My place. Wednesay, 5.30am
Today, I feel like getting real. I have been talking to you for many years, dear reader, about this and that. I always write about what’s on my mind at the time. Like climate change. (Oh no, S, not again…)
This morning, sitting in my shack under the cliffs, another awful reality engulfs me, almost to the point of overwhelm. What is this terrible reality? It’s tinnitus.
As I stare into the computer screen, like I do every week to write this column, an empty word document open in front of me, allowing my mind to wander through its thoughts, my fingers poised over the keyboard, I have to tell you that, today, my mind, my entire consciousness, is cling-wrapped like Woolworths zucchinis in an suffocating sound that pervades my universe as completely as the bellbirds’ ringing outside my window pervades the forest.
That sound in my head is not the tolling of a bellbird signalling a forest’s demise,
but a whistling, shrieking sound that, right now, signals the destruction of me.
Okay, that’s dramatic, I know, but that’s how I feel.
Sipping coffee after another restless night, these words appear on the screen before me. These words are my connection to you. They are a mooring line holding me from drifting into wild seas. Right now, they are a lifeline to sanity.
Over the last few years, since the tinnitus’s onset, I have seen two ENT specialists. They have nothing to say about tinnitus except there is no cure and to just deal with it. I have seen audiologists who offered me hearing aids (with bluetooth connectivity, woohoo!). I was so desperate I bought them. They didn’t help. (But I could listen to a podcast of Plato’s Dialogues while chatting with cafe friends.)
It’s a battle. Sometimes, I feel I’m holding the enemy back. They shriek and scream at the gate, but I fight them with distraction and behaviour therapy. Other times, like now, fatigued and weak, I hear them storm the walls, breech the gate, and I don’t where to run…
Friends can help at times like these. But they don’t understand. Only tinnitus sufferers can. As there are no objective symptoms that can be measured, tinnitus is invisible to friends and allopathy alike. Tinnitus has taught me we really cannot understand the pain of others. Tinnitus has taught me empathy.
Valium is my last resort. When my castle is being overrun, when I’m exhausted from continuous combat and my defences are beaten, when anxiety runs through my body, a screeching horde through the alleyways of my ears, diazepam is a little room in which I take shelter, a little room in which there is hope that the invasion will not be complete, that anxiety doesn’t become annihilation.
Tinnitus is a disability on the rise in our noisy society, but it has a long history. Three and a half thousand years ago, the Egyptians wrote on papyrus about the ‘bewitched ear’. The Assysrians wrote of three different types of tinnitus (whispering, speaking, singing) 2700 years ago. Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar from 2000 years ago, recommended sticking earthworms boiled in goose fat in your ears as a cure.
I haven’t tried the earthworms, but I have tried everything from tumeric overdose to cranial manipulation, from tissue salts to acupuncture. But, there isn’t a cure, only survival.
So, yeah, this column is all about me. Indulgent? Probably. But speaking to you, dear reader, has made me feel better. As the sun rises, you have helped me push the enemy back to the gate. Thank you.
Tinnitus sufferers need to talk to people who understand. Try tinnitustalk.com
Face your enemy. Arm yourself with knowledge. I reckon the Tinnitus Association, Victoria (http://tinnitus.org.au) has good information.
Tinnutis cannot destroy you, only isolation and fear can.
Now to dig for earthworms…