I have a ringing in my ears. It’s the sound I hear when there is no sound. I only hear it when I listen, and I know that sounds like “I only see it when I look,” but it’s different. The sound I hear is sometimes like microphone feedback, sometimes like the sound of the emergency broadcast system that is preceded by: “This is a test, this is only a test.” It’s definitely becoming a test of my patience and my ability to outwit the sound engineer in my head.
Some mornings, before I am distracted by the birds chirping outside or the hum of the refrigerator or the sloshing of the washing machine, the ringing is accompanied by what I can only describe as the sound of a hummingbird’s wing, fluttering at a rate too fast to see, but not too fast to hear on my very own in-house sound track. I’m trying to learn ways to listen beyond the ringing. I try to drown it out with white noise—a fan whooshing back and forth at night, music during the day—which has been only moderately successful. It’s a cat and mouse game I play with myself. What am I hearing? That sound, or something else? If I try, I can always hear it. This is a test. Traffic sounds, an airplane, and yes, that ringing too. Nuts!
It’s been at least a couple of years since I first noticed the sound that isn’t silence. My husband doesn’t share this problem, but he helps me by making sure we have surround sound in the house the minute he comes home from work.
The funny thing is, when I don’t think about the ringing, I don’t hear it. But then I’ll think, “Do I hear ringing? No? Great!” Then I’ll hear it. The “Can I hear it now?” game is a lose-lose for me. When I’m home by myself, which is most of the time since I work at home and do a lot of writing, I’ll turn on the radio. But the problem is that when I’m writing, I like to hear the words—and music or talking is a distraction. When I’m really involved in what I’m writing, I don’t hear that high-pitched tone. Unless I listen for it, which I’m doing right now. Just to see.
Reading the research on this annoying noise is annoying in itself. It might be age-related—another wonderful part of getting older. I’m in the right demographic for this as I continue my trudge over the hill. There doesn’t seem to be a real cure. I’ve read about tinnitus online, and the gist of it goes something like this: Sometimes it gets better, and sometimes it gets worse. You can buy a special pillow or earphones or do some biofeedback or sing to yourself or rip your ears off. You can also order now to learn the secrets of curing tinnitus and try one of the dozens of products available online with special offers good for a limited time only which are generally guaranteed or your money back.
Some people point the finger at early and lengthy exposure to high volume sounds, but that’s not my issue. I was never a rock star or a groupie. Loud music is not my thing. If I have suffered a hearing loss, I like to blame my husband for always cranking up the sound when he listens to music at home. He turns it up and I turn it down. It’s how we roll.
There is also something mechanical in his man cave/office that sends out a high-pitched noise to rival the one I can make all by myself. He doesn’t hear it, but I can’t stand to be in that room with the dueling needles of sound piercing my ears. I’ll stand in the doorway, but not for long. I’m really bothered by the noise that he doesn’t hear. And, of course, he can’t hear the noise that I can’t not hear. It’s so unfair.
My little granddaughter has always gone to sleep to the sound of gentle waves lapping against the shore of some prerecorded ocean. She has a “Sleep Sheep” that has lulled her to sleep from crib to big-girl bed, and this fuzzy little white-noise machine travels with her when she comes to visit us. If she wanted to change it up, she could drift off to dreamland listening to sounds of nature, or the gentle lub-dub of a “mother’s heartbeat,” or a light rain. Her bedtime ritual involves hearing stories, getting a goodnight kiss or two, and pushing the button that cues the ocean. The swoosh of the waves carries her straight to the Land of Nod. I need one of those machines. Maybe when she outgrows hers, I can have it. It would make me think I was in Hawaii, where the crashing waves trump the siren song I hear in my quiet house.
I’d like to believe what I read somewhere amid all the claims for cures: that sometimes the ringing just goes away on its own. Now, that’s music to my ears.