At home, one mid-December afternoon, I heard something hissing. "What's that noise?"
"What noise?" Jack said, but he's three-quarters deaf so his response didn't count.
Maybe the furnace, but when I listened, I could hear both the furnace and this hissing noise. Same with the refrigerator.
I walked all around the house, and that noise, which never crescendoed or decrescendoed, went everywhere with me. Anguished, I plugged my ears, but the noise did not stop. With growing horror, I realized the source of that noise was me. My ears were ringing.
I jumped on the Internet, stepped quickly from "ringing ears" to "tinnitus." Here's what I found.
Tinnitus (tin-EYE-tus) is the sensation of sound in one's ear when actual sound is not present. The sound can be various. It may ring, click, buzz, pulse, wheeze, hiss like a radiator, or chirp like a cricket. Mine drones like a chorus of cicadas, not loud, but persistent.
Most folks whose ears ring aren't bothered by it. They dismiss it in the same way one might dismiss traffic noise. But others, like me, get irritable or depressed.
What causes ears to ring? For most people, loud noise brings tinnitus on, but that's not true in my case. I'm not sure what caused it: a side effect of aspirin or lithium, my low thyroid, aging or vertigo (dizziness). But I haven't been dizzy for a couple of years, keeping my vertigo at bay with a weekly Epley maneuver. Aging seemed more likely. That didn't make me happy.
The really bad news: tinnitus has no cure.
When I realized I must live with my cicadas day after day (and night after night) for the rest of my life, I got a bit glum.
However, I took myself in hand, saying, you've got to learn to live with them. And I tried.
I quickly realized that the more real noise in the room, the less my cicadas bothered me. Sometimes I forgot them altogether, if the radio played or if I talked to someone on the phone or if Jack declaimed about punctuation errors (or the marvels of the universe). Even cooking supper could take my mind off my beasties, but they intruded in what used to be "my" space whenever background noise got low or whenever I forgot to ignore them.
They really butted in when I tried to write or to sleep.
In my office, I turned my two sound masking machines on high and ran the heater, the way I do when Jack turns his DVD volume up. That helped.
At night, I kicked up the volume on my sleep music, currently an Arctic Wind white noise CD, and that helped, too.
But nothing shut them up.
Nights were the pits, especially when I woke surrounded by zilch but blackness and cicadas. Then I felt sorry for myself. "Oh, God!" I cried. "Give me one second, just one second of utter silence!" He remained silent but the cicadas droned on and on and on.
Tinnitus has no cure, but doctors came up with "maskers" that may disguise the sound. And with therapy which might retrain a person's brain, teaching it how to ignore the constant sound. That's good news.
But not good news is the list of things a person can ingest that may worsen the cicadas' drone. "Eliminate consumption of brain-altering substances like caffeine" is the way they oust my cravings. Drink no coffee or tea and eat no chocolate? Good grief!
Now should you have a cheery thought left after reading all this, please send it to me. I could use some rose-colored stimuli.