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Talking about Tinnitus: Coping, learning and finding relief

tinnitus


I’ve been avoiding this topic for some time because, well, there has been so much written about it, not only from the research side but from the afflicted, and I didn’t just want to add my two cents to a dollar that was already rolling down the hill.

And then it hit me.  SSSSSSSSSshshshshshshshkkkkkkkkssssshhklkkkk  – a panoply of musical tones, like trains coming down the track, Wizard of Oz-sized tornadoes, and waves hitting the beach. I can no longer refuse to give it some props after all this time. But this is just the beginning. I will most certainly have more to say. Darn it.     

Like the call of the wild, my tinnitus bade me: “Write about me now because I’m going to be around for awhile and at least your writing won’t seem dated.” So I am.

I’ve had tinnitus every since that day in 1978 when I stood up off my bed after a nap and an air horn went off in my left ear.

On that day hearing loss and “tinny” took up residence. Eighteen months later when I lost the right ear as well to sensorineural hearing loss, we became a family of three.  

I’m sure – no wait, I KNOW – most of us would agree that the onset of tinnitus was cataclysmic, seismic, yuuuuuuge. And that what followed were questions and pleading: “What is that?” “Where did it come from?” “Make it stop. NOW.”

Treatments exist, of course. From surgery for vascular problems, medications, vitamin and mineral supplements, Chinese herbs and homeopathic remedies, biofeedback and noise suppression, not to forget acupuncture, hypnosis and something called Neuromodulation using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – if you dare. I have experimented with many of these on my journey and should probably take some of them up again as the knowledge and methodologies have surely changed over time. I also believe that a combination of these may eventually be found to be helpful if not a one-size-fits-all fix.  I also  regularly check in on tinnitus organizations and websites dedicated to it to find the latest news and information. Let me add the all important proviso that each of our bouts with tinnitus are different and so will be our methods of choice. 

OK, we skip ahead several decades and I am still here, I’m happy to say,  and ssssssssssssssssssssso is my “leetle friend.” There appears to be no immediate cure or resolution for my tinnitus, nor a few comforting words that can put this noisy hell into some zen-like context, where I can accept that “my tinny is my teacher.” That’d be great. (Actually there is some truth to that.) But I digress.

Like many of you I experience changes in the volume, tone, pitch, shape, color, and texture to my tinnitus. And as I am returning to mussssssssssssic the nasty noise machine creates yet another annoying roadblock that I have tried to overcome for many years.  I play piano and guitar and I sing along with them, and if I am singing or playing in the key of G, you can be sure that tinny is droning away in Ab or perhaps C# just for grins. I avoided even listening to music for years in part because of this little wrinkle in my tinny tin tin – tonal disruption. 

I avoided even listening to music for years in part because of this little wrinkle in my tinny tin tin – tonal disruption. 

Some good news: I have been participating in aural rehab which has been strengthening my listening and by extension the quality of my hearing. I also returned to voice coaching again to strengthen my sound making apparatus. And what do you suppose has happened? Yes indeedy, I can sometimes outrun – or rather out “noise-make”- my tinnitus with an armada of sound – both heard and made.  If I keep singing and playing of course.

HA! Take that, Tinny!

OK, doing this does not quiet tinnitus really but it makes it less “visible” and that’s almost as good for me after all this time. So yes, I sing and play a lot and it’s all good.  

I know you’re saying,  SSSSSSSSSSSSStu why don’t you just use a masker? To which I sssssssssay, I do not have good enough hearing in my left ear (the really, really bad ear) to hear the masking sound that is supposed to mask the tinny.  Yes, bummer.

I have, however, made some other important observations:

My tinny grows when I swim, when I drink too much wine, consume too much sssssssssalt or stay too long at the fair. The loud fair. It usually quiets down after a few hours, sometimes days. I’m sure you have your own list of tinny-rousers too.  

Then again, I also experience some relief from the tinnitus in my good ear at different intervals during the day or night. A good tinny time is usually around 3 a.m.. Unfortunately, life begins at 7 a.m., and “Here’ssssssssssssssssssssss Tinny!” In fact, it can rise and fall at almost any time though I am fortunate to have had a somewhat consistent experience for many years.   

If I want to quiet my tinnitus I have to quiet myself. I’ve found that yoga, mediation, breathing exercises and walking outdoors all help. I’ve also heard of people trying herbal remedies to find relief from Tinnitus.  

I also find relief if I exercise regularly, eat well, am careful about playing my instruments and singing too loud, and avoid loud places or wear ear plugs.

Acceptance is important too at whatever level. And I know that right now, my tinnitus is a matter of management – I’m not in the hope business. Kinda like life, huh? While we wait for more on the research and discovery fronts, we all know that tinnitus is not necessarily the only or even the worst “leetle” annoying friend we have to deal with on a daily basis, is it? And that might be a good thing.   

All of this may mean nothing to you or your tinnitusssssss experience but you have to admit that for at least a few minutes of reading it was a diversion – because as we all know, nothing beats tinny like a good diversion.

Now, if you like, write to me and tell me your own tinny experiences and I will add them to the collective wisdom and inspired teachings of this ancient (OK, I’m not that old!) hearing loss philosopher.  

– Tinnitus Auraleus

 

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Stu Nunnery
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, speaker, composer, musician, recording artist, actor and activist from Rhode Island. He has a special kinship with musicians and singers with hearing loss, but writes and speaks on a variety of hearing issues from his 35 years experience with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has hearing in one ear and sight in one eye, which makes for interesting sensory challenges from time to time. He seeks to be of help, hope and inspiration to those of whom he affectionately calls the “hearing lost.”

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