This tinnitus thing is the pits.
Two days ago, I would have told you there was absolutely no connection between my hiking and my tinnitus. I love hiking and I don’t love my tinnitus.
But I’d forgotten the dark power of T (which is what some of us call our tinnitus, and it’s not a term of endearment). Given even the smallest opening, T will insinuate itself into any situation. It’s a nasty beast that resists efforts to calm it, please it, or remove it.
It’s bad enough in quiet and it’s worse in noise – especially my type of tinnitus which reacts to noise. (That’s why it’s called reactive tinnitus.) It’s as if, when I encounter noise, my T says, “Hey, you think that’s loud or irritating? I can make more noise than THAT!” And then it does.
I also have its evil twin somatic tinnitus, which can spark when any element of my musculoskeletal system moves, or if I even think of moving it. Turn my neck – spark! Stand up – roar! Sit down, roll over, wave my arms – snap, crackle, pop! The only good news is that by using movements such as the stretching of my arms or neck in a practiced way, I can modulate down the pitch and volume of that aspect of my current head noise.
Although you wouldn’t know it by my current grumpy mood, I have learned to live with my T. I have no choice. Learning to put my focus elsewhere and how to minimize stress has made a huge difference in my daily life with chronic head noise.
But sometimes…you know? In spite of good intentions to prevent tinnitus from drawing more attention that it deserves, it can intrude into the good, warm or exciting parts our day. It takes advantage of our weakness.
Two days ago, the Hearing Husband and I were in one of our happy places, Pinnacles National Park in California. Because of the holidays and isolation due to potential Covid, I hadn’t been climbing anything higher than the 15 steps upstirs to my writing office. This hill was 1500 feet higher than that. And steep.
We hit the trail with glee; the scenery was stunning and the weather was sunnier and dryer than what we’d just left behind in Canada. But the hike was mislabeled as moderate – a more apt description would have been strenuous, as in, you will huff-and-puff and your thighs will be burning in knots for two days afterwards. We’d forgotten about the several stretches of vertical steps carved into the rocks.
Moving forward, I cursed myself for struggling and the trails for being steep. Suddenly, my T roared into locomotive mode. This was a reactive and somatic tinnitus combo at its nastiest. Loud, interfering and non-stop. The T didn’t miss a trick. It flared in Irritation at the noisy dirt beneath our hiking boots. It ramped up with my elevated heart rate and my hard-working arms and leg.
But then – wow! When we got to the top, I managed to put the tinnitus out of mind (not literally, but I can dream, right), because the views were breathtaking enough to make the angels weep. Condors, a rare sight, soared just 100 feet above our heads. What’s a little head noise compared to that!
Yes, this tinnitus thing is the pits. Just as mountains are there to climb, pits are there to climb out of.
For a while on that day, the score was Tinnitus, 1 – Good Mood, 0. But then I kept climbing.