Chapter 4 Charting your progress
So now that we have got some of the ground-work in place, lets start the process of getting better.
Please look at the Well-being Matrix for Tinnitus © at the beginning of the book. I suggest you tear it out and place it somewhere where you will notice it.
This matrix charts how people get better, showing the landmarks of progress along the way in seven levels. When you notice how you are improving, this is really encouraging and can help spur you on your way to the next level. By sharing the pitfalls and challenges that I and many of my clients have struggled with along this journey to recovery, my aim is to stop you from making the same mistakes! I also would like to comfort and reassure you that you are not alone, and that getting better is a well-trodden path. If you follow the guidelines set out over the next seven levels in the book, and learn from where we have got stuck, you will be in a much better position to make progress yourself.
Learning how to look after yourself properly and becoming aware of how you treat yourself and your symptoms is crucial for making progress. When you look after yourself appropriately you will get better. Part of the challenge is learning what works specifically for you and getting your own needs met. We are all different and need different things to bring in a sense of well-being.
Let’s look into each stage and help you find where you are on your path to letting go of tinnitus.
Level 1: Stuck
The red level of the matrix is called STUCK. People here are under the illusion that there is no way out and that the tinnitus will never go. It is common to sink into this mindset when we have been misinformed by a health practitioner that there is nothing we can do about it. It is not surprising that we give up hope if the person we go to for help gives us this message of negativity. Once again, please ignore such messages. They are totally unhelpful. I strongly advise steering clear of such people.
At this level of suffering you often feel totally at the mercy of tinnitus, which can behave like a TYRANT. You are afraid of losing control and feel powerless to stop it. Although this is the way it seems, this is most definitely not the case. When you are deeply locked into a state of red-alert, it is normal to feel hunted, anxious, fearful and as if there is no hope. This is normal behaviour for red-alert mode.
But there is hope. Look up the matrix to the next levels and see what it’s like for people who have improved. As you get to know this matrix better by going through your own process of starting to look after your own needs more, you will recognise some of the landmarks of change in your awareness. As you improve you will be able to keep track of changes in the way you relate to tinnitus, think about it and feel in yourself.
At level 1 you may notice that you live almost entirely in your head, stuck in racing thoughts. Your days are filled with interminable mental chit-chat that seems to dominate everything. These thoughts can often be negative and full of worry. Do you have a sense of being locked inside your head just now? How easy is it to describe what is going on inside your body, or how things feel sitting here reading this? Of course you will be thinking about what you are reading, but as I write this, I can feel my bottom clearly sitting on the chair and my legs feel really calm and comfortable.
See if you can get a sense of where you are focussed just now. Does it seem like the centre of attention is in your head? If your body is like a house, are you upstairs in the attic, or do you have a clear sense of how your lower body is downstairs? Where is your focus just now? How able are you to describe what is going on in your body?
When we are in red-alert we tend to spiral in our thoughts and sometimes feel like we are spaced out and floaty. If there is a focus it might feel generally around the head area, but distinctly floaty. Do you feel floaty from time to time?
It is very common for tinnitus people to be almost entirely out of touch with their bodies. If you ask them how they feel, they will often be unaware of anything below the neck, other than tightness and aches and pains. Most of you will probably fall into this category.
This is why having comforting, soothing, relaxing body-work is so important. Feeling the direct contact of warm, caring hands that know what they are doing will calm the system down, and will help you feel how your body is. As soon as the body relaxes, your mind stops racing and starts slowing down, and you start feeling a little bit more in touch with what feels okay.
For me having hands-on body work was an absolute Godsend when my tinnitus was bad. My body started to experience calm, safe and comforting experiences which directly helped my nervous system shift down out of red-alert mode. It helped much more than I realised at the time. Please do yourself a huge favour, find a good therapist and have regular body-work. Once a week for a few months should really help you get in touch.
