Lessons That Go Beyond – Applying Tinnitus Lessons to the Rest of My Life

So, as I said some months ago, I managed to jump in a pool funny and develop Tinnitus in my left ear. Yes, it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. For those of who you are (blessed enough to be) unfamiliar, Tinnitus is a ringing in your ear that is non-stop. And it suuuuuuuuucks, let me just tell you. That was about seven months ago now, and there’s never really been a time that it has gone away. So, with some painful brief exceptions, I haven’t really heard silence since early August. It has certainly gotten better, and there are some days where it is better than others, but yeah…it sucks. And no, there is no cure, although some are being researched and show promise. I’m cautiously optimistic that there may be real, physical remedies in the next few years.

Anyway, no, I am not writing this to whine or get sympathy. Actually, I’m writing to share one of the things I learned from it, in the hope that my experiences can positively affect you.

To be clear, the first few weeks I had it was exceptionally difficult. Anxiety and depression are fairly common for Tinnitus sufferers, and they tend to get worse if you already suffer from these disorders…like me. And tinnitus can be even more emotionally painful if you have something called hyperacusis, which is defined as an extreme sensitivity to sound. Yep. Me again.

The first few weeks I had the tinnitus were particularly bad, and I wound up seeing my therapist for it. Interestingly, although there are no physical cures for tinnitus, there are a variety of behavioral techniques and ways in which counseling can help you deal with tinnitus. My therapist…God bless him…was exceptionally helpful in allowing me to identify these techniques.

One such way, and what I wanted to write about today, was something that I alluded to several months ago: Using my new chronic condition for personal growth. I have tried to parallel my new experience with tinnitus to my experiences with depression and anxiety. While both have obviously been hellish experiences, I wouldn’t trade them. They made me stronger, more empathetic and gave me a sense of purpose as a legislator and writer that I never would have had otherwise. It is so strange to say that depression and anxiety made my life so much more joyful and meaningful.

One of the most useful techniques in terms of tinnitus management basically boils down to this: Acknowledge it and move it. There are periods I can forget about the tinnitus – usually when I am wrapped up in work or something fun. I always laugh about it, but the longest I ever went without hearing the ringing in my ear was the day I ran for House leadership – I didn’t hear it for almost the entire day, as I was so intent on making the phone calls and attending the meetings that I needed to attend to win.

Anyway, those moments and days are few and far between, and there are plenty of moments where I hear the tinnitus and get annoyed distracted, sad, or angry. At those moments, one of the things my therapist taught me was to more or less say, “Oh, yep, you’re there. Hello. Nice to see you. Anyway….” and to move on. That requires a letting go and acceptance that I am just terrible at. But, what I will say is that I am learning and getting better. In turn, my tinnitus is getting better. You acknowledge that it’s there but try to remove the emotional connection with it. Studies have shown that the stress and distress you feel with tinnitus aren’t tied to perceived loudness. This means that your level of stress and how you deal with the tinnitus is much more impactful than its actual frequency or volume!

This brings me to a fascinating experience I had last week. As I said above, I have tried to see my depression and anxiety experiences to make myself a better person. When the tinnitus first started, I pledged to try to do the same with the disorder. Doing so, in my mind, would make the tinnitus worth it. And that brings me to this experience.

So, I see something stupid on Facebook. Someone had said something insulting or ignorant, and I’m annoyed by it. And I just have this very quick, almost automatic thought: “Whatever, I know it’s bothering me, but I’ll just acknowledge it and move on…oh–”

It was my Tinnitus process hitting something more real.

Look, this thing sucks. And I won’t pretend otherwise. BUT, that doesn’t mean that good can’t come from it. It doesn’t mean that you cannot experience something good from something just absolutely terrible. And I hope I will continue to take the lessons I’ve learned from Tinnitus and apply them to the rest of my life.

More importantly: I hope you can keep this motto as well. I hope you can try to find the good in the bad and apply lessons you’ve learned from negative experiences into positive ones. Negative experiences, terrible tragedies, horrible events – I am not stupid enough to say that they are “worth it” or won’t cause you endless hours of pain or torment. But what I will say is that one way of dealing with these experiences is to try to take the lessons learned in order to make them more “worth it.” I have found this to be an excellent coping mechanism, one that has helped me take a real challenge and turn it into something positive. I hope this is something you can do, too.