The TV was probably too loud, that what I thought when I went to bed with that buzzing noise in my ears a bit more than one year ago.
I didn’t really pay much attention to it, but it was there again and again in the next days. I don’t know whether it was a sudden or slow increasing, but at some point the noise was strident, constant, unstoppable. Some eight thousand hertz pitch ringing inside my head, demanding my attention, disturbing my thoughts.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just listen to this sound and try to imagine it playing non-stop within your head, day after day.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus. Sometimes it felt as I was going mad. There was no relief. It’s like a constant pain for which there is no analgesics, a noise against which there is no windows to close. It was a little devil laying comfortable between the folds of my auditory cortex and screaming.
Tinnitus, this was the name of that condition so far completely unknown to me.
I quickly learned that doctors didn’t know much about it either. My ENT practitioner very professionally tested me with all his medical toys and prescribed me a horse dosage of corticoids. However, in spite of the reassuring chemical smells of his German consulting room, I could clearly read in his unsaid words that he didn’t know better than a tribal shaman when it came to tinnitus.
A huge amount of people—figures rest between 10 and 15% of population—lives with tinnitus. But most of them have a soft version, which goes easily unnoticed. Apparently, the causes for tinnitus may be anything from loud music damage to brain tumors (and I was really glad when a MRI dismissed the latter). In a fraction of cases, it may lead to hearing loss (also gladly, it wasn’t my case either).
Leeching at the medical knowledge gap, I knew a new low in human kind: parasites trying to make money by selling all types of promises and fake cures for tinnitus. Drugs, diets, electronic gadgets, exercise routines. Discarding this crap, I also discovered that YouTube was a valuable ally, with a fair collection of white noises, nature sounds, and tonal musics playing for many hours, helping to mask the noise. At some point, I could only fall asleep under their lullaby.
(Several posts here in the Much Bigger Outside were written during those awaken nights by the way.)
Searching every corner in the web, the sole relevant information I got about tinnitus was that you get used to it.
Though I really failed to believe that I could ever get used to it, it was true. After maybe three or four months, I started to learn how to live with the devil. In part because it became more bearable. Not the single 8000 Hz hellish pitch, but more like the noise of a cicada swarm in a summer night.
The devil was still sitting there between folds of my cortex. But feebler, I could mostly ignore it. Its power over my attention and my sleep faded away.
Now, life goes easy on me again, but I confess that I still dream of a day in which the noise will just stop. The little devil will shut up. A magic moment when all of a sudden I will be embraced by the full boldness of silence, my old missing friend.
- The picture is a detail of the 1910 version of the famous “The Scream,” by Edward Munch.