By Gabs Brown
Sometimes, all we want is for everything to stop…and for there to be nothing.
Actual quiet – the absence of noise – is not something I am ever likely to experience again. Several years ago I developed a ringing in my right ear, and it has never gone away. It came in the middle of the night. I woke up, wondered what that bleeping noise was, and soon realised it was coming from within my own head. I couldn’t block it out. I never have since.
My tinnitus is two-tone. It’s like a siren that sounds at me always. In the beginning, it felt like torture. Now, believe it or not, it’s more like an old friend. A companion who never leaves my side.
We’re sort of buddies.
If you’ve ever seen a movie in which a stiff control-freak character is forced to spend time with a fun-loving buffoon only for the two of them to become best friends, that’s me and my tinnitus. I begged it to leave me alone. I sought out countless methods and medicines that might send it packing. None of them worked. Tinnitus kept on singing in my ear, and the more I willed it to stop, the louder it sang.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I practise meditation and yoga. I seek out stillness and silence on a regular basis, though I know that in practical terms I will never find them. There will always be noise. In the same way, I might take myself out into the country on a long walk into the woods, knowing that in the depths of the forest away from the hum of the motorway and the shrill of human chatter, I will find not silence, but sirens. When all else is gone, the ringing in my ear grows louder.
A lot of people get depressed when they develop tinnitus, and I can see why. When the backdrop to your every experience is a bleeping noise, all experiences seem tainted.
But, perhaps herein lies the gift of tinnitus too. It gets your attention. It shakes you up. It wakes you up.
You cannot ignore it, and therefore you cannot ignore anything.
Imagine if every time you slipped into automatic pilot in your life, a little bell rang to urge you to pay attention. That’s what my tinnitus does. I step out into the garden to do something mundane, and bring bring! I’m jolted into noticing the peace that lies behind the tinnitus. I notice the garden, the birds, the sky, and all those clichés.
And yes, I do sometimes wonder what that garden would be like without the little sirens blaring in my ear. But I know the answer: I probably wouldn’t notice.
Instead of ruining my every experience, tinnitus opens my eyes to experience. It’s taken me a few years to realise that my tinnitus is not destroying my peace, it’s teaching me about peace, and so far I’ve learned that I am no further from it than I was before. If anything, I have more awareness of peace than ever before.
Sometimes, the thing that comes into our experience and seemingly ruins it brings with it a gift we would never have had the insight or courage to ask for.
This isn’t a matter of gratitude, but attitude. I am not grateful for my tinnitus, but now that I’ve stopped trying to evict it from my life, I can see how, in its own way, it’s important - or more, it draws my attention to things I would never otherwise have noticed. Sometimes, it makes me notice the silence that is there regardless of the noise above it.
Sometimes, me and my tinnitus, we have a moment. A good one. A precious moment of awareness.
Whatever 2019 brings for you, may you seek out the gifts in the darkness (and while you’re at it, take a look at the darkness in the gifts too…)
Life. It’s everything.
Happy New Year.