The Sounds of Silence

by Tina Blue
December 25, 2002

          Hello, tinnitus, my old friend. . . .

          In "The Sound the Universe Makes Is Really Just Tinnitus" I wrote about the four different kinds of tinnitus that I listen to all the time.  Well, okay, I listen to three of them all the time.  The fourth one only visits occasionally.

          My three constant tinnitus companions are ringing, whistling, and a warm hum that sounds like "OMMMMM."  The fourth is a weird buzzing halo that sometimes surrounds my words when I speak.

          I have heard of a lot of different kinds of tinnitus.  One friend with Meniere's (which is the condition that causes my deafness and my tinnitus) hears the loud, perpetual
of a fax machine.  Another person tells me she constantly "hears" the sound of jets taking off, as if they were right there in her living room.  When my youngest sister started losing her hearing to Meniere's 18 months ago, the tinnitus she developed made it sound as though her heart were pounding loudly in her ear all the time.  Shades of Edgar Allan Poe!

          Maybe if my tinnitus were more intrusive it would bother me as much as tinnitus seems to bother all the people I have talked to or exchanged e-mails with about it.

          But I don't mind my tinnitus at all.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I love my tinnitus. 

          In my earlier article I explained how as a child I fantasized that the sound was a coded message from aliens or from the gods of Greek mythology.  No, I didn't believe that--I just liked to imagine it.  But as I listened carefully to my tinnitus and tried to hear past it to the secret meaning being transmitted by some higher order of being, I inadvertently learned to put myself into a light trance.  Call it meditation; call it self-hypnosis.  Whatever.  It was wonderfully relaxing.

          These days I work way too hard and get way too little sleep.  I am always running the Red Queen's race.  (In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass the Red Queen tells Alice that they have to run as fast as they can just to stay in the same place.)  In fact, I know I have been under too much stress when in a quiet moment--usually when trying to unwind enough to grab a few hours of sleep at night--I suddenly hear my tinnitus. 

          My tinnitus never stops, mind you.  I know that, because anytime I actually stop to listen, there it is.  It's just that I am usually too busy to pay attention to anything other than what I need to be getting done at any given moment.  I have a very efficient "mental filter."  I can simply not pay attention to anything that might distract me from accomplishing the task at hand.  That even includes my tinnitus.  I know it's there, and it sometimes rises briefly to consciousness even while I am working.  But I just don't have time to stop and pay any attention to it.

          But when I can't sleep at night because my mind is still running at full tilt, all I have to do is listen for my tinnitus.

          And like an old friend, it is always there for me.  As I relax into the sounds I have grown so comfortable with, I can feel the tension draining from my body, and the familiar oceanic wash of relaxation carries me off into much-needed sleep.

          I get too busy to remember what I need sometimes.  But when I can remember to listen, I can always use my tinnitus to relax or, if the time is appropriate, to put myself to sleep.

          I don't know if everyone can learn to do what I do with my tinnitus.  But I am quite sure that fretting about tinnitus only calls it to your attention even more.  I know from my own experience that I only "hear" my tinnitus when I am not too busy to listen, just as we filter out real sounds and real sights when we need to be focusing on other things. 

          So the advice I offer to those who ask is to "make friends with your tinnitus."  Does that sound weird?  Not to me.  I try to find some time in every day, even if it is only after I have collapsed into bed at night, to listen to the "sounds of silence."
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