Level 2: Struggling
When we start getting help, this can be a really interesting time. I found myself coming out of what felt like a numbed down state, and I started to get in touch with how I felt emotionally, physically and mentally. I discovered that I was full of anger and frustration, and that my body was holding onto lots of “baggage.”
BUT I was finally telling my story to someone. I was being listened to and supported and I found myself starting to off-load and process a great dam of stuff I hadn’t realised was there. It was difficult at times, but it felt like something was shifting. Even though sessions could be quite challenging I started to feel lighter and like I was relaxing and letting go. Over a period of time I became noticeably more comfortable going to someone for help, and opening up to them. I had no idea how much stuff had become pent up inside.
Level two is all about struggling with tinnitus. It is like having a sergeant major that has moved in with you, orders you about and has you on a short leash.
Being listened to carefully is particularly important for people at this stage. You may find yourself blaming the diving accident, the syringe, the loud drill, the medication, the cold and a whole host of people, events and situations. It may seem like they all caused your tinnitus and it had nothing to do with you! Therapy may help you realise otherwise.
This is the level where you get endless worrying thoughts swooping down into your mind like vultures: “If I hadn’t done X, then the tinnitus wouldn’t have appeared. That wretched so-and-so. I was fine before they did Y to me.” This is the classic time for pointing the finger at noisy neighbours, inconsiderate partners, and nasty health practitioners who just make it worse. You may find yourself really giving yourself a hard time, and well, frankly beating yourself up with thoughts like: “I cannot accept this. I used to be in control. I want my peace back. I don’t want to have to look after myself any differently or do bloody relaxation exercises. No no no!”
Get it off your chest. Let it all out. Once you have the support of a therapist then its great just to be honest and share your feelings. You can really start to notice just what you are like. For tinnitus it is best to be calm and in a settled state, but you most probably got into this state in the first place because of bottled up feelings. They will need to come out, in order for you to let go. With a good therapist, this process can be handled carefully, slowly and feel manageable. Keeping the brakes on slightly is much more healing than flying headfirst into overwhelming process.
Many people go through the, “Why me? Why should I look after myself? I should be well. There’s nothing wrong with me!” stage. In order for this to happen, you need someone there to express this to, ie a therapist.
It’s no good unleashing all this to your partner or nearest and dearest. That will just bring them down too leaving you all feeling full of doom and gloom, depleted and at the end of your tether. A therapist can be a much more powerful support because they are neutral and have no strings attached. Although they are affected by what you bring into the space, they have the means to not be overwhelmed by you and remain strong. This brings much more space to this densely packed baggage we all carry, and allows us to process and air it in a safe transformational way.
In STRUGGLING, the mindset is already different to level 1. The fact that you are prepared to do something about it means that you are considering the possibility that your tinnitus may get better. Here people are starting to question their symptoms and are wondering if it really will be there forever, or perhaps, maybe it might just get a little bit better.
You may find that when you get in touch with anger or anxiety during sessions your tinnitus may react and flare up. But believe me it is worth getting things off your chest because this is what allows you to settle later. While I was struggling through the first stages of getting better, sometimes I would go through a shift and then my tinnitus would wobble and react for a few days afterwards.
I constantly get asked by people at this level, “Will it make my tinnitus worse?” The honest answer is temporarily we can get slight aggravations, but fortunately most of the time the nervous system settles and you just feel calmer. When tinnitus flares up after a session, this is often because something is changing and being processed by your system and usually you have a sense of this feeling quite important and appropriate, even if you feel a bit emotional or jangled for a day or two. But after each flare up, things settle to a slightly easier level in my experience, and over a period of time the overall trend is positive.
I can remember feeling really shocked when I suddenly realised that nobody in my family ever truly listened to me. Of course from day to day we all used to talk to each other, but nobody ever really considered my needs because they all had such strong agendas themselves. We were all bogged down and so none of us could be there for each other.
I became aware of how I had shut down and just gone numb as a defence. Even though this was challenging to come to terms with at the time, this realisation marked a turning point in my own journey of getting my own needs met. For the first time these needs were being met deeply, and I was being heard and attended to. The sense of relief was extraordinary.
I can’t help but feel how common this is with tinnitus people, the need to be heard and acknowledged. So much of this condition is about needing other people to know how bad it is, and for them to really listen to this and hear you. How often do we get really frustrated that nobody seems to be taking us seriously or that they don’t understand what it is like?
Practically every client of mine says at some stage, “Well Julian, at least you have been through this and know what it is like. That is such a relief to me, and one of the main reasons I have come to see you.”
At this level it is also common to be strongly in denial. You may be thinking that you are very together and that you don’t need therapy. Please remember that if you are really well and have no burning issues and have digested and processed all your life experiences thoroughly, then you should be able to let go of tinnitus quite quickly. If you have tinnitus that won’t go away, this is a sign that something needs to let go.
You can probably remember noticing tinnitus when you were a teenager as your head hit the pillow after a loud concert, only to find that it had disappeared by morning. However, if your tinnitus is still there, the fact that you are holding on to it is a sign that something needs to shift.
