Grief is a sacred journey

Whispers and Roars: Surviving the Turmoil of Tinnitus

By late October, words were whispers, mumblings in the dark, puzzles to be solved. I tiptoed between them, guessing at consonants, clinging to vowels like life preservers.

Weeks earlier, my hearing loss was manageable with a small decrease from the year before. I couldn’t handle noisy environments or enjoy music, but conversations and phones worked. Then, I noticed faint rumbling in my head—first muted, then louder. The rumble intermingled with clicks, roars, and echoes. Tinnitus? Yes, tinnitus.

“Why are you yelling, Mom?” my son David asked on the phone. I wore my Bluetooth streamer that sends the sound of the phone directly into my hearing aids, but couldn’t hear the volume of my own voice. David’s words banged and sloshed against the walls of my echo chamber filled with vibrators.

“I’m sorry, David. I can’t hear myself or you.” My silent tears threatened to erupt into moans.

“What’s wrong, Mom? Tell me.”

Soothing winter silence

“My hearing is worse every day, David. I’m OK when I can read lips, but I can’t hear on the phone. I’m seeing the audiologist and the ear specialist tomorrow.”

My audiologist Dr. Matt MacDonald reprogrammed my hearing aids and confirmed that I’d lost more hearing. Then I saw the otolaryngologist, Dr. John Wayman.

“It’s an inner ear pressure problem,” Wayman said. “A mild form of Meniere’s Disease without dizziness, imbalance, and nausea. It often goes away, sometimes with hearing loss, sometimes not.”

“What can I do?”

“You already have the lifestyle and diet we recommend, so let’s hope it improves on its own. If it gets worse, you can try diuretics.”

Ten years ago when I began losing hearing, Dr. Wayman said, “Don’t worry. You can get a cochlear implant.” But my hearing still isn’t bad enough for a cochlear implant. You have to be helplessly deaf and I still hear tones at normal speaking decibels if there is no background noise and the acoustics are right. But tinnitus drowns out the subtle sounds that distinguish “picks” from “fix” or “lose” from “choose.” So I rely on lip reading.

I’m seeing an osteopath who does cranial sacral work and will try a chiropractor I’ve known since 1973. I hold off on acupuncture because it didn’t help in the past, and if I try too many things, I won’t know what works. Dr. MacDonald hopes that a new hearing aid model to be released this winter will improve things. I hope so, too.

The isolation of deafness alarms me, but maybe this bummer can be useful. Before tinnitus began, I vowed to finish and submit my book this winter. Tinnitus forces me into isolation, and isolation brings days alone with my manuscript. On my hilltop in the Finger Lakes, tis the season to stay home and finish my project.

I’ve created a meaningful life in my new widowed world, but I am a social being. I crave sound and relationship. But for now I can survive on email and text messaging with phone calls when the tinnitus hums instead of roars. I’m grateful my agile fingers still know how to type.

***

For another blog about hearing loss, see “Hearing with Heart: Grieving for Lost Sound.” For more information, visit the American Tinnitus Association Website.

18 Comments
  1. Elaine, I so understand this hearing situation. I am 72, grieving the loss of my husband and now dealing with hearing loss that is complicated by tinnitus. I have the blue tooth hearing aids but the tinnitus overpowers them. I feel a certain sadness that I will never know silence again. I understand what you are dealing with as well as another person can comprehend.

    • Dear Mary,
      So we are in similar shoes. It helps to have your understanding, just as a bereavement group helps with sorrow. We humans are all in this together. I manage well in person when I can read lips and background noise is minimal, but the more fatigued I get, the harder it is to manage sound–so then I just have to surrender and feel sad, much as I do when waves of grief and longing come over me. I’m grateful for writing and for patient friends and sons.
      Thanks for responding, and let me know how you’re doing. I have another audiology visit soon. The tinnitus is not as wild as it was a month ago, so I hope reprogramming the hearing aids will last a little longer now.