Your mind will probably say: “Oh this won’t help. How is this going to stop my tinnitus? I want it to stop right NOW! My tinnitus hasn’t gone yet. Oh this person doesn’t understand what it is like. I need pills and a quick fix rather than all this alternative stuff. I’ve had three massages and my tinnitus hasn’t got any better. This is useless. Nobody can help me. This will never go.” When you find the saboteur taking over your mind and trying to sabotage any plans to help yourself, take it from me that this will help and tell the saboteur to be quiet!
Acknowledge that you do actually want to get better, rather than stew in all this misery. Know that looking after how you feel on any level and getting your needs met will help. Until you actually try this out, you will have to trust me. Get support and start experiencing the changes. Just staying in your head and reading this from a mental point of view is barely going to scratch the surface.
We all have a tendency to sabotage things we know are good for ourselves, especially when we are down at this level. How do you think we got here in the first place?
Being in touch with your body really helps. The more you can focus on how your body feels, the more you can take your mind off tinnitus. Craniosacral therapy worked incredibly well for me. I was continually surprised by how I thought I was relaxed and then suddenly, something would let go and I would sink into a delicious state of calm. Then, after a period of time, I would drop into a whole new level of calm and comfort that I frankly had never known before. Relaxing is relative and seems to get endlessly better. Just when you think you are relaxed, with help, bodywork and support, you suddenly relax a hundred times more. One thing is critical in being able to relax, your body needs your attention. Having someone working on your body helps gather your awareness into your body space, and this leads to relaxation.
At level 1 it’s great that you are already reading this, which is a step in the right direction. Read through this booklet until you understand it thoroughly. It will be a support in itself. It is my intention to inspire you to learn how to look after yourself and to give you hope and a sense of motivation. I was at rock bottom and struggled with tinnitus for years. Now I have never been so well. Please know that this is possible.
In my clinic, clients who experience six sessions or so find things starting to feel much more manageable. Tinnitus no longer bugs them so much and they are able to focus more clearly on what makes them feel better. Those that follow the advice in this book and practice focusing on how their bodies feel make very good progress.
To get out of STUCK and start moving up a level it is really important to get regular therapy for your body and mind. Remember, letting go only really becomes possible when you have support. It is so much easier when you can offload onto someone. When this person is neutral and has no strings attached, and when this support is on a regular basis, it is hard not to feel some benefit. You have to be pretty determined to be miserable to not start feeling some relief.
Know that as soon as you start creating a neutral space where you can process how you feel inside, you will start unburdening your issues and setting out on the road to letting go. Find someone you feel comfortable with and allow yourself to really unburden yourself and offload onto them. That’s what they are paid for.
Tinnitus people are champions of trying things out just once, and then saying it was useless and moving on to something else. Please be aware of flitting from one thing to the next and never really getting anywhere. I now refuse to treat people with tinnitus who won’t commit to at least six sessions. This usually ensures that they not only do they get onto the right track and gain a sense of direction, but also usually start feeling much better. This motivates them to keep progressing up the matrix to a level where they feel satisfied. Those who come for just a couple of sessions tend to just stay stuck.
Some of you may feel there is nothing wrong with you. My advice is to go to body-work and start to find out how you really feel inside. You have tinnitus. That is a good enough reason to get help.
As I have already mentioned, it is not helpful to try to stop your tinnitus at this level. Don’t aim to climb the final ascent of Everest before you have all your sherpas and supplies in order. That is a long way off just now. Keep your aims within reach and realistic. Just now, try to aim for anything that makes your body feel more relaxed and comfortable, and allows you to have a good cry, release emotions and clear your head. What really helps is to find someone who can really LISTEN to you, and get a sense of what you are going through. Trained therapists are best for this.
Trying to stop your tinnitus is just another way of focussing on it. You need to take the focus away from it just now.
Put your tinnitus on the back shelf, even if it is howling. Make your focus and main aim anything that makes you feel well. It doesn’t matter if it is lying in a jacuzzi for an hour every day, or hanging upside down from the rafters, turn yourself into a student of well-being who experiences increasingly long periods of calm, relaxing, manageable, and happy activities. This helps tinnitus. Pushing yourself to the limit doesn’t.
