Silent night…all is calm….sleep in (heavenly) peace….
These phrases from “Silent Night”, the beautiful Christmas carol, are the goal for anyone who lives with tinnitus—especially the rough, unrelenting tinnitus that prevents us from getting to sleep, staying asleep, or getting back to sleep when we awake at 2am and the whooshes and whines roar into our heads like trains.
We dream of hearing silence again. We want the calm of not having to deal with it anymore. And we want the peace of a sleep that is deep and free of head sound.
It’s hard to talk about our personal tinnitus with hearing people because it’s not easy to explain. And when discussing with other people who have tinnitus, it becomes clear that the experience is highly individual. Tinnitus manifests itself differently in each human head—in intensity, cause (if known), sounds, and even its power to render us crazy.
On the many Facebook groups devoted to tinnitus, people post about hearing the high drones, the thumping of pulsatile tinnitus, and the ding-dingety bells that never stop ringing. Some of us read that and go, “Oh, I wish I had that—instead of this loud roar of an idling airplane.”
But we only know what we ‘hear’ in our heads, responding to it as annoying, irritating, or maybe up a notch to distracting and upsetting, or all the way up to nerve-jangling, pacing, and the sweats of anxiety.
For some people, the tinnitus can be masked—by white noise, low music, a radio on in the background, or by hearing aid masking programs. For others (like me), nothing external can mask our sounds.
When a new person comes onto a social media tinnitus forum, they ask if anyone has had success with this supplement or that drug. Or they ask, “what can possibly help me?” “Is it always going to be this crazy-making?” “I’m not sure I can live like this.”
We feel their pain, and it’s gratifying to see how people jump to respond to the desperate posts with expressions of support, some ideas and even the simple phrase, “You can do this!”
Like them, I live in hope that researchers and scientists will someday sort out the neurological jumble of missed connections and mixed messages that are zapping all over the place in our brains and bodies.
I have both reactive and somatosensory tinnitus, meaning that the sound flares up even worse in response to noise and body movements. But these are the strategies that help me:
- Significant daily exercise—for me that’s a 5-kilometre hike, that includes some up and down elevation.
- A good night’s sleep. Luckily, I’m able to get to sleep and stay asleep most If I do wake up, the tinnitus is there—it’s always there—but I usually don’t have a problem getting back to sleep.
- The most important one: keeping my mind occupied elsewhere. Whether in conversation, writing, or watching something engaging, I’m able to forget my tinnitus, for a while.
- Knowing that, tomorrow, it may be better. And sometimes it is!
- I wear my hearing aid and cochlear implant sound processor all the time. The tinnitus is way worse when, for any reason, one or both are off my head.
Lately, I’ve started something new that doesn’t decrease my tinnitus, but does increase my ability to cope with it.
My local health authority offers a program called BCalm: The Art of Living Mindfully, which is geared to people dealing with anxiety. Two of us in the class are dealing with tinnitus.
The. Course. Is. Fabulous. Because the pandemic has moved the program online, I’m able to stream the sound into my devices. This makes it possible for me to understand almost everything that’s said by the leader and the 16 participants, which would have been difficult if we were sitting together in a circle in a classroom. And for the first time in my life, I’m having success with the guided meditations the program is based on.
After the class, my head rings because of all the sound input, but I am happy and refreshed. Even though people are sharing stories of extreme stress, we are at the point, several weeks into the program, of sharing some laughs.
Laughter is another way to deal with tinnitus and its stress; the person who first said that laughter is the best medicine knew what he was talking about. Henri de Mondeville, a doctor in the 1330s, found that laughter, along with his treatments, helped make the patient better.
In this season of silent night and all is calm, we have to continue to live in hope….