Level 4: Motivated
Notice there is a thick line across the matrix between levels three and four.
This is an enormous transition zone that I have noticed in tinnitus people. Once you can get to level four, then it’s pretty much downhill all the way. Whereas the first three levels have been unpleasant and challenging, once you cross the threshold into green, then suddenly you start to discover that tinnitus is no longer the nasty, bossy old tyrant that it was, robbing you of peace and sanity. To the contrary, this condition seems to have turned into quite a useful healthometer showing you what’s right for you and what’s not.
Sounds pretty like level three, but the crucial difference here is motivation. Now that you have taken responsibility for your own tinnitus, and accept that it is there and you yourself have a massive impact on it, you are starting to get a sense of what is needed for you to be well. After the uphill struggle of the lower levels, in level four you are MOTIVATED enough to keep on going all by yourself. You have experienced how tinnitus can back off and you enjoy taking good care of yourself because it feels so much better to do so. It is worth it for the relief alone.
At this level there is a sense of much more space. Tinnitus is still in the house, but has moved out of your room into its own. It’s still there but it doesn’t bug you so much. At last there is a sense of it being manageable and you can get on with things.
Of course there are still bad days where it flares up, but you are starting to develop that all-important sense of knowing from direct experience that it will back off again the moment you go to bed early, or have a break or do whatever it is do you to feel good and relax. Tinnitus is not a threat anymore. Now you can stare it in the face and have a healthy respect for it. You are not controlled by it now, but you listen carefully to what this symptom is trying to teach you.
You are here most likely because you have started benefiting from a few months of therapeutic support. You have directly experienced that it is possible to feel much better than you were used to and are possibly starting to get in touch with more important underlying issues that fuel the tinnitus pattern in the first place. In short at this level you have developed a real sense of how to be well from time to time.
You have become INDEPENDENT and don’t need to be badgered into taking more care of yourself. You already have a good sense of what works for you and how good it makes you feel, and you are starting to reap the benefits. You’ve got out of the hole and it feels such a relief. Tinnitus has turned into a pretty good TEACHER and you are rapidly finding out what is right for you.
Level four on the matrix is the time when you start considering what really matters to you, and what changes you need to make in your life so that it can become more wonderful. It’s decision time. As you become much more caring towards yourself and start treating yourself with kindness and consideration, you start to get a sense of what you really want. Certainly the things you don’t want become loud and clear and easier to weed out.
I suddenly realised one day how tough I had been on myself, and how I had to do do do, achieve, be the best, prove my point, and try and try again. It slowly dawned on me that this was one of the most important underlying causes of tinnitus in me, this inability to just accept things just as they are and let myself be good enough as I am right now. Talking to hundreds of tinnitus people, I started to see how we all seem to be driven, and unable to appreciate that we are probably good enough already. Many of us seem to feel guilty about doing nothing. We simply give ourselves a hard time.
It was at this stage of level four that I started to treat myself with more kindness, and this made a huge difference. I started to let go of a need to be perfect and successful, and started to allow myself to be just good enough. It really was such a relief.
The technique at the end of this section helps develop this sense of loving kindness towards oneself. It is extraordinarily simple and yet if you do it properly, can turn out to be a memorable and powerful experience.
When I was passing through this stage there was quite a delayed effect on improvement. If I got a bad cold, lost my temper or went through a stressful patch, my tinnitus would rear up and start treating me like a grouchy doctor or sergeant major again. At lower levels I would have panicked at this wobble and would have needed to get support from my craniosacral therapist. However at level 4, having built up some experience of knowing what helps me and how to manage my tinnitus, I would just get back on the support wagon and do my relaxation exercises, especially the clench and relax technique at the end of level 3. I would do this for perhaps an hour at a time and feel immediately more centred and in control. However it might take me a week or so to settle back to the improved level of symptoms that I was experiencing before the wobble.
In retrospect I think I did quite well considering that the only regular support I allowed into my life was bi-weekly craniosacral therapy. Today I find my ability to cope with wobbles is better than ever, because I have a firmly established and regularly visited support network: psychotherapist, craniosacral therapist, a week off every month, a good diet, a strengthening Buddhist foundation, friends, daily swimming, and a wonderful partner.
I am aware that this may sound intimidating for some, and may get your Saboteur thinking, “But I can’t do all that, it’s too expensive, takes up too much time, I don’t believe in anything, etc.” Believe me, I used to be just as hard on myself and have no help at all like perhaps many of you who are reading this now. Tinnitus loves lurking in the lives of people who drive themselves to the limit and who are hard on themselves.