If you have children to look after or tough business commitments, organise some down time on a regular basis. If this is seemingly impossible you really need to consider whether your lifestyle really suits you. Tinnitus people often drive themselves into overwhelm where the need for money, power, and achievement seems to outweigh well-being. Your body is one reality you have to deal with. If you want to let go of tinnitus, something has to give. As you build up more of a support network, things will become more manageable and well-being will return.
The power of direct contact from someone who is calm and happy is extraordinary. At this level I feel it is essential. However it also really helps to build up your positive resources. By that I mean all the things that make you feel well.
What really helped me through the difficult days were: lying in a jacuzzi, swimming, taking the dog for a walk, laughing, having a long shower working the jet all along my spine, having a good cry, spending time with happy, positive people, not talking about my tinnitus and dwelling on it all the time with everyone I met, avoiding depressing and draining people, letting go of all the stressful things in my life, turning the news over to a comedy show, having long baths with lavender and candlelight, the smell of roses and putting rose oil on my pillow, listening to gentle, beautiful music, spending long periods of time just doing nothing, talking to someone who cared about my well-being, lying in the sun, swinging in a hammock at the bottom of the garden, lying in the middle of the floor in the middle of the living room in the middle of the day doing nothing, daydreaming about happy memories, beautiful places, laughing a bit more, getting into delicious, healthy cooking, taking up photography, learning how to use the computer, going on holiday, learning salsa, Scottish dancing, going to the cinema and watching uplifting, happy, slow-paced films, reading endless inspiring books, pottery, wine-tasting, learning languages, all these things really helped me. It took the focus away from tinnitus, made me feel happier, put me in contact with others and helped me relax.
To be honest, this list of things that make me feel happy was much shorter to start off with when my tinnitus was bad. Of course it was. I was out of touch with all the things I loved in life and that was part of the problem. But the more I took care of myself, the longer this list got, and the better I felt and the more my tinnitus backed off.
What are your resources? What makes you happy, inspired, relaxed, hopeful, comfortable? How much downtime do you have and how much enjoyment do you let into your life? The core issue here is how loving and kind you are to yourselvef. We tinnitus people tend to treat ourselves like tyrants, bossing ourselves around, pushing hard and being pretty unforgiving and demanding at the best of times. Learning to treat ourselves well is tantamount to being loving and kind to ourselves.
It is really essential for you to start allowing all the good things into your life that you need to be well. Start looking after yourself and letting in all the things you long for. Be kind and loving to yourself like you would be to a child, and stop pushing, demanding and expecting so much of yourself. Give yourself a break. You need to know what helps you, what makes you happy. As soon as you become aware of this and start allowing what you long for into your lives, your tinnitus will show you that you are on the right path and back off.
Many people with tinnitus say that they have jobs, families and responsibilities they cannot get out of, leaving them with no time to themselves. The issue is more likely not being able to say no, or not setting clear boundaries and asking to be left alone. If we are honest, the best thing for our families and businesses is to be well and happy. The more we look after ourselves, the more we can bring to our relationships at home and at work.
It is all about letting go. We need support and positive resources to nourish us over a period of time in order to let go. Please give yourself plenty of time.
At this level I strongly advise weekly therapy/counselling/bodywork sessions. Don’t expect miracles to start off with. This is not a quick fix, although some people experience great improvement at the beginning, and that can be such a relief. My advice is to keep going with your sessions.
Most of all you will want your tinnitus to get better right now, but please be patient and try to keep your goals manageable. Aim for any kind of well-being just now. You will be able to deal with tinnitus more directly once you have established a positive support network and have moved up a level. At this stage it is good enough to get some sense of well-being. Get your sherpas and supplies in order first, before starting the ascent. Build up your positive resources and give yourself a bit of time to establish this.
Can you write a list of all the things that make you feel better? What nourishes you and makes you relax?
I thoroughly recommend joining a regular tai chi, yoga, relaxation, Pilates, or Alexander Technique class. With the support of a teacher and people around you, this will help enormously. Once again you can find out about this on the internet, at the library, and in health food shops. Do a whole course before you consider if it is for you or not. Give it a chance to work.