Chapter 3 How to make progress.
In the next section you will come to the Well-being Matrix for Tinnitus ©. This shows how people get better and outlines some of the general issues they have to work through to progress to a new level of improvement. I have put this together after years of study, work as a therapist with hundreds of people and of course direct personal experience and experimenting.
You will notice that I have divided the process of getting better into stages and have described how our relationship with tinnitus changes as we get better. For example, at the worst end of the chart people who are really struggling with this condition often feel like tinnitus has taken over their lives. I have described red-coloured level 1 as “stuck” and have described the way tinnitus behaves as a “tyrant.”
However, as people get better and make progress they start to realise that tinnitus is actually a really useful healthometer that backs off when they do the right thing, and gets worse when they put themselves through stress, overexertion, anger etc. So up at yellow level, number 3 on the chart, I have described tinnitus as a doctor. Here, tinnitus shows you what is good for your health and you either take its advice and benefit, or fight against it and the tinnitus gets worse.
Eventually as you get much better, you no longer find yourself monitoring it anymore and it backs off for long periods of time. It may come back from time to time when you overdo things, but you know that it will quickly recede, because you look after yourself well enough not to react to it, or get into overwhelm. It really becomes no big deal if it reappears for a day or two because you know from experience that it backs off. At level 4 I have called tinnitus a “friend” as it is clearly a source of feedback that guides you reliably back to health.
The other columns of the Well-being Matrix for Tinnitus © highlight general patterns relating to people’s states of awareness, thought patterns and challenges that they need to work through at each level. Please note, these are generalisations built on meeting many people and my intention here is to help you find yourself on your own particular path to progress. There will be many exceptions, and certain parts of the Well-being Matrix for Tinnitus © will overlap into different levels for different people.
My intention is to give you a framework for you to start doing the right thing, as well as to show you that letting go of tinnitus is not only possible, but also a well-trodden path. You are not alone.
We all know how difficult tinnitus can be, and I want to focus on getting better and how to let go of things. There is little value in focussing on doom and gloom.
Core Issue 6: Moaning and groaning
Some of you may have a tendency to complain to others about how awful your tinnitus is. You programme people with tales of your suffering until they automatically ask you every time they see you, “Oh hi there. How’s your tinnitus?” You have a chat. Oh well, there’s this negative thing… Oh and you would never imagine, that negative thing… Oh you can’t possibly understand it. It’s so negatively this, and negatively that, … and old so-and-so struggled with it for 100 years… and before you know it you are feeling utterly depressed and even more focussed on it than ever. Please be aware that some tinnitus people are ingenious at focussing on suffering and building up a network that reinforces their suffering.
It is really important to get support and be able to express your feelings to others. But please be aware of a tendency to stew in one’s own misery. This doesn’t help.
I went to a tinnitus meeting once, which turned into a competition to see who was suffering the most.
Oh hi, how are you?
Terrible thanks. It’s been driving me mad this last week.
Oh me too. Is there ever going to be an end to this?
I don’t know. I know someone who did X, and experienced Y, and then they felt terrible.
Oh that’s terrible.
And then they went to so-and-so for help who was terrible, and then they felt even more terrible.
God that’s really terrible, that is.
They had it for a hundred and ninety-seven years. Isn’t that terrible.
God I feel terrible now.
So do I…
It is so important to have support with tinnitus and feel you are properly listened to and understood, but please beware of the “terrible sessions.” I personally didn’t find them useful. Joining a group of moaners can be very draining and counter-productive.
You need to surround yourself with people who:
Can teach you how to let go mentally, emotionally and physically
Help your body feel calm and comfortable
Can listen to you and help you process your feelings about it
Care about your well-being
Make you happy, laugh and enjoy yourself
Help you focus, become clear
Bring other interests into your life
Take your mind off tinnitus
If you can find people who:
Are positive about tinnitus
Understand what you are going through
Understand tinnitus and how it works
then that is great. Treasure them!
Core Issue 7: Avoiding doom and gloom
As long as tinnitus still bugs you, please be vary careful of doom and gloom out there in the world. Stop watching the news and horror films if you can. Seeing and hearing traumatic events in other peoples lives is traumatising in itself. We get addicted to the adrenaline rush that this creates and locked into dark misery facing the world. This is highly activating and tends to move us towards a state of red-alert.
When the news comes on, turn over. When Mr & Mrs Grim turn up at the door, pretend you are out. If there is nothing but horror films and depressing documentaries on TV, go to the cinema and see a comedy instead!
Do yourself a favour and protect yourself from this daily challenge to your nervous system. When you are feeling better you will be able to cope with this, but just for now, it may well help to steer clear of doom and gloom. No more waking up to the radio full of stories about war, famine and death. You need light, comic, gentle, relaxing, digestible and uplifting input. Leave saving the world until you are really feeling strong again.
