When Laughter Hurts

May 6, 2016

A few years ago, prescription medication damaged my hearing. I now have tinnitus, which is a constant ringing in the ears. I also have hyperacusis, an uncommon condition where loud or percussive sounds physically hurt me – and aggravate my tinnitus. This means I am vigilant about protecting my ears, wearing earplugs or a headset virtually all the time I am not by myself. These conditions turned my world upside down.

When this first happened, I fell into place of crisis. It felt like my life was ruined. It took me about a year to wade through that, to get past the “put one foot in front of the other” stage. Eventually, I discovered that I am able to still fully participate in my life, just not in the way that I had envisioned. There are now a lot more hurdles than there used to be, along with more sacrifice. I honestly did not have much practice with sacrifice before then.

I still have collapses about my hearing from time to time, but it’s pretty infrequent these days. I get sad about letting go of so much that I once had, angry that its feels unfair, and jealous of everyone around me who gets to do the things that I can’t. At my worst, when all the raw sadness and anger bubble up to the top, I feel like I want to fold in on myself until I do not exist. However, I know what to do what this happens. I journal a lot. I do some congnital behavioral therapy work. Most importantly, I talk a lot with friends.

One of the skills I developed through being in a men’s group (which I never would have joined had I not had my hearing crisis), is reaching out when I need help. Therapy helped me see that these overwhelming feelings are rooted in my younger self, and then taught me to have compassion and love for that little person. I truly understand what it is that he is feeling. Then I can more clearly access my adult self perspective, and seperate that from the younger self feelings. I list all my blessings, and I sit with them, and know that otherwise I would take them for granted. I practice gratitude. I try to notice all the things in my body that are working well. When I am my strongest self, I comfort little James, and then try to pour some of that compassion and love into my life, and into those around me.

There are some things in my life that I can no longer participate in. Events and gatherings which involve my family and friends. It sucks. There’s no getting around that. But there is so much I can do. I feel so incredibly blessed that I can still make music. I control the volume knob in my studio, which really works for me.

I am grateful that I have a milder form of hyperacusis. For many sufferers, it means complete isolation. That is not my life.

There are still times when I’m around a my son or small group of people without any hearing protection, and then something funny happens and we all laugh. I experience the initial joy of the moment immediately followed by the sharp pain of the sound. Then the ringing in my head gets louder and captures more of my attention. It is very hard to sit with. It is not something anyone I know has experienced before, and that is isolating.

I am stronger now, and quite frankly, much more satisfied with my life than I was before tinnitus. Before my hearing issues, I spent a lot of time searching for things to do, constantly feeding my need to be engaged with an activity. I hadn’t considered what I really needed was more stillness and depth to feel more fulfilled with my life. I’m able to access my emotions more, and feel far more present in my life and my family. Overall, I’ve never been happier to be alive.