Finding the Road to Neutral
By Stuart Levine
Clearly, shifting from complete despair after a tinnitus diagnosis to a neutral state of mind where tinnitus has no palpable effect in your life isn’t an easy journey. It’s a winding road filled with doubt, anger, and grieving, but with effort, reassurance, and the help of professionals, you will get to a place where tinnitus is just another part of your life— where it doesn’t control who you are and what you do.
Of course, we immediately want to gather as much information as we can on a new condition. But, based on past medical issues I’ve had, the one thing I knew, without a doubt, was that going into tinnitus chatrooms would only hinder my recovery. Generally speaking, these groups can often by inhabited by people who have not moved on with their lives and are defining themselves by their tinnitus. Though their intentions are to be helpful, that’s not a place where you want to go to learn about your new diagnosis.
Upon the onset of my tinnitus, I immediately reached out to a person on the support section of the ATA.org site who was willing to offer counsel and, most importantly at that early stage, lend a sympathetic ear. I also found very helpful YouTube videos posted by people who had recovered and wanted to share their thoughts on how they got to a neutral place with tinnitus.
In my experience, I found audiologists to be much more helpful than ENTs and internists. Audiologists deal with tinnitus patients daily and can be much more up to speed and informative on new treatments, successful strategies, and ways to cope. Two or three audiologists were very helpful to me, and I’ll be forever grateful.
A big turning point for me was getting discreet hearing aids that functioned as a sound generator and that pumped soft-sounding, Zen-like wind chimes into my ears, diluting the harshness of the tinnitus. Soon, all I was hearing were the pleasant-sounding chimes, a heavenly change from the hellish prior two months.
Then, I entered into the acceptance phase, which was key. Okay, I thought, if I have to hear light-sounding chimes in my ears going forward, I can live with that. I can have a life. I can go on.
And now, about 18 months since my tinnitus began, I’m in a very positive state. I wear my hearing aids only one or two days a week and have turned off the chimes. After my audiologist told me I had very slight hearing loss, I’ve used the devices to amplify other sounds, which naturally drowns out the tinnitus.
Do I still hear the ringing? Yes, especially when it’s quiet. Does it bother me? Sure, sometimes, but the emotional distress is gone. Hearing the tinnitus doesn’t send me into a dark abyss as it did at the beginning.
Every patient is different, and my tinnitus story may not be yours, but one element feels like it can be true for everyone: You will get there. You will endure. You will be okay. I kept having to hear that and now I know it’s true.
When I was in a bad place, I often asked my audiologists if I would ever get better. They all told me everyone who tries will improve. Whether it’s through natural habituation, hearing devices, medication, working with psychologists and therapists, talking to others who can offer support, or other tools, the brain can and will adjust to this new normal.
As a TV nerd, it reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite shows of all time, NYPD Blue. There’s a scene where hard-boiled Detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is asked if he’s concerned that he might suffer an injury on the job. His response still resonates with me.
“No. I get along fine with four toes.”
You will too.
Stuart Levine is a 59-year-old television executive living in Los Angeles.