December 5, 2023

The high-pitched ringing started suddenly in both ears in 2012. I recall that I was listening to Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” at a really loud level in my car, headed to see friends. It was the first time I noticed it, and the last time I’d hear silence.

There are many different types of tinnitus. Some folks hear waves, clicks; I hear a high-pitched tone in both ears. It took about 6-8 months for it to become bearable. Ever since, I will say that my tinnitus is on-fire, meaning it’s really loud. That level of awfulness happens when I’m stressed or when I overeat or when I don’t sleep well, and until last week it had been rare for me since about 2016 or so.

I should back up.

The first 2-3 months with tinnitus were the worst. I recall attending my brother’s wedding in St. Louis, and there was no way I could sleep despite the fact I was in a beautiful hotel. I got up in the middle of the night and drove home to Norman, Okla. There was no sense of even fighting it.

I tried every over-the-counter product there is, and they do not work. They simply don’t.

Then I scheduled an appointment at Hough Ear Institute in Oklahoma City. I’m told that the Weltons are related to this institute’s namesake, like perhaps a distant cousin. The appointment was a revelation. After being certain that I heard all the tones in an audio test, I learned that I wasn’t hearing lots. The way it was described to me is that the ringing in my ears was actually an involuntary illusion, my body’s defense against growing deafness at particular frequencies.

As a musician and a music lover, that sure sucked to hear.

As somebody who comedically wouldn’t mind a built-in excuse to claim he didn’t hear something, it was duly noted.

The biggest help for me during the weeks that followed was listening to how actor William Shatner dealt with tinnitus. He’s had treatments and even a device placed in his ear, a road I may have to be headed toward at this point. For the past couple of weeks especially, I can sense my hearing is generally getting worse – and quickly – especially in crowds or public situations. One on one or in an office environment, for example, it’s all good mostly.

Anyway, how Captain Kirk dealt with tinnitus was largely to habituate to it. I could be wrong in my interpretation, but it’s how I took it. He just decided to “deal with it.”

Combined with aggressive relaxation techniques, including sound therapy and ASMR, I made it a point to do whatever I could, whenever I could to mask the ringing. I splurged on nice headphones. My sleep routine became quite intentional from setting a temperature to using pillow sprays to avoiding blue light and anything remotely stressful for 60-90 minutes before bedtime.

Tinnitus is a circular demon. It keeps you from sleep, and lack of sleep makes it worse.

It’s also believed that certain drugs can trigger tinnitus, and I restarted a regimen of probiotics that I took a few years ago, without negative result.

Likewise, it’s believed that running can trigger it — and I have definitely upped my walking and running in 2022 as part of my effort to hit the 500-mile mark. To be fair though, I ran a lot from 2015-18, and that era was much better for my tinnitus than 2012-15. The belief is that the jolting of the head from exercise can cause inner ear changes.

Stress can worsen it as well, and it has definitely been a stressful start to 2022.

Before I pull back on exercise or discontinue the probiotics, I’m likely to focus on relaxation techniques and sound therapy.

I’m also likely to book an appointment with an audiologist for a deeper diagnostic look into the situation.

For anybody else who suffers from severe tinnitus – and I would categorize mine as pretty severe – talk to another sufferer about it in person or online. Read about it. Experiment with sound therapy and relaxation techniques. Tonight, for example, I’m listening to a masking video on YouTube.

And then once you alter your habits to lessen the aural load, speak not of it again.

Like Fight Club.

Like Bruno.

The more you dwell on it, the worse it gets.

Even this blog post. I won’t read it again, lol. This is for you, fellow tinnitus sufferer, and I truly hope it helps some! It does get better. It might also get worse from time to time, or over time, but it does get better.

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