The only exceptions to this are being deaf or partially deaf, which causes you to strain to hear. This heightens your sensitivity, which can lead to tinnitus. Because you don’t hear well, your nervous system becomes ultra sensitive so it can pick up more information from outside world. By straining in this way, you end up picking up internal noise as tinnitus.
Alternatively there is an extremely rare medical condition that can lead to tinnitus called an acoustic neuroma. Sometimes people are sent off for a brain scan, even though the odds are remote. I’m always amazed how many people are put through this procedure. How often are we sent off for a brain scan when we have headaches? It almost seems as if health practitioners send people off for a scan because they don’t know how else to deal with tinnitus. The tinnitus person, being in an anxious state is bound to rise to the suggestion that there is a slim chance they have this or that, and therefore feel they should get it checked out. But if they get stressed out by the process, then their tinnitus may get worse as a result. How much are scans of this type about pandering to anxiety rather than seriously managing someone’s well-being?
The point is that the vast majority of tinnitus cases come from being in a state of red-alert and this can change. If you are prepared to go through the hassle of taking the brain scan route, then please also consider setting up a support network and establish a therapeutic relationship too. This is more likely to help you settle into a state where you can let go of tinnitus.
At level 2 tinnitus can be really frustrating. It can flare up at the slightest thing. Even relaxing can create this extraordinary paradox where you are much more centred and aware of how you are and, as a result, you notice it more. You feel better and clearer, but as all the chaos and turmoil starts to subside you may notice the tinnitus more.
I can remember, as all of my frantic thought processes started to calm down, a clearer head meant I became more aware of tinnitus as a result. As the storm clears the cause of irritation sticks out more. This can be challenging. But you have to ask yourself which is better: being lost in a sea of chaotic thought and distractions that drown out the tinnitus, or being calm and clear and able to notice the tinnitus in all its glory?
Even though tinnitus can stick out like a sore thumb at times when you feel particularly calm and peaceful, these moments are crucially important. You start to really meet tinnitus full on, face to face as it were. At times it seems we need to be able to fully experience our tinnitus and learn to be well with it at the same time, before it starts backing off. How you react now is going to become a deciding force in what happens next. You can either react negatively and wind yourself up, or what I suggest is that you try the techniques at the end of this level. As you become more able to meet tinnitus in a much more direct, head-on kind of way, get into a regular habit of practising a well-being inducing technique. The more you do this, the more your subconscious will start associating tinnitus with a reason to relax and be well, and the less threatening it will become.
The technique at the end of this section is one of the most useful in the whole book. Whereas once I used this to let go of tinnitus, now that I no longer have this problem, I continually depend on clenching and relaxing to settle myself down. It helps enormously when life gets challenging, when I am angry, in pain, confused or exhausted. Learning to focus on the body can really transform our experience of difficulty.
A word of advice about having a really relaxing therapy session: If you find that after a treatment you really let go, switch off and start noticing your tinnitus more, it can be tempting to blame the person who helped you. You may need to go through a period of noticing how you are in all your glory, good and bad, and for some people the bad parts eg tinnitus, being negative, impatient, destructive, critical, driven, pushy etc can be hard to accept. My advice is to keep on going with therapy and focus on the increasing sense of well-being in your body. Just keep going. Some people give up at this stage which is such a shame as they are only just starting to do the work. You may have to really pamper yourself for the time being while you struggle through this challenging stage. But learning what helps is a vital part of the process.
As you start getting in touch with how you feel inside, you may start noticing how achy, tired, tense and painful your body is. Many people with tinnitus treat their bodies like workhorses and don’t really look after them much. Even though it is uncomfortable getting in touch with this, I encourage you to work through things with a body worker to help release some of this tension. It does get easier with time but getting in touch with difficult is some of the most important work you will do on yourself. This is where you make progress. This is also why you need the support of a therapist. Level two can really seem like a place of “no pain, no gain” at times.
You may come across feelings you didn’t know were there. Use the support of your therapist to help process any issues that arise. They are trained to help you in this way.
The challenge of this level is to really start considering how you can bring changes into your lifestyle and how you approach your body and mind. If you start therapy and bring extra support into your life, this is an enormous step in the right direction and that alone with a month or two is very likely to move you up a level or two on the scale.
In the meantime, be good to yourself. Don’t push yourself to the limit. Bullying yourself, driving yourself to exhaustion, or taking on too much are definitely things that you need to seriously consider stopping. Bring in enough down-time, and allow as much fun and humour flood into your life as possible. Stop taking yourself so seriously and let yourself just be as you are.
Who is really the sergeant major here – the tinnitus or you? Is the tinnitus really to blame or is it just your body reacting to the way you treat yourself?
One of the most useful things you can do at this level is start to notice how well you treat yourself. When was the last time you gave yourself a proper break? How much downtime do you have on a daily basis? What do you do on a regular basis that makes you feel happy, calm and focussed? How much support do you have around you? The message you need to take on board here is that you need to start taking good care of yourself, and giving yourself time to become aware of how you really feel inside. Here is a really useful technique that puts you in touch with how you are. The more aware you become of how you are inside, the easier it becomes to let go of it. Remember, we can’t let go of what we don’t know. So, get to your what’s going on inside.