If you had asked me a year ago what my future would look like, I could have responded pretty quickly. I feel like I had reasonable handle on how my life would unfold. Today, I am unable to do so. Sometimes life veers sharply from the anticipated path, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened to me.
Last July I tore the meniscus in my left knee while doing a fairly routine yoga pose – one that I had done hundreds of times before. It took four months to get this diagnosed properly. Somehow this initial injury transformed into bilateral knee pain, which I experience primarily while sitting. I’ve seen a number of doctors and specialists trying to understand the underlying issues behind the bilateral knee pain, and to date, have made little headway on diagnosis. I also am not sure what is the correct path for resolving this issue.
In the course of seeing different specialists, I saw a sports medicine doctor near the end of 2012 who prescribed an NSAID called “Relafen” to see if would reduce the pain. The drug seemed to have some minor positive effect. After taking it for two weeks, I became aware that I had tinnitus – non stop ringing in my ears. I immediately stopped taking the drug, but it turned out the damage was done. The tinnitus is intrusive and permanent.
Tinnitus is truly the worst malady I’ve ever had to deal with. Compromising my hearing, which is my primary sense, has been a deep psychological blow. There is no cure for chronic tinnitus. The treatment options are limited, expensive, huge commitments of time (2 years+), and results are mixed. Habituation is the only ultimate goal. I will likely live with this condition for the rest of my life – and it can get worse.
For the first couple of months, anxiety ruled my existence. I lived in a world of despair, disbelief, regret, and hopelessness. With a lot of support, I pulled through that phase into a more lasting and deep depression, which I’m attempting to deal with right now.
I’ve added a lot of new mechanisms of support in my life. For the first time in my life, I’ve really asked for help from family and friends, and they have all stepped up. My wife has been my anchor while I weather this storm. She has been extraordinarily patient, caring, consoling, and supportive. I’m seeing a cognitive behavior therapist, joined a support group, and am leaning hard on anyone who can offer support.
My life going forward is markedly different from my life before tinnitus. There is no way to continue living the way I was – there has to be a lot of compromises, sacrifices, and behavioral changes. I now avoid places and events that are loud. Going to rock concerts, a favorite former activity, may be a thing of my past. The few times I’ve tried to work on my own music, the ringing in my ears intensifies, and it ends in tears. Critical listening, the skill set I’ve developed and honed for the past 20 years, is frustrating and painful. I’m currently unable to engage in things that I was most passionate about.
I’ve never experienced this level of mental suffering before. My knee issues remain unresolved. Tinnitus is going to be part of my life going forward. Hopefully I will learn to manage it better as time goes by. The good news is that there is no obvious hearing loss or balance issues. In theory, I should be still able to create music. For the time being, I’m taking a long break from my music projects. I might dip my toes in from time to time to begin building a new relationship and methodology for creating music. I had a lot of new album put together prior to the end of the year – I will certainly get around to finishing it at some point in the future. Of course, it will represent a very different time in my life.
I am keenly aware that things could be much worse. I still have so much to be grateful for. Yet, this is my reality, and I have to face it, and it is really hard. I do not have the option to stop being a father, husband, or provider for my family. Even though tinnitus is a fairly isolating affliction, I am not doing it alone. The future is intimidating and scary, but I’m old enough to know that how I feel right now does not represent how I will always feel.
I will emerge stronger from facing this.
I will find happiness again.