Alert! Alert!

What do we do when our tinnitus has a new sound, the sound has a new pattern, or the volume gets louder?The bad old days
Thanks to an old hockey injury I have bad neck pain. Usually it’s manageable if not exactly predictable. But this weekend I had a new development – and it took me right back to when I first had tinnitus.

On Friday night I started with nerve pain all the way down my left side. It was quite unlike anything I had experienced in the last 10 years or so of having this neck condition. The suddenness and severity of it set of warning bells in my mind and started a cycle of worrying.

I worried that this new pain might be unconnected to my neck injury and the sign of some other condition. I worried that this may be the start of a long-term degeneration in my neck condition that would have a significant impact on my life. I worried that I might finally have to accept that I needed an operation on my spine. I worried about the impact that a worsening of my condition would have on my ability to do a job that I love, to enjoy time in nature, to read and to do creative writing. That’s a whole lot of worrying!

It reminded me so much of those first years when I had tinnitus. Every new change of sound, tone, pitch or volume was like a red alert to my brain and sent me into a spiral of worry about what this could possibly mean. I lost hours consulting “Doctor Google” and scouring forums on hearing loss and tinnitus for answers, convinced there was something drastically wrong with me that hadn’t been picked up by the doctors.

The good new days
That was then, this is now. Surely, being a mindfulness teacher, I should have immediately been able to enter a state of acceptance of this alarming new nerve pain?!

Well, I’m human! And having been a first-class worrier for 40-odd years before I learnt mindfulness it’s not surprising that my default mode kicked in when such an alarming symptom presented itself.

But, and this is a big but, because my mindfulness training has taught me to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings from moment to moment, it didn’t take long for me to notice how my thoughts were spiraling down and my emotions were plummeting after them. I was then able to use mindfulness techniques to stabilize my thought processes and emotions around the pain I was feeling.

Pre-mindfulness I would have spent the entire weekend worrying or ruminating about this new pain, Googling potential illnesses it may well be, or counting down the hours until I could call my GP. Instead, I acknowledged the fear that I was experiencing. I sat with that fear. I breathed in and out with that fear, and I used my favorite mindfulness and self-compassion practices to soothe my frightened heart and mind.

I joke that mindfulness is my superpower. But mindfulness isn’t about being superhuman. It’s about being fully human. It’s about having the tools and resources to manage all the challenges that appear in this messy human life.

The mindfulness and self-compassion practices that I teach in my Bee Empowered course don’t just help us to manage the variability of tinnitus, but also the many challenges that arise just in living our life. There are many things that can potentially throw us off kilter or make us feel unbalanced.

The Bee Empowered course helps us first to become aware that we are feeling unhappy, upset, frightened, angry etc., and then to use mindfulness and self-compassion techniques to acknowledge and work with those thoughts and emotions we’re having in order to regain equilibrium and resilience.

It’s Sunday night as I write this. Although the pain over the weekend has been eye-watering, I’m still here and still smiling. I’ve enjoyed as much of the weekend as I can, and I’m looking forward to a busy week of teaching ahead. Thank God for mindfulness (and chocolate)!