      Wishing you inner silence,
      Elaine

  2. Oh, wow. Thinking of you … sending healing energy your way, today. I’m sure you’re getting unsolicited advice so though I risk being “one of those”, have you explored EFT? Emotional Freedom Technique which involves tapping meridian centers. http://www.tapping.com & http://www.emofree.com are sites that explain this fascinating modality. Blessings! Lynne

    • Thanks, Lynne. I’m sucking up that healing energy. I’ll put EFT on my list of things to try. First I’ll follow through with cranial sacral work and chiropractic. I also had a Jin Shin Jitsu session yesterday. I’ll keep trying and I appreciate your blessings and suggestions. A new detour, but I had a great dream where workmen were helping me get my car back on the road. So much is about my attitude.
      Warmly, Elaine

  3. Ugh.. me too for years now. I can hear through it but every so often get that same sadness that I cannot enjoy “outer” silence any more. I have to feel that my “inner” silence (having more to do with my mind) is always and will always be with me as other bodily things change, fade, and eventually go away.
    A mutual friend has it too and said that the only thing that ever helped them for a while was homeopathy. I finally found one recently and am going to try that. Clearly if you find anything that works, let us know.
    I woke up the other morning realizing that sleep is the only relief. Well, I’m not yet ready for that very very long sleep.
    So until then I have decided to use the sound as a reminder of my spiritual practice.
    When my attention is drawn to it, when things are quiet (no radio or tv) or my mind is not focused on something else (which distracts me from it) and I hear it, I think Ah, there is the background sound of love present to all things, or something like that.
    I work to make it ok, useful, otherwise it will just drive me completely loony.

    • Lauren, thanks. I remember you telling me tinnitus, but I had no idea what it was like. I can muscle my way through most situations and sometimes the inner sounds are soft, but I miss the subtle sounds of nature. I’ll keep looking for help, so let me know the outcome of your experiments. So many possibilities, so I try one at a time.

  4. PS the phrase ‘clinging to vowels like life preservers’ is excellent.

  5. Hey, Elaine,

    Thinking of you, sending healing and love…hope your book is coming along, fueled by your creative fire. Blessings, Gita

    • Thank you, Gita. Washing out tinnitus and some things that are way worse with a flush of blue water from the Medicine Buddha’s bowl. I’m writing and today doing a little design work on the website. Blessings back to you.

  6. I do EFT pretty much every day in the shower and will happily do it with you!

  7. Dear Elaine,

    So difficult but am very glad you’re using this as one more reason to keep writing.

    Have been aware lately of hearing loss and related issues. My sister is a sign language interpreter in Rochester and fits hearing aids at the RIT clinic. And I’ve begun seeing a few clients with menaires and hearing loss.

    It’s important for all of us to be more aware of the
    concerns surrounding hearing loss, After all, it is a major life “loss” — no matter the extent.

    My heart is with you in this.
    love,
    nanci

    PS My sister recommends anyone with hearing loss begin learning signing. It’s fun and provides connection with others having similar experience.

    • Thanks so much, Nanci. Yes, this is another loss and compounds the difficulty of losing my dear partner. Thanks for your sister’s recommendation. Learning sign is on my to-do list. This week, I’m focusing on technological support with hearing aids and streamers, but learning sign will broaden my life and put my hearing in my hands. One step at a time, we learn to adjust to our new realities. You are an expert at this.
      Gratefully,
      Elaine

  8. Very dear Elaine,
    I’m so sorry to learn of this latest challenge in your life, and my heart goes out to you. As you know, I share your problem with hearing loss (although I’ve yet to experience the tinnitus you describe). I am saddened to discover that some friends and family members can be just as insensitive about (and intolerant of) someone’s hearing loss as they can be about the death of a loved one: If they haven’t yet experienced it themselves, they have no idea how difficult and life-changing it can be. Truly it is yet another loss, and it is certainly worthy of grief . . . ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. I remember that you have hearing problems, too. It’s heartening to know how much certain people accomplish with hearing loss. It is another loss with initial disbelief, just as when we or someone we love gets a shocking diagnosis. In the end, it’s another place to grieve, dust myself off, and see what doors might open or what paths might be taken to get around the roadblock. So grateful that I am a writer and not a singer or actor. So grateful for your concern. May you never add tinnitus to your hearing complications.
      Warmly,
      Elaine

  9. Elaine, I’m so sorry for your hearing loss compounded by the tinnitus. Your courage and spirit always inspire me.

    If you want to hear one more solution to tinnitus, my daughter had it some years ago and found help with an Ithaca practitioner.

    Lynne

    • Sure, Lynne. Tell me who you daughter saw. Especially nice when the practitioner is in the neighborhood. I try one thing at a time, but no improvement yet. I’ll keep trying. Just received a short lesson in EFT, so will add that to my practices. Mostly trying to keep myself in good spirits on these gray days.

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