Tinnitus, or Another Research Metaphor
Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend in a cabin with several friends of mine. It was a fabulous trip. But in order to get any sleep at all, I had to listen to a white noise track on my iPod. Now, here had been my original plan: Since only my left ear rings, I would wear an ear phone in that ear, thereby freeing me up to sleep on my right side (sleeping on an ear phone hurts) and drowning out the ring. When I attempted this, I discovered the first interesting thing about tinnitus (a very boring condition) since it set in: The white noise MUST be in stereo. It does not do to only have white noise blaring in one ear. Nope. Both ears must be taking it in.
Now I'm sure there's something very simple to know about white noise that makes this obviously the case. But what it drove home for me is that I'm not actually hearing anything. There's no sound there to be easily drowned out. While in some cases of tinnitus, there is an actual external sound being perceived, mine is not one of those cases. (Small mercies: in some cases, the sound perceived is to the beat of the person's pulse. Shudder.) I'm actually arranging my days around the perception of a non-existent sound. It's the sound I hear first when the white noise stops. I'm constantly testing to see if it's there and discovering that yes, it is. Only it's not. It's a kind of auditory mirage that keeps rising up across the desert of my eardrum. It's not even an attractive mirage with promises of salvation from a parched, silent world. It's just what's there. And so my only choice at present is to tune it out, learn to listen through it, learn to not go completely out of my frakking mind so that I can perceive the things that are real. But god, it sucks.