Ah, the good old days before we had tinnitus. They were the best, eh?
We could do what we liked. We could go to any bar or gig we wanted without worrying about whether it would fill our heads with unwanted noise.
Our relationships were so much better. We didn’t get irritable about our friends or partners’ lack of understanding about our tinnitus. They didn’t get huffy about our reluctance to go and see their favourite band, or go to the cinema.
And our work? We loved our work before tinnitus, didn’t we? We were engaged, productive and stimulated by our jobs. Our colleagues were great. Our manager was – well – all right as managers go.
All true for you? Yeah, me neither.
With any long-term condition it’s tempting to see our past as a much better life. In fact, it’s true of all people, not just those with chronic illness. Last week I read a Facebook post about some kids rampaging around a few of the local shops threatening to break things and generally being obnoxious. The post was full of comments like “this would never have happened in my day – we respected adults.” and ” bring back the strap – that’s what taught us to behave”. Not true! When I was a kid adults smacked their children, and we did respect a lot of adults (especially those who could tell on us!), but we were definitely still naughty.
Many of us have a rose-tinted memory of what life was like without tinnitus. And clinging to this notion of our life back then stops us from living in, and appreciating the life we have now – even with the noises in our head. One of the exercises we practise in my mindfulness course is “simple pleasures” a great way of finding many, many things that are good right here, and right now, even in our current, challenging situation.
This nostalgia also stops us from dealing with the life we have now. From taking proactive steps to manage the situation we find ourselves in to the best of our ability. How can we help ourselves in our present situation if we can’t turn from the past and face up to what our life is like in the present? How can we make our life as good as it can be, even with tinnitus, if we’re lost in (false) memories?
Noticing when we are dwelling in the good old days rather than the here and now is half the battle. And that’s where mindfulness comes in. During our exercises we practise being aware of our thoughts – for example noticing whether we’re fantasising, planning the future, or remembering the past. We then turn our attention gently back to the present – to our mindful breathing, our body scan, or whatever exercise we are engaged in right now.
With repetition (mindfulness is all about practice!) we’re able to disengage from these unhelpful thoughts more and more easily and spend longer in the present. And that becomes true whether we’re involved in formal mindfulness practice or simply going about our day.
And you know what? We start to find that the present is actually not a bad place to be. A place where we can find things that make us happy. A place where we can create some great new memories. A place where tinnitus becomes just part of our life, not all of it.
I know where I would rather be.