Coping - tinnitus and fear

Reading - I used to do it a lot. Books by the dozens. Not the "have-you-read-this-and-what's-your-opinion" coffee table jobbies to impress ladidas at boring parties. No, the fastfood-for-the-mind stuff, brain candies. The ones your mum told you were a waste of time: science fiction. A couple of pages worth and the world around you no longer exists, literally in some of them. Total escape from reality for five bucks a pound. Many of them though did more than just make you dream, they made you think. One of them in particular made me think a lot, this one paragraph made a deep and lasting impression:
I must not fear
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear
I will permit it to pass over me and through me
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing
Only I will remain

The book? Dune, by Frank Herbert. This snippet of wisdom has come in handy on more than one occasion for me - thanks Frank! I remember the sitting at my computer, the first time I type in the word TINNITUS and pressed the enter key. The overwhelming amount of information that plopped up on the screen. Before, I was kind of worried. After, having read all the articles, the newsgroup messages, the testimonials etc., I got scared. I got plenty scared. Here's some of the things that scared the bejeebies out of me:

What if it won't go away? What if it never goes away? What if it never gets less? What if I gotta put up with this for the rest of my life? What if it gets louder? What if it gets so loud I can't hear other things any more? Things like music, voices, the telephone or whatever? What if they CAN do something? What if I need an operation - visions of slice-em dice-em lobotomies, high voltage probes arcing blue bolts from my ears on down to my butt. What if I need medication with weird side effects, like making me a zombie or something? What if it spreads? What if my brain is just so messed up it'll screw up my sight, speech, touch, smell, walking, eating? What if they all think I'm nuts? "Yo beep face, talked to Elvis lately. . . ?" "if you stand a little closer to that guy you can hear the ocean. . ." What if I really am crazy? What if they find out at work? Will I get fired? How about my insurance company, will they cancel my policy? What if really does drive me nuts? Will they lock me up? Straight jackets my size? What colour rubber rooms? Will they remember I hate cucumbers? What if, what if, what if, what if. . .

I had many questions and worries. How about you? Are you wondering maybe about them high voltage power lines, or the television and radio station's antenna towers? Or the microwave, or the TV set? Who knows, I bet you have many questions too and you probably worry about the odd one here and there. I can imagine in times gone by some folks might even have thought they were possessed by demons or something.

Maybe your life is effected to the point where you can no longer function normally. Maybe your case is so severe you can't even go to work, that's pretty scary alright. If this applies to you I can't pretend to know what to tell you because I don't. All I can do is urge you to seek professional help - FAST!

Fortunately, tinnitus seldom gets this severe. Usually stepping back to take a look at your self will show you are quite sane and in control. Information and support is readily available. After a bit of reading, the unknown mostly no longer is. Most importantly: you are NOT alone and you are NOT crazy! In some cases successful
treatment is even possible. If not, there is always hope.

"If I am not alone, then where are the others?" Tough question, they are there all right, but you just can't spot them. They could be anywhere, just going about doing their stuff. The lady at the super market checkout line-up. The puzzled look on her face as if she just remembered the chicken was on sale, or did she? Maybe she just had an internal siren go off, or a beehive knocked over. How about the guy at the gas station, the one that never smiles? Or the kid sitting like he's about to burst out in tears? What their story? There's no way to tell is there. After all, you don't see folks with their brain in a sling. About the only way you can guess is by the groan on their face when the music gets cranked up yet another notch. Even then, you still can't be sure. You can carefully, vaguely wonder about some clues in the name or lyrics of songs you hear. A few of them popped in my head:

Boom boom - John Lee Hooker
There's a kind of hush - Herman's Hermits
Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat - Martha Reeves.
Good - bop - bop - good good vibrations - the Beach Boys
Bring the noise - Anthrax
The house of white noise, Anthrax (album title)
Drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain ~ and the beat goes on - Sonny and Cher
I hear the sounds of distant drums - Jim Reeves
Sounds of silence - Simon & Garfunkel
Although it hurts deep inside ~ silence is golden, the Tremeloes
I am woman, hear me roar - Helen Reddy

Who knows, maybe it finally explains the meaning of the immortal "Pa rom pa rom pa rom pa rom pom pom pom," or "Weemah wacka weemah wacka." For that matter, maybe it might be how Samuel Morse got his idea for his dits and dahs. How about opera singers, no words, just a lot of yelling - to echo what they "sound like?" Just kidding now folks, I really do know better. It actually was the rusty nail they stepped on, ok ok, I promise.

