayer and seem to have sought fame on the back of it. For a politician to pick up on the public sentiments is a clever move to garner popularity, but let’s not look at this from an entirely cynical frame of mind: the taxpayer-funded NHS is dreadfully expensive, and we need to look at what medical care we want it to cover and what not. Cosmetic surgery is a subject we therefore need to discuss and I, for one, appreciate a politician listening to people and responding to people’s concerns.

Cosmetic surgery is certainly on my mind when I walk outside in the lovely weather we’re currently enjoying, and I see people with plenty of flesh on display, showcasing their piercings, tattoos, stretched earlobes and other visible body modifications. Then I can’t help but wonder if in years to come there will be an increased demand for surgery and other treatments to ‘undo’ previous modifications, and whether the NHS (read: the British tax payer) will be able to provide this or if people are going to be told to seek private medical care at their own expense. I believe we should think and plan ahead now rather than later and do so for the long term rather than merely till the next elections. But I also believe we shouldn’t fall for tabloid-style rhetoric in which issues and possible solutions are presented in black and white, when reality is more likely to involve varying shades of grey.

This is where I’ll get personal. You see, I’ve had cosmetic surgery on the NHS.

For as long as I can remember I’d always had a small but visible spot on my right breast. On the nipple, to be exact. When that suddenly started growing into an uncomfortable lump, and a second spot ‑ about the size of a birthmark ‑ appeared, I decided to see my GP about it. She was confident that both the lump and the spot were probably benign, yet she did order to have them removed, ‘just in case,’ but also because apparently sometimes perfectly benign tumours can become malignant. Since removing the two tumours might disfigure my breast, she referred me to a cosmetic surgeon. This decision was purely for aesthetic reasons. It wasn’t until I actually met with the surgeon, that I learned that there was more at stake than just looks: nerves, glands and milk ducts might get damaged in the operation.

In the end, I was operated on by a different surgeon than the one I’d initially been referred to ‑ there was a waiting list and a slot had opened up in the other surgeon’s schedule ‑ and that cosmetic surgeon decided in the operating room to leave the small new spot be and just remove the larger tumour that caused me discomfort. This left me with minimal scarring at the time and now, five years on, you can’t even see that I was ever operated on.

The biopsy later confirmed that the tumour had indeed been benign, so does that make my operation indeed one hundred percent ‘cosmetic’? Should I have been turned down for surgery on the NHS and been told to save up and pay for it myself?

Strangely, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s remarks have come at a time that the small spot that appeared five years ago, has just started growing. It is no longer the size of a birth mark and may end up growing into a tumour like the previous one, that gets itchy and painful and causes the other discomforts that its predecessor did. So what do I do?

If I could afford to go private, I wouldn’t even be asking this question. But I happen to be fully reliant on the NHS here. Do I deserve for taxpayers ‑ of which I am one myself ‑ to pay for a cosmetic surgeon to remove this growing-but-probably-benign-again tumour from my breast and hopefully do so (again) without scarring or disfiguring my breast? Or should I wait until it develops into something more sinister than it appears to be right now?

What would you do if you were (a) me; (b) Health Secretary; or (c) a UK taxpayer? See how this isn’t a plain black-and-white issue?

© 2014 Jo Hughes | All rights reserved

Lesson learnt the not-so-hard way

“Caught in the act – texting while driving. Police gave me a massive fine. Now I’m broke and it’s my own stupid fault.”

The above is an adapted quote from one of the most powerful social media updates I have read in ages. The original post was shared among friends only so I won’t actually link you to the source. Even so, I think the person who had the cojones to share this about themselves online is awesome for using social media in this way.

Why? Because it reminded me of something that happened to me around eleven or twelve years ago, which I’d hereby like to share publicly. I was on the telephone with someone who was driving, on their way to me. Then, as I looked out the window and saw them pull up the driveway, he very nearly hit a lady with a pram. He hit the breaks just in time. Just.

While I may not have been the person behind the wheel that day, I felt and still feel very guilty about what happened. As the person distracting the driver, I was equally guilty. Whether or not they were holding the phone or speaking to me hands-free is irrelevant. Nothing, really nothing was that important that we should have put ourselves and others at risk the way we did. Whatever it was we were talking about on the telephone, I don’t remember, but I am absolutely certain it could have waited. We could have waited and then we would have had all the time in the world to discuss whatever it was we wanted to discuss without putting anyone at risk. So very nearly we hurt someone and they would have been very badly hurt and that would have been our fault.

The memory still haunts me, and the person putting up the status update from which I quoted above brought it all right back to me. And I am so grateful they did, because without them I wouldn’t have posted this.

They got a massive fine, I got a massive shock. No one got hurt. But the point is: worse things could have happened, due to our behaviour. We each had a choice and each made the wrong one. We were and are blessed that that’s the worst that happened, considering the horrors we could have caused.

Perhaps the most powerful use of social media is exactly this, holding your hands up in the virtual world and admitting you’re a real human being. Nothing photoshopped or polished.

“Hey everyone, I screwed up. Big time. But I learned my lesson. And I’m sharing it with you in the hope that you will take notice and like me will learn from this, thus preventing this – and worse! – from ever happening to you, me, or anyone else for that matter.”

To the person who inspired this post: You rock. Big time.

Love for sale on eBay

UPDATE: The bass guitar was sold to a proud father who bought it for his young son. May he get to love and enjoy it as much as (or even more than) I have done.

The Lovely Little Laney Amp I already sold a couple of years ago, now it’s the turn for my Beautiful Baby Bass. It hurts but for now it has to be like that. It’s stuff. It’s replaceable. (So don’t be surprised if years from now, you’ll see me save up to buy the exact same model bass guitar again.) For now, there are more important things to worry about. And that’s OK. It’s life.

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I’m selling the lot – the bass guitar, the hardcase, the strap, the leads and the DVDs. (I haven’t found back the books but I will have a look for them as well.)

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Now go on, place your bid(s)… Hopefully it will make someone as happy as it did me.