Free Therapy #22: Tinnitus is Music, Part 2

My dear brother Jim married Karen in June of 2005 in Denver, Colorado. In the months leading up to the wedding I was living in my own private hell. Few knew how much I suffered.

From nowhere it seemed, as I described in my previous column, my brain or my inner ear decided it would be a good idea to turn on a high-pitched siren, like a kid pulling a prank, and then walk away and let it ring for…let’s see…freaking ever.

Victimhood is the state of mind where one feels punished unfairly and wallows in that fact endlessly. When we are in that state, it is as if we are sitting in a tub of watery self-pity in which we periodically immerse ourselves, only coming up occasionally for a breath of air. That was me in the early months of 2005.

I hated my life. Imagine the worst song ever. For me it would be an Abba, Carpenters or Bee Gees song from the mid-70s. Now imagine that song repeating itself endlessly inside your head day and night no matter what you do. And then imagine yourself silently screaming back at the song, “I hate you! Shut-up!” like a frustrated insomniac who is furious to find himself awakened by his neighbor’s noisy party at 3 in the morning. Imagine that is your life wherever you go, whatever you do forever. Your own version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. Your life now has a soundtrack whether you like it or not and it’s a continuous high-pitched squeal. Welcome to hell.

I was filled with anxiety, continuous dread and sadness. My joy was gone. I carried on, of course, but I had no peace. At times the noise literally woke me up in the middle of the night, a turbo-charged tuning fork on steroids singing its only note to an audience of one; a hopeless, helpless prisoner of sound, destroyed by the knowledge the crazed, clamorous crooning would never end.

This thing had me. Like a Trojan horse, it had slipped inside my psyche’s walls and assumed control. Whatever I did from then on, that monotonic, sonic shriek would be my companion like an annoying little brother screaming “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” for eternity.

And so it was that I found myself in a posh hotel in downtown Denver with my fondest favorites: my wife and teenage daughters, brother, mother and sister, brother-in-law and nephew and a whole host of countless others we all loved and cared about and found ourselves connected to in interesting and important ways. We were all gathered together for a few precious and lazy days for one small but giant purpose: to celebrate the hope and promise of two trying to be one. Every day was fun because there was no plan beyond being together to laugh and eat and drink and rest in those strong bonds of affection that are are tough as steel and as soft and forgiving as a pile of satin pillows.

On the fourth day of this leisurely, languid jaunt that felt like one long float down a private, secret stream; I became aware of something that I had not known for months: sweet and steady silence, a vital vacancy, a miraculous void, the staggering presence of absence, glorious gone-ness. It was quiet. And it stayed quiet. It felt like my anxiety had packed its bags and left town, along with that obnoxious alarm. I ran from room to room to room on the different floors in the house of my mind and found each room empty and clean and without sound. It was really gone. Totally and absolutely gone.

But here’s the magic. It hit me hard like a burst of insight at that precise instant, a flood of awareness that cured me completely and permanently from that moment on. I knew several things all at once. The noise was just an alarm, I realized, the sound of my own stress screaming. And I knew it would be back and it would then come and go, wax and wane, according to the stress and strain of my busy life. And more importantly I knew I would never care about it again. The more I cared about it, feared it, fought it, hated it, fixated on it, the more it destroyed me; the more it chewed me up; the more it ground me into the gravel of that dark, self-absorbed and lonely life. As I heard psychologist Steven Hayes relate once about his own tinnitus, “It can’t make me care about it. Ever.”

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

8 Responses

  1. Avatar Kathryn says:

    Wow. I have different sounds, but my body does alert me when I am stressed. This is a very cool piece, Doug. I am going to listen better.

  2. Avatar Pamela says:

    Vigilant I say. Your truthfullness and sharing are wonderful. It helps me want to speak the truth as well. One thing I really need to do is reduce stress. Thank you!!!

  3. Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

    Oh well – I guess I'll hold back on that Carpenters' album for Christmas!

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    THANKS A LOT!!! I totally forget to think about my tinnitus until someone brings up the subject… . sigh!!!! Like I said, mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

  5. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Yes, me, too. I hear it right now — it is like a constant chain saw. But I try to forget about it if I can. It can be pretty annoying at times. Yes, I do think stress can bring it on. It can also bring on hearing loss. Oh, yeah.

  6. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thank you for this great article. Your description of that time spent with your family was pure poetry.

  7. Avatar Dottie says:

    Thank you Doug. Has made me feel better about my own bout of an anxiety/panic attack.

    Since many off us deal with anxiety and stress, hope you will write more on this subject

    in the future.

  8. Avatar NANCY NELSON says:

    Doug I knew you when……I loved you then and still now. Your words are always so powerful…….you haven't waivered in your thinking…..you are still the man I once respected and still do………..love your messages.