What a bench taught me about tinnitus

Back in January I wrote about my time on retreat, and my mindful walks to and from a bench in the grounds. I did promise to tell you more about the bench and then…hands up, I plain forgot!

You may remember that, because I’m on crutches, my opportunities to experience the beautiful gardens at the retreat centre were limited. So I walked the short distance from the back door to a bench, noticing each day the tiny, incremental changes that nature wrought, even in the cold of January.

As I was walking to the bench on my first day I anticipated with glee the stunning view I would have of the Clwydian Hills, with Yr Wydda (Snowdon) in the background.
I plonked my weary body on the bench with satisfaction and was greeted with this…

Not quite the view I was looking forward to!

A wild hedge of last year’s brambles and teasels blocked my view of the fields, the sheep, and the hills beyond. To say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly. I was, in fact, grumpy, frustrated and upset at the lack of view I had been expecting.

I grabbed my crutches again, slid my arms through the holes and struggled back up to standing and yep, there was the marvellous landscape I thought I’d see:

I watched with curiosity as my emotional brain and my logical brain discussed this predicament:

Emotional Brain: All I want to do is sit down and enjoy the view
Logical Brain: But you can only see the view when you stand up
EB: But that’s not fair, I want to rest for a while
LB: Well you can still rest leaning against the bench, and have this amazing view
EB: But I don’t want to rest standing up, I want to rest sitting down
LB: Well, if that’s the case, you’ll have to make do without the view
EB: That’s not fair. Why hasn’t anyone cut these brambles back? It’s a disgrace!
LB: Well, why don’t you ask for some secateurs and try chop them yourself. I’m sure the staff would be grateful for the help
EB: What? Do it myself? All I’m asking for is to relax with a nice view
LB: Well, you can get both of those standing up…

And I thought, ooh this reminds me of my tinnitus experience in the early days many years ago! I was outraged that I had tinnitus. I wasn’t prepared to accept any compromise – I wanted silence back and nothing else was good enough. And I certainly wasn’t in the right place mentally to take steps to help myself; I wanted a cure, not sensible suggestions.

And, if I’m being entirely honest, there is still an occasional moment when I have similar feelings. Like when I went to a gig last weekend and realised I’d left my precious hearing protection at home. I spent the first song bewailing my forgetfulness, the spike I could have prevented, the fact that tinnitus existed, and the fact that there is still no cure!

Those black and white feelings of wanting what we want, and refusing to consider any alternative are a perfectly natural part of tinnitus. In fact, they’re often experienced in both the denial and anger stages of grief. But, to make any progress in our tinnitus journey, our stubborn attitude needs to soften a little, to become more flexible. Sometimes we come to realise that ourselves; sometimes someone helps us to see it.

After my initial grump about being unable to admire the view while sitting on the bench, I had to concede that my logical brain was right. If I wanted the inspirational view, I needed to accept that I had to be upright to see it. Accepting this simple compromise brought me the joy of seeing nature’s splendour. And for that, I was – and still am – deeply grateful.

Something to ask yourself:
Are you stubbornly clinging to an opinion when softening it might be better for you?