However the more I started giving myself time and space to be supported, the more I felt the deep benefits of it creep into all areas of my life. We are not meant to be alone and cope with masses of stress unaided. People who tend to do this (like me, for example) have often needed to cope and pull themselves together right from day one, as a result of the way they were brought into the world and brought up. Early patterns established by our mothering and family dynamic are powerful forces that turn us into the driven achievers and restless souls that tinnitus lives through. And yet, thanks to tinnitus, I discovered this fairly early on, and found that life is much happier and more manageable with plenty of resources to draw on.
As you get stronger and look after yourself more, when life rocks the boat as it surely will, it gradually takes less and less to reactivate your tinnitus. These days it takes one hell of a cold, or a massive amount of fear, anger, stress, coffee, alcohol to bring it back. I’m generally free of it, but if a tiny whistle flickers on the horizon, it is usually gone by the morning.
The point I want to share with you is that the more you look after yourself, the stronger your whole nervous system becomes. Your immunity and ability to manage things slowly gets better and better. The delay between tinnitus flaring up and the amount of time needed to get back on track does get shorter and shorter depending on how readily you are prepared to look after yourself.
Even with powerful illnesses or enormous challenges like bereavement, the more we open up to support, help and nourishment from others, the better we will cope. You all know this. What I am saying is no great revelation. The fact that you have tinnitus is not because you don’t know the effects of a healthy diet, good friendship, or the benefits of therapy. It is possibly because you do not allow yourself enough of these things! You may be depriving yourself of all the things you long for and need because you have probably had to be tough, grit your teeth, and cope without them in the past. This is learnt behaviour that seems “normal.”
Why not rest, enjoy yourself a bit more, let go of the need to be brilliant, successful, wealthy, perfect, admirable, etc, and start just being OK? This is a really interesting question.
To show the consequences of this, 10 years ago a cup of coffee made me spin and feel nauseous, and my tinnitus flared up. Now I have one every day and thrive on it with no effect on symptoms. The same is true for wine, or staying up late. I had to be ultra careful of what I exposed myself to, or what I ate, but these days I am slackening the reins a lot and am getting away with it. This is possible because I have allowed myself to let go, switch off and recharge. I have plenty of time off, and instead of lots of money, I have lots of free time. In fact downtime has become sacred for me. I’m not encouraging bad habits here, but I am saying that, with tinnitus, when you really start looking after yourself, your constitution gradually gets better and better. Bear in mind that it’s not just tinnitus that improves. You may well experience:
More stable emotions
A longer life
A happier general mood
You are not just letting go of tinnitus, you are bringing yourself out of a body stress response which will have an effect on all these factors. Your tinnitus is your in-built personalised friend that will show you what is right for you. If you let it work for you, you will find much greater health benefits. Let your tinnitus guide you in a healthy direction that is tailor-made and perfect just for you. The more you do the right thing, the more it will back off.
The challenge at this level is to develop confidence and know that you will be OK every time you get knocked down a level by something challenging that comes along. When you get rattled by whatever trigger that comes along, setting off your alarm bells again, here you will learn from experience that it will go anyway, as long as you adopt your coping strategies that will be becoming clear at this level.
What is the situation touching inside you that you need to deal with? Take this to therapy and explore it. You cannot change the outside world but you certainly can change the way you deal with it inside. If someone makes you angry, there is something important inside of you that is reacting to it. It’s not just them, its you too.
Confidence in the fact that things will be alright each time your tinnitus flares up increases every time you manage to survive and recover from one of these episodes. The more this happens, the stronger you will get. You may get worse when you are overtired, but you know that a few early nights will make it better. An infuriating situation may set your head ringing, but if you spend an hour focussing on body sensation then you know you will feel better. This knowledge becomes more and more unshakable, and the gathering confidence takes root and strengthens like a tree.
As you really start getting better on a deeper level, you can be incredibly empowering for other people who are suffering with tinnitus. Your wellness and recovery from symptoms is inspiring and motivating and gives them hope and direction.
At this stage you start to get a sense of your body being the place where all your life experience is held, RIGHT NOW. With all the body work you have been receiving, you know that this is the place where blocked issues and undigested life experience can slowly be released and freed up. Working on the body directly helps the mind, and vice versa. They are inseparable. You have stopped treating yourself like a workhorse at this stage. It becomes harder to feed yourself rubbish and flog yourself to exhaustion. Your tinnitus is teaching you this.