It's 3:00am, and I'm awake.
You wouldn't guess that if you saw me tomorrow. Pretty clothes, clean hair, neat lipstick. I've got a blog, too. I write about clothes and my beauty regime and how I ensure the "perfect night's sleep" as I douse myself in lavender spray for the sake of a photograph. Oh, and there's my Instagram - of course there's Instagram. My own not-so-private hotbed of vapidity, vanity, vacuous-poses with sickly-sweet sign-offs, laden with hashtags, aching to be adored by anyone.
I guess I'm loud. Louder than I was, anyway. I laugh too strongly, smile too wide, make frenetic gestures at frantic speeds with my hands and my fingers and get dirty looks. Dirty looks from strangers who think I'm a hyped-up teen with too many E numbers rattling around an empty body; a student dipping her feet and mouth and dignity into alcohol for the first time. They scald me for ruining a quiet night, day; life.
But it's 3:07am, and I'm not sleeping. It's a Saturday night, and I'm not out trotting on too-tall heels being loud. I'm just lying in bed. Awake.
I was first aware of it when I was about fifteen, I think. Maybe it was always there, but I was too busy growing up, climbing trees and sword-fighting my brothers with badminton racquets to realise. I was fifteen, and I was here in the same bed. Bolt upright, little fingers hanging onto the windowsill. I called my dad. I asked him if he heard it, too. If he heard the sound, the ringing, the buzz. I remember staring at him with such hope, hope that this was just a facet of life I hadn't quite got used to yet. That it was normal. That I was normal.
He said he couldn't hear anything.
I tried to go back to sleep. But every time I closed my eyes, the sound got worse. The pressure got worse. It felt like someone had pushed a speaker inside my head and was blasting noise from the inside out. White noise, like an untuned TV set, a sort of ringing that's more of a hum but it buzzes and pulses and, oh, I can't explain it. Ten years on, I've found that three syllables cover it instead: tinnitus.
At first it scared me. It scared me because I couldn't stop it, switch it off, rip the earphones from the socket and push my head between bed and pillow. I tried, anyway, until I realised it just drowned out actual noises and intensified my own soundtrack instead.
Tinnitus, coupled with anxiety, is cruel. I can't find any other word - when you're already paranoid and hyper-sensitive, adding something that's inside you with no cure is terrifying. I remember being sat with my therapist when I was younger, her playing a cassette of relaxation techniques. Sea lapping, wind blowing, breathing in for three and out for six. It didn't help. All I could hear was my own mind, my own buzz, muffling everything.
Like a barrier between me and my recovery.
Recently, it's got louder. More intense, more prominent. I've started to lip read in public because I'm sick of asking someone to repeat themselves for the fourth time when I'm still no closer to working out what they said. I quip that it's awkward, staring at someone's lips when they don't expect it, because maybe they think I'm trying to work out the best angle to kiss them at. I joke, because it's a defence, it protects me, makes light of the situation.
But I don't want light. I want silence.
It's not the embarrassment of mishearing that upsets me. It's the feeling of never really being free, alone; silent. I used to fall asleep to music to focus on another sound, but even that doesn't work now. I feel like I'm trapped, and the noise is getting louder, and louder, and louder, with no end.
I began this post talking about my appearance. How, because I flick my hair and hashtag the life out of my photos on Instagram, I'm seen as some kind of air-head attention seeker. That I'm just after praise. Because a legitimate interest in fashion and beauty can't be there without an inherent want to be told you're beautiful sixty times a day.
But my exterior is just that - the outside. Over the years I've learnt to project a stronger version of me. Because if you saw me in raw-form, I'd be a shaking, crying, paranoid mess. And I've done that, I did that for too long, far too long, and I can't go back again. Makeup and clothes have become my armour. They make me feel stronger, more confident - makeup covers up the darkness on my face when I've reached 3:43am and 0 seconds of sleep.
You can't tell what's happening inside by how someone looks. You can't: it's impossible.
I'm struggling right now, but you can't see it - it's nestled deep inside my head, and only affects me. Or you, when I can't hear you, I guess. But we all do it. I do it, I make snap decisions on people because of how they look or act. And I shouldn't. Because we're all just human beings, living, breathing, desperately trying not to lose our minds over something hidden deep inside without a cure.
We can't judge people for being loud, or noisy, or throwing messy energy around like confetti at the wrong time. Tolerance is something I'm working on, and it's something we all need a little more of. And, as much as I wish my exterior matched my interior, it doesn't, and it probably never will. So, I'm trying not to see people as one static image, and I hope you will try, too - because you never really know what's happening inside beneath it all.
We're all just doing our best to live with whatever we have served.