Twenty years of tinnitus

March 22, 1995. That’s when my ears started ringing, give or take a day. It was just shy of my 22nd birthday, and I was a senior in college, sitting in a chair in my bedroom, doing homework, when I got one of those random high-pitched tones in my ear.

Except this time, instead of fading out after a few seconds, the tone didn’t leave.

After five or ten minutes I began freaking out. I played in rock bands; I went to a lot of shows; I blasted the car radio on my three-hour drives from home to school. I knew exactly what I was experiencing. I took out the pad I carried around for journaling and notes, turned to a blank page, and wrote to myself, in all caps:

YOU MAY NEVER AGAIN KNOW SILENCE.

Sadly, I was right. With a couple of random, fleeting exceptions, my tinnitus has persisted for twenty years now, an anniversary I’m pleased I didn’t remember last month.

Tinnitus is a disappointing thing to live with. I rarely go to live concerts anymore, and I can’t blast music very often, whether in a car, on a stereo or with headphones.

I’m That Guy wearing earplugs at social functions like weddings and bar mitzvahs. I cover my ears when the express train rumbles past and cringe when fire engines and ambulances race by. At night I can’t fall asleep without some ambient noise in the room.

That said, I’ve gotten used to my tinnitus. Protecting my ears has kept my hearing sharp—I test above average when I get my ears checked—and avoiding loud noises does minimize the ringing. And I stumbled into Earplanes a number of years ago and it’s made my air travel infinitely more comfortable. On par, I’m doing just fine, thanks.

Numerous Ideapad posts over the years have discussed my tinnitus in various forms; if you want to explore, I’d suggest reading “The ringing,” from February 2004, and proceeding into the archives from there.