My Constant Companion: Tinnitus #thinkkit

in response to today's prompt: Do you hear what I hear? Tell us about a sound. What do you hear in your house or at work?

I remember the first time my ears rang. I was 15 or 16 and had just finished my first band practice. I lay in bed and listened to my ears ring that night. It was something of a novelty and I didn’t think much of it. As I got older, and played more live music at high volume, I got to know that ring even better. It usually showed up around bedtime and was gone in the morning. Or at least I didn’t notice it in the morning. But in the last few years the ring hasn’t gone away in the morning. It’s always there, sometimes quiet in the background and sometimes impossible to ignore. Although I do still play live music and go to concerts I almost always wear hearing protection. Even a loud voice can set it off now. Sudden noises are the worst. I can be easily startled by a sharp, loud noise. It definitely has an impact on my nerves and stress. It can make it hard to be in public sometimes, especially at night, since crowded, loud places can be very hard on my ears. 

This condition is called tinnitus. I assumed it was caused by years of playing and listening to music. Which probably has something to do with it. But the weird thing about tinnitus is that no-one really understands how it works. Recent studies have even suggested that the sound doesn’t originate in the ear but in the brain. I’ve done a ton of research on it and experimented with different supplements and diets. Some days the ringing dims, so I know this is fixable. I need to get to the source and begin controlling my diet and environment towards a future where I don’t live with that constant ring in my ears. The most I could move the needle was when I quit caffeine/coffee for a week. I’m back to a cup in the morning and when I cheat and have some in the afternoon I can generally expect increased ringing that night. 

Pretty much all of us live with some constant companion in our lives. It might not be in our ears, it could be a knee that hurts, or emotional or physical abuse that lingers. There really isn’t any human being walking this earth that doesn’t carry with them some kind of companion like my ringing ears. Although these companions can be burdens they can also be teachers. Teaching us to listen to our bodies, know our minds and begin owning our existence. My ringing ears keep me in check. They let me know when I get too out of whack and veer towards unhealthy activities. So I try to be grateful for the ringing, it is a reminder that I must actively care for myself. ut I still plan to show tinnitus the door as soon as possible. 


My Man-tine #thinkkit

This post is inspired by today's ThinkKit prompt "How do you unwind?"

Too often we sacrifice our bodies to get ahead. I've come to think of my body as a bank where I need to keep a positive balance. If I dip into the negative- too little sleep, no exercise, bad food, too much caffeine or alcohol- then I have to take steps to get back in the positive. Recently I judged a Startup Weekend contest where the runner up had a great idea for an app that would help you know when you dipped into the negative. I thought it was a great idea and I hope they go forward with it. 

For years I neglected my body, almost willfully. I stopped participating in sports around the age of 13 and ran with a crowd in college that almost prided themselves on their lack of athletic ability, or physical activity of any sort. Exercise was limited to carrying guitar amps in and out of clubs or walking around Bloomington since almost no-one had cars. As I came into my 30s (I'm 41) I found that the wheels were starting to come off. Stress no longer disappeared with a beer, back pain became a constant and my stomach was rarely at peace. Something had to change. 

Almost exactly 3 years ago, just before Christmas, I began a regular exercise routine. I started with a Yoga DVD and have been adding and improvising on it ever since. A personal trainer worked with me to add some anaerobic strength building reps. The routine- I began calling it my "Man-tine" about a year or so ago- starts with restful breathing on my back and builds through stretches, stomach crunches, etc, with conscious breathing throughout and wraps up with 20-30 minutes on an elliptical machine. I get made fun of by my wife and friends calling it a man-tine. My buddy Dan Ripley once told me- "yeah, I wouldn't tell anybody else you call it that." He thought it was pretty hilarious. I think "branding" my workout routine gives me a greater sense of ownership.

I have never felt comfortable in a gym. This goes back to when I was young and my parents would drag me out of bed and take me to the YMCA for a morning workout before school. I appreciated the intent but not the experience. So I was excited when we moved into our "new" house 4 years ago and were able to set up an elliptical machine in our bedroom and still have room for a yoga mat. I think exercise should be something of a spiritual experience and having a private space to practice has proved critical for my commitment to it. 

Like most people, stress is something of a constant in my life. Although there are many effective ways to unwind, I have found that my man-tine is the most effective de-stresser. Also, as I unwind and relax my body I am always surprised by how many interesting ideas float into my mind, how many problems begin to untangle and how clarity is achieved across many areas of my life. It reminds me of something Richard Branson said when he was asked how to be more productive- "work out". I've found this to be true in my own life. If you take the time away from the activity of your life to take care of your body you will find you are also taking care of your mind.

What do you do to unwind?