Tinnitus and Morning Coffee

For seven years now, since the remnant of my left auditory nerve was destroyed through the surgical approach to remove my tumor, I have had tinnitus.

 Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. While it is commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can manifest many different perceptions of sound, including buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking. In some rare cases, tinnitus patients report hearing music. Tinnitus can be both an acute (temporary) condition or a chronic (ongoing) health malady.

Source: American Tinnitus Association

I constantly “hear” a generally steady, high-pitched tone on the left side, where it is not possible to hear. The brain, my brain, is expecting input and in the absence of such creates synthetic input. The sound can be maddening. I’ve read of people being driven to suicidal ideation because of it. It can be all-encompassing if you allow it.

I have dealt with through noise and other inputs. Mainly constant music or TV as wallpaper. Combining this with some mental tricks, such as not discussing tinnitus, not naming it or admitting its presence, I can ignore it. Writing about it is somewhat painful as it is a constant acknowledgement of its presence. However, over the last several weeks I have been experimenting with quiet.

As I work to change my approach to life, something I will perhaps write about next year, I have been trying to add meditation and stillness into daily living.

It ain’t easy.

I haven’t liked being still for a long time. Even less, I haven’t liked not having input, lots and lots of input. When the Web came along, I said, “Yes, this is what I have been waiting for. This matches how I think.” When smartphones came along, it was even moreso. It was Star Trek that way it should have been. Constant streams of input, Twitter, Facebook, email, added to music and video, not only met my craving for information, but drowned out to the noise in my head. That constant whine with fuzzy overtones, and unpatterned changes in frequency, could be kept at abeyance.

But attempting to meditate, “Oh. That NOISE. That unending, unpleasant, NOISE.”

So, I put attempts at meditating aside. I’ve spent weeks now just sitting with that first cup of coffee in morning. No more talking heads on the idiot box. No obsessing over inputs from the smartphone or PC. No music. Just me, my coffee, my tinnitus, and morning sounds of traffic from the highway, and the birds. It’s finally becoming comfortable. Meditation might be more possible now (or perhaps it is actually happening). The only times  I had been comfortable with this quiet and coffee had been camping or backpacking. Each morning after a long day’s hike, just stretching and preparing for the day with a cup of coffee while the surrounding forest transitions from nightsound to daysound was always nice. It’s starting to feel that way in the house.

In the long-term this pairing is something I will have to get comfortable with, tinnitus and me. It’s not going to leave, and my hearing on the right side is degrading noticeably, so I can easily see a day where the only sounds I hear are the imaginary and synthetic sounds of a brain looking for input.