All his life Lindsay counted himself lucky—until the day he woke up with tinnitus. The ringing in his ears started just like that. It’s coming up to a year and a half now and he still can’t believe it. He has little reason to hope it will go away. He’s told it might—but who knows?
It’s changed his life. He’s more cautious, less sociable, more self-conscious. For the first time in his life now, he sometimes gets depressed.
He showed up at my last workshop and sat through six classes that I don’t think would have otherwise interested him.
Not that I promised or even suggested anything. All I said was, “Let’s take a look at the way you respond to the ringing in your ears; maybe you’ll see something you haven’t noticed before.”
“I’ll try anything, “he said, and sure enough he sat there open minded, even when touchy-feely subjects like relationships came up. He had a great life and a great marriage, he told me; no need to dissect it.
I wasn’t sure how he felt about the workshop, but afterwards he started sitting with me one-on-one. He wasn’t ready to say that the meditation seemed to be helping.
I learned that Lindsay and his brother worked their whole lives together as builders. I’m sure he’s good at it because he’s intelligent, honest, and always looking to do his best. He’s a hard worker, not a dreamer.
However he’s taken to me. Our conversations are candid. He tells me shyly of his one-time visit to the Kirov Ballet back in the 1980s. He still seems surprised that he enjoyed it.
The T-word is never far from his lips though. Fond memories remind him that things now are not the same any more. “The ringing is so loud and persistent,” he says holding his head with a grimace, “Sometimes I think I just can’t take it any more.”
“Look,” I say. “I’m not sure what I can do about the tinnitus. I mean, how many causes might there be—physiological, neurological, psychological?”
Lindsay shook his head. “God knows. The doctors don’t.”
“What I can do is help you explore your reactivity. We’ll look at 1) what you pay attention to, 2) how it makes you feel, and 3) what habits those feelings trigger.”
I go on. “Right now I’m not sure you accept your condition.”
“I’m not sure I want to,” he says.
“Fair enough”, I say. “Let’s take a look.”
I lead Lindsay through a ten minute meditation and he admits, “Yes, for a moment here and there I forgot about the ringing. And even the ringing itself: it’s not so loud, so insistent. It’s died down a bit.”
He shed a tear, apologizing several times. It was years since he’d been ‘emotional,’ he said. He was embarrassed.
Lindsay’s a pleasure to work with. We agreed we would focus on his disbelief—one more form of denial from the prodigious human arsenal of defensive reflexes. Does denial have something to do with Lindsay’s experience of tinnitus?
Today I called to remind him he’d left his glasses in my office, but before I could say a word he blurted out, “My tinnitus today. It’s so little. It’s so quiet. It’s like it’s not there!”
He could hardly believe it.
“Hah!” I said. “Why d’you think that is?”
“You know, I realized from the meditation yesterday that the more stressed I feel the louder it is, so this morning I made a decision to not be stressed today, to take it easy and remember my mood from last night.”
“And that’s what I did!”
“You know,” he went on, “I think that sometimes I’m stressed in ways that I don’t even notice. It’s like I don’t do it consciously. Isn’t that funny?”
“Really funny,” I agree. “Anyway, you gonna keep meditating?”