Posted in: Stage 1: Step 1
The old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young,” is true—especially in my case. Many of the physical issues of my adulthood resulted from a perceived invincibility during my teenage years, combined with my refusal to heed adult advice. Protecting my ears was one of those cautions that I cavalierly ignored.
The Destruction of My Hearing
From the time I was fourteen years old until I was almost thirty, I worked as a carpenter and hod carrier. Every summer and most college vacations, you could find me building houses. The summer before medical school began, I built my parents’ home. Although I was involved in many aspects of construction, my most frequent task was framing and pouring concrete slabs, which entailed using a Skilsaw much of the day. I never gave a thought to decibel levels, even when I was using the tool close to my ears. Fellow workers mentioned ear protection but I just did not see the need. To further punish my ears, I used a nail gun to shoot nails through two-by-four floor plates into concrete. All day long, I would load a 16-penny nail (3.5 inches long) into the gun, position it over the 2 x 4, and pull the trigger. If that wasn’t loud enough, the sound was magnified when I performed this work in basements, which was most of the time. Still, the thought of using ear protection didn’t seem important.
The Ringing Begins
When I was about 32, I began to notice a strange sound in my ears, like a ringing noise. It began during a time when I was recovering from a low back surgery that had gotten infected. I wasn’t sleeping well and my stress levels were extremely high. At first I didn’t think much about the ringing—until I realized that it wasn’t going to stop. My attempts to cope with it began to drive me slightly crazy. First I tried to ignore the ringing, but that did not work. When I paid attention to it, I became frustrated. The problem grew larger and larger, until one day I read about a former TV star who committed suicide because of his tinnitus. This was not reassuring.
The Doctors Weren’t Helpful
I saw several ear-nose-and-throat (ENT) physicians, whose exams revealed that I had a hearing loss, which consisted of no longer being able to hear higher frequencies. When I asked about the ringing, they shrugged their shoulders and said it was nerve damage and nothing could be done about it.
Living with tinnitus, I learned that loud environments aggravated the condition, so I avoided cacophonous settings. Even eating in restaurants would acerbate the sensation. Earplugs were helpful; but that tiresome, baseline ringing sound was almost always present.
The Ringing Stops
A few years ago, the tinnitus inexplicably ceased. Coincidentally, during that period I also resolved many of my neurophysiological disorder (NPD) symptoms. It wasn’t until I read Dr. Howard Schubiner’s list of NPD symptoms (Unlearn Your Pain) that I made the connection: the tinnitus was part of my NPD. Having treated it as such, the ringing is now essentially gone. But like other NPD symptoms, it can be set off by certain stimuli. The tinnitus will still return when I am in noisy environments, if I am sleep deprived, and if my stress-coping skills are especially challenged; but if I am careful, I can keep the ringing at bay. It has been an incredible relief to escape that endless, irritating sound.
Tinnitus is a Neurophysiological Disorder (NPD) Symptom
I do not know the exact connection between hearing loss and tinnitus; but I do know that they both occur with age and are both common. My hearing loss—the inability to hear high frequencies—is permanent. I also have lost the ability to separate sounds, such that I could not hear you well if you talked to me in a noisy restaurant. Hearing conversations in social situations is important to me for enjoying time with others. Today I regret the folly of my youth, knowing that much of my hearing disability was self-inflicted and could have been prevented.
Looking back at the time when I discovered that the ringing in my ears had stopped, I see similarities to the discovery process my patients experience when they become free of chronic pain. As their bodies’ stress chemicals drop, nerves become less sensitized and pain thresholds rise. Or, they could be using other neurological pathways.
Neurophysiologic disorder is usually a collection of many symptoms. I wrote a website post listing sixteen of my NPD symptoms, all of which dramatically decreased. I also talked to a radio show host who inadvertently used NPD principles and found his tinnitus stopped. Embracing Adversity – Tinnitus As I learn how common tinnitus is, I wonder how many people with chronic pain also have tinnitus.
It is encouraging to know that treating chronic pain by applying NPD principles can relieve many symptoms simultaneously—including tinnitus, if that is present. The beauty of using NPD principles is that it is a self-directed process. In my coach/cheerleader mode, I witness many people become free of their pain, and it energizes and gratifies me.