Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tinnitus seems worse than pain

John's recurring tinnitus has recurred. "Tinnitus" as you and I know it is pretty benign, a slight ringing or buzzing in the ears when you go home after a concert. John's isn't like that. In the past month he has compared the noises in his ears to:

  • The sound of grinding metal; a car crash
  • A roaring like a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner or leafblower right in your ear
  • A pulsating siren like an alien spaceship landing outside

It's like a horror movie soundtrack half the time, he says. Stress makes it worse but it's kind of an irrepressible physiological response, stress is, when you're hearing noise like that right in your ears, so loud that you're functionally deaf. You can't teach or talk on the phone or sleep or listen to music. He says it's so strange that I can't hear it.

What the F is wrong with him? We don't know, nobody seems to know. Sometimes it switches sides, sometimes it's in both ears. I wish it wasn't in his head. I wish it was pain, somewhere lower down on the body, excruciating pain even, maybe in his leg? That would make me feel better. I wish it was my pain. I would much rather be in pain than watch him listening to his tinnitus.

I love this so much, by Molly Laich: 7 don't kill yourself tips:

1. There’s no such thing as death.
There’s no shortcuts ever, right? You fall asleep here, you wake up somewhere else. No ghost has ever not regretted that time she hanged herself in the basement. Watch Faust. Read Sartre’s No Exit. Don’t be frightened, but for real, there’s no exit. 
2. It hurts a lot.
Every kind of suicide hurts. Lots of pills make your organs shut down, like they’re walking down a flight of stairs and also on fire. A gun, a knife, a rope. You’ve seen a magician floundering in a tank with no key. Did it look like a wet hug? You’ll be so alone; don’t do it. 
3. Make girls laugh instead.
Think about it: A giggling girl, and you did that to her. What is better? Start by whispering in her ear some acerbic truth about the situation....


  1. Oh, tinnitus is not fun, not at all. I have it in my right ear and it is bad today. I had to take some NSAIDs today (ibuprophen) and that always makes it worse. Sorry for John! It sounds as if he really has a bad case. I know that some people work with biofeedback to alleviate but I have never tried it. Mostly I just try shift my attention elsewhere, which makes it a little better usually.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that Queen C! I've heard that NSAID's can make it worse. For J it's usually caffeine that is the main trigger but something else got it started about a month ago and he can't seem to get out of this bad spell. It's extremely disruptive, some days downright maddening.

    2. I have it too! I have had it since I was 15. Non-stop. Sometimes I get busy and forget about it. But thank you, O thank you, Elisa, for reminding me of this incessant ringing in my ears.

    3. Gahhh, sorry Chad!! Did something happen at 15 to damage your ears?

  2. Elisa, my husband suffered from tinitus for years, years, years. It was almost like he was haunted by sounds no one else could hear. Sometimes he rolled with it, sometimes it bugged the hell out of him. His hearing was interrupted by the tinnitus, of course, and he finally caved (after much prodding) and got digital hearing aids about 2-3 years ago hoping at least to amplify what the tinnitus covered.

    We were both shocked and delighted when the tinnitus disappeared completely. It has changed his life - and mine. John's a young man, but he might want to look at a similar option. Hearing aid technology is really good.

    It's hard to be the one watching, isn't it?

    1. That's heartening news Josephine! We're actively look into hearing aids. One struggle has been getting people to really listen to him when he describes his symptoms. They are extremely variable and apparently extremely unusual. Then there's also the cost -- semi-prohibitive but we're looking for workarounds. Anyway, we're hopeful that they'll help at least a little, if we can figure them out!

  3. This really does sound (no pun intended) so awful, both for John and you. On the bright side, it's a testament to your skillful writing that I cringe and then feel heartened by all of the lovely love in the world when I read your empathetic post. :/

    1. Thank you sweetie. You chose the appropriate emoticon.

      On the bad pun front: every time we try to make plans with someone, I have to keep them tentative and say "we'll play it by ear" (ugh)