Core Issue 8: Don’t let vampires sap your energy.
We all know people who are energy drains. You meet up for a chat and after ten minutes you feel exhausted. Next time they get in touch, take a rain check and agree to meet them next year. You need all the energy you can get just now, and cannot afford to support everyone else’s needs if your tinnitus is bad. Not today Mr and Mrs Vampire! Go and find someone else to sap.
When we are in red-alert mode we are running on adrenaline. This is our emergency energy supply, so if we stay in this state for a long time we eventually get exhausted. Tinnitus thrives on exhaustion.
What really helps let go of tinnitus is to build up a steady energy supply that is there for you and you only. Say good-bye to the vampires. Tell them to get a therapist!
Running on adrenaline is a bit like taking out an energy overdraft. Rather than using energy that is available and there for you to use on a daily basis, in red-alert mode you start using up your emergency energy reserves. Your energy level has already run out. The more you dip into adrenal energy, the sooner you will burn out. Eventually you will have to pay it back. This is experienced in the body as symptoms that get louder and louder the more you ignore them.
To pay back your energy overdraft you need time off, a healthy diet, regular exercise, daily downtime just for yourself. You need to build space into your life. Siestas and naps can really help pay off the sleep deficit. If you are overtired, sleeping often helps you to sleep more. Most people try and keep going without sleep till bed-time and because they are exhausted, cannot sleep properly. A short siesta after lunch works wonders and seems to be ultra refreshing and regenerating. For exhausted nervous systems it seems the more you sleep, the more you can sleep.
Core Issue 9: Letting go into support.
If tinnitus is all about letting go, then you need to build up a support network around you to let go into. You can’t let go into nothing. It is so much harder to let go by yourself. Once you find the right kind of support, then you can start to let go in earnest. This is a process which takes time, and slowly, important changes start to take place. To put it another way, all the important changes tend to happen slowly over a period of time. Quick fixes bring short-term relief, which is great, but nonetheless, are still short-term.
This is where therapy comes in. The ideal would be to find a body-based therapy like craniosacral therapy, massage, reflexology or acupuncture, and balance this with a mental-emotional support like psychotherapy, or counselling. The moment you start bringing support in, the pressure will start to ease off and the process of letting go will happen all by itself. Take a mid-long term view if you can with therapy.
I was lucky to come across craniosacral therapy with a gentle and sensitive approach that works at the physical, mental, emotional and energetic level. For more details go to www.craniosacral.co.uk. I recommend it highly. I also recommend Core Process Psychotherapy developed by the Karuna Institute in Devon. www.karuna-institute.co.uk/ This work helps us get in touch with our deepest issues and helps find a way out of suffering that touches into Buddhist Wisdom.
I really encourage you to find an approach that suits you. Once you have a support network in place, this will allow you to gradually open up, process your issues, and start to let go. This is what brings you out of red-alert mode. It is much harder doing this by yourself. Let’s face it, how able are you to let go just now? You probably have tinnitus right now because there is something you cannot let go of.
Get support so that you can start letting go is the simplest and most powerful piece of advice in this book.
Having professional therapeutic support from someone neutral rather than your partner or friend makes a huge difference. The safe, confidential environment and careful interaction will most likely help you relax and let go far more than you are used to.
My advice here is to find someone you feel comfortable with, and then build up a long-term therapeutic relationship with them. These people are trained to look after you and gradually you will notice how you find things become more manageable. This is not a quick fix. You have a whole lifetime of experience in your body and this will need proper support that develops over a period of time.
It really helps to be open with your practitioner about any worries you have. Please, if you are struggling with something, or are not happy with any part of this process, do speak to them about it. Very often when we want to run away or when we come across areas of difficulty, this can be very revealing and helpful to work through. All too often people just stop going, and flit from one thing to the next, never really being able to work through the important things, and never being able to let go.
You can find details of practitioners at your local health food shop, the library and on the internet. If you want a professional referral then contact the association of the therapy you are interested in and then ask for a practitioner from the register. Most therapies have a website with registered practitioners’ details available.
I personally couldn’t have let go of tinnitus alone. Professional help and support has allowed me to transform as a person, becoming happy, relaxed and clear-headed. It takes a great deal to ruffle me these days, and I have a sense of continuing to get stronger and stronger.
Five years ago a mere cup of coffee would heighten my tinnitus, whereas my system is strong enough to drink it every day with no side effects. This is the same for tea, alcohol and chocolate. Stimulants may have the same effect on you, and equally they may not. However, if they do, you need to listen to the best doctor you have, that is your body’s reactions. If your tinnitus pipes up after drinking too much coffee or alcohol, then you know what you need to do.
