Tinnitus - learning to live with it
If you wake up one morning with a constant ringing in the ears, this may simply be due to exposure to loud music from the night before which usually passes within a few hours. However, you might be experiencing the more permanent form of tinnitus. For some, this ringing may disappear in time but for many people the condition is long-term and may never go away. The onset of this type of tinnitus can be very distressing, but it’s not necessarily the end of the world.
The first port of call should be your doctor who may refer you for tests to see if the cause is a medical condition or not. Some illnesses can cause ringing as can certain medications so getting the physical side checked out first is really important. For many of us as we get older our hearing becomes less acute and any ringing that is already there can become more noticeable and possibly problematic.
From a counselling perspective, finding out what has caused the tinnitus may not be useful but learning to live with the condition certainly is. The first reaction to the onset is often one of intense anxiety and the ringing is perceived as something that will be impossible to live with. How on earth am I going to cope? How will I sleep? I love my silence, is that gone forever?
Many people go straight onto the Internet to find a cure and a quick search produces a plethora of suggested remedies from exclusion diets, to magic boxes, to exotic herbs. But as of now (and as far as I am aware) there is no proven physical cure, no magic wand.
So for many the only course of action is to learn to live with the condition, but how?
As a friend once said to me whose tinnitus was buzzing away like an old fridge: ‘I had two choices: chop my head off, or learn to live with it. And the two things that have helped me most in coping have been distraction, and not searching for a cure.’
- Distraction: The brain is extremely good at filtering out sounds it doesn’t need to hear. If you live near traffic or a ticking clock, you are rarely aware of either unless someone points them out. The more attention you give to the tinnitus the more it will demand and the harder it will be to get used to. Learning not to focus on it is difficult at first but remember the brain is helping, giving it a chance to view the ringing as unimportant and thus less noticeable. This is called ‘habituation’. Many people find some sort of masking device can help with this process: White noise generators – or a radio tuned just off station at night – can mask the tinnitus most effectively and help the brain habituate faster.
- Not seeking a cure: If you do find something that works for you, great. But if you are continually looking for a cure, your attention will be focused on whether or not the ringing has become any less and this just gives the tinnitus more of your attention, which is what we are trying to avoid.
- Counselling: Talking to a professional and learning to accept the condition and maintain a positive attitude, while at the same time exploring relaxation and distraction techniques, is constructive, practical therapy.
- Support groups: Discovering how others with tinnitus are managing to cope and get on with their lives is comforting and empowering and often the frantic newcomer goes on to become the voice of calm and hope for the next new arrival. The main message? You will get used to it. The tinnitus may not go away, but it does get better. Stay positive. The British Tinnitus Association (http://www.tinnitus.org.uk) has information on the condition and contacts for support groups in your area.
You may have noticed I haven’t used the term ‘suffering from tinnitus’ in this article.
As someone who has lived with the condition since 2008, I don’t choose to use the word ‘suffering’, although it would not be inaccurate to do so. It just pushes a victim label towards me which I don’t want. When someone asks me how my tinnitus is, I usually reply: manageable. Ringing, buzzing, clicking (and with the occasional seagull thrown in) but manageable.
About the author
Hugh is a counsellor specialising in helping individuals and their families. He has many years’ experience working with different methods of recovery. His accreditation is with The Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP).
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