Back to noise. Some noises you cannot avoid, maybe you work in a noisy place - try and minimize them with proper ear protection. Some noises you should not avoid - sirens, smoke alarms etc. Some noises are nice: waterfalls, steak sizzling on the bar-b-que. Others noises drive you bonkers: waterfalls, steak sizzling. We all have our likes and dislikes. Around the house there's all kinds of sounds and noises. Some of them you can nicely do without. Here's your chance to do a bit of hands-on maintenance. If you're anything like me, some of these silencing schemes are probably overdue anyway. Some may not be practical and some may be on your wish list:

Things you can lubricate:

  • fridge (compressor motor).
  • squeaky hinges, drawers, bed posts.
  • fans (fridge, ceiling, range hood, bathroom etc.).
  • air-conditioner (compressor motor).
  • vacuum cleaner (motor).
  • springs in swivel chairs, storm doors.
  • squeaky floors (talcum powder on beams, joists).

Things you can change/replace:

  • microwave - disconnect beep.
  • squealing/dripping faucets - replace seals.
  • fluorescent lights (if they hum badly) - replace the ballast.
  • smoke alarm - clicking, beeping - new battery.
  • smoke alarm - DON'T be tempted to remove the battery.
  • television - squeals in the back - ask Santa.

Drastic measures:

  • replace regular vacuum cleaner with a central vac.
  • replace window air-conditioned with central air.
  • fridge noisy despite lubrication - cover walls behind/beside.
  • fridge with styrofoam (be sure to leave sufficient space for ventilation!)
  • apartment walls - cover with decorative cork sheets.

Lubricating does not mean drowning something in oil, only a few drop will do. Of course, it goes without saying that if you do not know how to do any of these things (including squirting oil): have someone do it for you! I have a question myself to a fixer-upper genius: my ceiling fan is mounted on a regular electrical box. The box is mounted on a beam. The beam is in a drywall ceiling: the whole thing resonates like crazy - any suggestions appreciated.

Cars are great noise producers as well, mufflers are the first to come to mind. Driving with the windows rolled down is a great feeling. Especially the first time in spring after a long winter up here in Ontario. But, I find the constant sound of the rushing wind enormously fatiguing on long trips. The air-conditioned lets me keep the windows closed and the ride is a lot more relaxing. If you are concerned about fuel efficiency: consider that modern automotive air conditioners are quite efficient. Driving with the windows open introduces additional drag and wind resistance. Either way, fuel economy is affected similarly. For some folks though, the rushing wind might be a terrific tinnitus masker.

What else can you do to sound proof your personal universe? Stay away from: crunchy peanut butter and breakfast serials. Get regular seedless red instead of sparkling wines. And ladies, needless to say you should buy only the Whisper brand panty hose eh. . .

In my last post I mentioned the word "goner" - someone totally fascinated and absorbed in an activity. Probably not a relevant, or not even a suitable story, but a few days ago a memory popped into my head that made me laugh out loud. It involves the ultimate "goner" - and flying baboons. In grade two (when I still had hair) we got to go on a school excursion, a big trip on the bus to the zoo. It was in the pre-"sue-'em-all" days, so you could still get right up close to the cages. The monkey displays were the most popular, the chimps, gorillas and the baboons. Of course, the baboons. When you are eight years old, there's nothing that beats seeing your first baboon - the big bright shiny purple red butts and all. One little girl was standing there watching, completely enchanted by the critters. Her eyes and head followed the monkeys as they were climbing and jumping up and down. Up and down, up, down, up, down, in perfect harmony with the universe - and the monkeys - and her ice cream cone. Each up and down saw the cone grow smaller, as did the world around her. One monkey came closer, sat down, and looking back at her over his shoulder, became equally electrified. Soon there was only her, the baboon, the ice cream cone, the purpleness. Then: motion, slow, steady, unfaltering, unwavering motion - forward. . . upward. . . inward. . .

Once again, if you found this an unsuitable picture, please don't ride your broom this way. It is a true story and the intention is not to shock. Hopefully it did take your mind off your inner turmoil though, even if only for three or four seconds. If it did - bonus, says who you can't cope!

Let me just say hello to some friends across the ocean and then I'm off to the kitchen, just saw my wife behind a bowl of peach ice cream. . .

Sommige stukjes zijn misschien niet al te duidelijk, of moeilijk te vertalen. Vragen in het nederlands of engels zijn van harte welkom.

Before I forget, a while ago someone challenged me to re-define silence. I'm still not happy with it, but it's the best I could come up with: silence - the absence of controllable, wanted sounds. I'll bet you my 8,204 Hz. you can't better it - here's hoping I loose...

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This article was first published in October 1996 on the alt.support.tinnitus newsgroup on the internet and is Copyright 1996 Bart Veerman.

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Copyright 2001 Bart Veerman