Tinnitus

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.



16 comments

Jake in Texas » 4 Jun 2013 » Reply

Your work is great. I’ve always been interested in chill music and your stuff is excellent. Pandora is what got me on to your tunes.

I’m sad to hear about the ear issues. In the early aughts I was in a band and my hearing has suffered to a limited degree as a result. Keep you in thoughts and keep doing what you’re doing if possible…family helps. Ping me via email if you want to hear a quick track of mine on Google Music.

Thanks again,
Jake

Uwe » 5 Jun 2013 » Reply

Ouch. As (hobby-) musician I can somewhat feel what you are going through. All the best!

-Uwe

StooB » 6 Jun 2013 » Reply

After reading this I’ve turned my headphones down.
Your music is inspirational, thanks.

Steve » 12 Jun 2013 » Reply

I’m very sorry to hear about your ear troubles. I’ve had tinnitus myself for as long as I can remember. To have it suddenly thrust upon you sounds absolutely shattering. I hope you’re able to discover ways to do things you’re passionate about.

In terms of depression, might I recommend Allie Brosh’s work? I found them to be interesting perspectives. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.fr/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.fr/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

Maritzie » 13 Jun 2013 » Reply

Bravo, James! This was moving and courageous of you.

Naomi Buck Palagi » 13 Jun 2013 » Reply

Ohhhh, I am so sorry to hear this. I honestly don’t know what else to say other than I hope somehow it does get better, and that at least life feels better soon. I’m feeling for you and your family. Take care, Naomi

MikeyLife » 13 Jun 2013 » Reply

Love you, James (et al)! Sending you lost of positive thoughts and other hippie-dippy shit.

MikeyLife » 13 Jun 2013 » Reply

lots.

Courtenay » 14 Jun 2013 » Reply

This post took a lot of courage. Your honesty about both your suffering and your (needing) support are humbling. I relate in some regards, but each road is different. Anything I can do to support you guys, just ask. But I draw the line at spending any more hours riding escalators and elevators than I already do!

Patti Cox » 16 Jun 2013 » Reply

You’re a beautiful person James – nothing changes that. May all our love surround and protect you always.

Vicky » 7 Jul 2013 » Reply

I absolutely love your music. found it through Pandora, and have a station “General Fuzz Radio”. I was just listening to it, and thinking, “damn, this is so good. What is the General up to these days?” and so I checked your blog and read this post. I’m so sad about your tinnitus and the pain it’s causing you. I’m going to keep you in my thoughts, and every time I hear your beautiful music, I’ll be sending thoughts of healing and some sort of recovery your way. And at the very least, some peace about the fact that our bodies fail us. But some day, I hope to hear you’re able to create more awesome music. Stay strong! Much love.

Ian » 10 Jul 2013 » Reply

Same as Vicky… wondered what you were up to having once again run through my favourite tracks. So very sorry to read of your diagnosis. FWIW and as you probably already know, science is learning fast about this. I’m pretty sure this won’t be something you’ll have to bear for the rest of your days. All my best wishes to you and yours.

Steven S. » 30 Jul 2013 » Reply

Hey man, just heard about your tinnitus. I’ve been listening to your music for years. I wish you all the best. I’m sure you can make some goodness out of this calamity. Maybe general fuzz will end up finding an outlet in another medium?

Peace, and thanks for all the awesome tunes!

Jack » 30 Aug 2013 » Reply

I’ve been into ambient techno for quite some time; I just turned 50 this year. Not many people my age are into it. I’ve never been a musician (I’m all left brained) but I sometimes feel I appreciate (analyze?) really good music better than the average person. And I’ve helped many others discover this totally different genre to my and their delight. But I only do so if I feel they’re really open to it.

Including my own daughter – My daughter left for college two weeks ago and she’s struggling with being away from home and all the work (and soccer) she’s inundated with. She knows I like ambient techno but wouldn’t give any techno a chance. But today she said she’s really having problems focusing in homework and reading assignments so she asked me to send some good instrumental music to help her study. “Something really good and with no words where it won’t be so distracting” I responded with, “The two best CDs to start with is Soulful Filling and Messy’s Place”. One for reflecting and tuning out and one for great ‘digital jazz’ to read and study – with a few unplanned dance steps added in. Soulful Filling will help her with missing home too.

Hey – Your art is timeless! Really.

I’m really sorry to hear about your illness. I hope my short story gives you comfort to know that you are still making a serious impact on many of us and often at very personal levels. I’ll be praying for your health and heart!

John » 11 Nov 2013 » Reply

Hey, sorry to hear what happened.
I don’t know quite what to say, but I thought I’d put in my thoughts since I noticed this post was made on my birthday.
I’ve had something similar to Meniers Disease (sp?) since around the age of 20 (well over 20 years ago), the symptoms of which include intermittent tinnitus and vertigo. Luckily the vertigo is rare, but the t. is there pretty much all the time. Sometimes deafening, sometimes barely there. I used to notice it a lot, but after some time I just adjusted. Not years or anything…just months. I adjusted pretty easily, and I hope you can too. I hear that some people with constant t. suffer from depression and some commit suicide. After developing the condition (and worse), I can’t fathom how anyone really gets so down about it. I’m not belittling your case in any way, I’m just saying I hope you’re like me and can soon see it as just a noise.
I realize I’m not in the same boat as you, too. I love music to death, it almost broke up my marriage once, but I don’t make it myself, as you do, so I know you’re having a harder time of it than I did. Just try not to focus on it. I wish you all the best, and I hope somehow the condition goes away. It came, it can go again. Believe it. Don’t label it “permanent” yourself.
I really enjoy your music. It sounds as good as any label’s stuff. I hope donations carry you softly through life, if that’s all you want to get out of it. You’re a generous creator.
One of my favorite “albums” is the soundtrack to the game “Machines” by Akklaim. You should look it up, especially the menu music (if you can find it) and a track called Time Flow (track #3). I have never lost interest in that song.
My 20 year old daughter suggested your music to me. Just to let you know you have 2 more fans. I’ll spread the word.
Keep it up, hope for the best, don’t let negative occurrences develop into negative mentality. Remember, spontaneous remissions happen all the time without explanation.

Tom » 5 Mar 2014 » Reply

Just found your music via Spotify, ‘s great. I have trouble sleeping… tinnitus … and your music helps me tune it out.
Sorry for your pain man!
Hope you get back on a even keel real soon!

Tom

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