For some people cutting back on stimulants can make a difference. Try Red Bush tea instead of normal tea. It’s the closest alternative to normal tea that is equally refreshing but you can drink gallons of it and it is good for you.
Core Issue 10: Diet
Eating a healthy diet that suits your system, and cutting down on stimulants will take the pressure off your nervous system. The less your system has to struggle with toxins and foods that don’t agree with you, the more it can switch off.
My tinnitus really improved when I gave up sugar, wheat and fermented or processed foods. I’m not suggesting you should give up wheat or fermented food, but you may find that certain foods make you feel much calmer and more comfortable. There are plenty of books that outline certain kinds of food that are settling for your system. See a qualified nutritionist if you suspect any digestive difficulties and find dietary advice in your bookshop.
The best advice is let your body tell you. If you eat well you will feel well. If you suspect something is bad for you, then give it up for a couple of weeks, and then reintroduce it, and notice the difference. There is nothing clearer than your body’s reaction to diet.
Giving up sugar is incredibly positive for the body. If you eat very sugary food your body has to work very hard to bring the blood sugar levels back into check. Your pulse goes up because this triggers a mild adrenal response activating the red-alert state a little (as does caffeine). This can have implications for tinnitus, just as anything else that creates resistance and a struggle in your system.
Core Issue 11: Exercise
Having regular gentle exercise is hugely helpful. This not only helps take your mind off tinnitus and stops you “stewing in it”, but also helps your body release and let go of tension and toxins. Gentle exercise is an excellent way of getting in touch with your body and letting go. Remember working with tinnitus is all about letting go.
Rather than going at it hammer and tongs, I recommend little and often is a less stressful way for your system. When my symptoms were bad I went swimming most days for just 10 minutes. I built up my fitness gradually over a period of time, and found that I always felt better for the contact with water.
It is very hard to worry about tinnitus or even focus on it when you are enjoying the feeling of floating and moving through water.
I feel that a long-gentle walk is better than a hard game of squash or an exhausting weight-lifting session. Low-impact, frequent and enjoyable exercise is the best.
Once again, you need to find what suits you. If you feel tired and lousy and decide to do some tough exercise, find you get onto a high, only to crash half an hour later, then you are probably pushing yourself a bit too hard. Work gradually into exercise at a level which suits you. Your tinnitus will probably let you know what’s best.
Find some exercise that you enjoy and leaves you feeling calm, comfortable, in touch with your body, but not exhausted.
Core Issue 12: Getting in touch with your body
Learn to become aware of your body. Body based therapies will help you become much more grounded, which means aware of how you feel inside. When I had bad tinnitus, I would often feel out of touch with the felt sense of my body. In fact my awareness would often be elsewhere, far off in my though processes and very out of touch with the here and now.
There is one thing that is always grounded in the here and now, and that is your body. The more you get in touch with how it feels, the more you will know what is good for you, what your true feelings are about things, and the more you will be in touch with your energy.
Focussing on the body directly helps you get in touch with reality, helps your nervous system get its bearings, and amazingly, helps you switch off and let go.
One of the biggest problems with letting go is not knowing what you need to let go of. You cannot let go of what you don’t know. If you learn to get in touch with how you feel inside, letting go will become much clearer and more possible.
Brining my awareness into the body is the one thing that helped me let go of my tinnitus more than anything else.
When I was in tinnitus mode, a walk across town was spent almost entirely deep in thought. I was constantly chasing thoughts about and worrying about imaginary events that would never take place. I was totally unaware of how my body felt as I walked past people, and spent very little attention just seeing what was there and hearing the sounds about me. My senses were totally taken over by my mind. A walk across the woods was spent planning the next week, or having an imaginary argument with a difficult person.
These days I notice what is going on in the present moment, smell the smells, see what is there, and feel my body expanding with pleasure when I experience something I like, and shrink and judder when I am exposed to something unpleasant. The biggest difference is that I am not locked away in some imaginary land of thoughts, putting me out of touch with the moment. Instead I am there, experiencing the world through my body and the felt sense of it. I am more present and in touch with all of me and not just my head. Tinnitus really hates this.
When I meet someone I can feel my body opening up or pulling away from them, regardless of what I think or what is going through my mind. I can feel my own energy as a force field in and around me and instantly notice when I am being drained or inspired.
It is such a relief not to live in thought processes all the time. My body is there in my awareness when I am talking to someone, watching TV, and going off to sleep. Life seems much more real and I feel much calmer and happier from this more embodied perspective.
Where are you focused? How often are you aware of your body when you are engaged in some activity? Can you feel your body as you are reading this text just now? A lot of tinnitus people spend a lot of time with their awareness not in their body.
Most of the techniques in this book help you to become embodied. As you practice being aware of how your body is, your mind will start to take root more and more in your body so that you can rest there. Lean to live through your body and tinnitus will not like it one bit!