June 13, 2013

In 2013, I felt like I had reasonable handle on how my life would unfold. I had an established career, a stable marriage, a small child, and a hobby or two. Sometimes life veers sharply from the anticipated path, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened to me.

In 2012 I tore the meniscus in my left knee while doing a fairly routine yoga pose – one that I had done hundreds of times before. Over the following year, it transitioned into bilateral knee pain, which I experience primarily while sitting. In the course of seeing different doctors, I saw a sports medicine doctor near the end of 2012 who prescribed an NSAID called “Relafen” to see if would reduce the pain. Nothing else was working, so it seemed like a reasonable option. The drug seemed to have some minor positive effect on my knee pain. After taking it for two weeks, I developed 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. I also developed hyperacusis, which is an extreme sensitivity to sound.

Tinnitus and Hyperacusis are the worst maladies I’ve ever had to deal with. Compromising my hearing, which is my primary sense, was a deep psychological blow. There is no cure for these chronic conditions. The treatment options are limited, expensive, huge commitments of time (2 years+), and results are mixed. Habituation is the only ultimate goal. I will most likely live with this condition for the rest of my life – and it can get progressively 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.

I added a lot of new mechanisms of support in my life. For the first time in my life, I really asked for help from family and friends, and they stepped up. My wife was my anchor while I weathered the storm. She was extraordinarily patient, caring, consoling, and supportive. I started up with a cognitive behavior therapist, joined a couple support groups, and leaned hard on anyone who offered support.

My life became markedly different than from my life before tinnitus. There is no way to continue living the way I was – there are a lot of compromises, sacrifices, and behavioral changes. I have to avoid places and events that are loud. Going to rock concerts, a favorite former activity, is a thing of my past. Critical listening, the skill set I’ve developed and honed for the past 20 years, is frustrating and occasionally painful. During that first year, the few times I tried to work on my own music ended in tears. I was unable to engage in things that I was most passionate about.

I had never experienced this level of mental suffering before, and my knees were no better off. It took a couple years before I could really accept that Tinnitus is going to be part of my life going forward. I took my first sustained break from my music projects, lasting almost two years.

I was keenly aware that things could be much worse. I still had so much to be grateful for. Yet, my daily reality, was really challenging. I did not have the option to stop being a father, husband, or provider for my family. The future was intimidating and scary, but I was old enough to know that how I felt then now does not represent how I will always feel.

Even though tinnitus is a fairly isolating affliction, I did not face it alone.

I had faith that I would emerge stronger from facing this. And I did. In more ways than I could imagine.

I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again. However, I would say the past few years I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been. I still have tinnitus and hyperacusis. That hasn’t changed. What changed was my perspective and engagement with life.