5 days ago I noticed a ringing in my ear. It was sudden, appearing seemingly from nowhere. I’ve seen an Ear, Nose, & Throat doctor along with two other doctor’s since the ringing started and I’ve come up empty-handed. As someone who has constant anxiety about their health, this mysterious, constant ringing in my ear is a pressure point of severe obsession. Even though part of me knows that this ringing is minor when compared to others major health problems, it’s still scary, and forces me to deal in uncomfortable territory: the territory of the unknown. Luckily, I could use a few lessons in this…I’d hoped to work through it with exercises in therapy and long conversations with myself in my journal. I never thought the lesson would come in such a constant, loud, and annoying form. Yikes.
Every morning I wake-up hoping today will be the day I don’t have ringing in my right ear. Every day I deal with it, going through periods of worry, Googling (don’t EVER do that) and panic. Luckily my girlfriend is a real champ in the department of listening to me go down the long list of why I think I’m either totally okay or completely not at all. I’ve also bonded with a friend over this, she too has problems with her ears and she’s been a greater source of comfort than she knows during this time. But, what I really wanted to write about was how we keep going when we think we can’t. I’ve faced so many of these incredibly painful times. Whether it was dealing with instances in my childhood home, coping with an eating disorder, or discovering (and re-discovering) my addictive tendencies when it comes to alcohol and relationships, I’ve had to figure out how to keep going when everything inside me really just wants to crash, burn, and sleep. For a long time.
Dealing with my anxiety has become a full-time job for me. I spend a lot of the day reassuring myself I am completely fine. When it comes to my health, I have a much harder time. I struggle, because I’m not a doctor, I don’t have a ton of medical knowledge, and thus I turn to Google, kicking my anxiety up 100 notches. Usually, when I’m in the middle-space, a space where I feeling like I’m treading water constantly, waiting, and waiting, and waiting, I have to find tangible things to do with my hands to put my mind at ease. I watch my favorite TV shows. I listen to Podcasts. I read everything. I talk, a lot, about my feelings. This unknown territory usually passes in a day or two. I don’t always get the answer I want, but I usually get what I need and come to terms with what I originally thought I couldn’t. Unfortunately, I haven’t received the same sort of relief from my ear. Doctors don’t know. WebMD tells me I’m close to death, and my mind is overcrowded with thoughts of: what if this never goes away? Can I deal with a ringing ear for the rest of my life? Please God, I will do all the things if you take this away! I plead. I argue. I cry. I try to forget about the noise and when I remember, I go through the same cycle again and again. I look at other people and think, you have no idea how lucky you are to be able to just hear clearly. Sometimes I think I’m going to go crazy. It’s been a rough few days to say the very least.
I’m preparing myself for the worst and hoping for the best. I don’t want to get my hopes up that this will just pass, so instead I’m trying to grapple with this discomfort: how can I be okay with this? How can I learn to not just live, but love the unknown? I’m trying to embrace routine. I’ve completely surrendered to the delight I get from making lists and checking off all the boxes by the end of the day. I’ve started to ask more of myself instead of less. Usually in times of anxiety or depression, I just want to stop everything: time, projects, my relationships, work, etc. Right now, I’m trying to push forward. To remind myself that this is a minor annoyance, but not a major setback. I’m taking pride in the fact that I can write and talk through this. That I can put words on a page, connect with my partner, and continue to work are three things that bring me great joy and make me feel happy, despite the ringing.
This isn’t easy for me. I want to say “woe is me” and make this post less about embracing the unknown and more about fighting against it. But, that, I know, won’t do me any good. There is nothing I can really do, but keep going. Because the ringing will be there whether I choose to put my life on hold, or whether I choose to jump right in and continue to be my happy, optimistic self. I know how fortunate I am that nothing else seems to be wrong with me according to the doctors I’ve seen. I’m also allowing myself to feel my feelings. Living in the unknown doesn’t mean living with a false sense of optimism. Living in the unknown means understanding that this is one of maybe many obstacles put in my way. Living in the unknown means embracing what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t. Living in the unknown means having a good today instead of mourning a possibly hard tomorrow.
I’m currently in the early stages of an exciting new collaboration. The theme of the project is very literally: turning fear into action. What are things we can grab onto when we are scared? What are things we can do instead of panic? What does it mean to turn our fears into something positive and even something redemptive? I feel lucky to have something so close to my heart to work on during such an unsure time. I’m an optimistic person until it comes to something that makes me uncomfortable or scares me than I freak.
Every day my ear has rang, I’ve gone to bed grateful that the weather has been warm and my home is safe, that my girlfriend loves me so wholly, that my friends just want to see me succeed, that I am still writing and creating through the pain. There are no guarantees in life. There is no cap to the amount of unknowns you’re handed in a life. Pain does not discriminate. You cannot prevent pain or hope pain away. Pain doesn’t negotiate. It comes and it hurts, but if we’re lucky it leaves us stronger, more willing to embrace our fear than push it away. I wrote this letter to myself on Instagram last week and I want to share it here too:
I know life can be really scary sometimes. I know that sometimes when the worst possible scenario happens, you can LOSE it. I know you don’t know everything and you can’t tell your future (even though you can sometimes tell others). I know life is long and there are more bumps to come. But, I also know this: you are strong. You are so damn strong. Do this for me: TURN YOUR FEARS INTO ACTIONS. Let the unknown and the scary motivate you to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do, to ask the question, to stand up for yourself, to tell your damn story. Don’t let fear disable you, let it ENABLE you to standout, to say, “I can do this,” to take the time to acknowledge all that you’ve been though & all that you’ve yet to experience. You are bigger than your fears. You are YOU.
So, here’s the deal: if you need to sign that letter from yourself: DO IT! I want you to find some comfort even if it’s just in my words to you. I’m always, somehow, surprised by the power my words have on me. Just knowing that there is comfort in what I put onto the page gives me a great sense of relief.
I tried some homeopathic cures the other night like Apple Cider Vinegar and Clove Oil. Both taste really bitter, but I’m hoping they’ll help me in some way. I also had a therapy session where I told my therapist I was trying to just buckle down and deal with what came my way. My therapist kindly reminder me that while doing what I can to power through is important, I’m also no longer a child having to just accept how things are, I can now ask for what I need, I can work to find a solution, and I can continue to not accept that a ringing ear is my forever fate. I can also be okay where I am right now, ringing and all. You’re actually allowed to feel contradictory emotions and accept that! Who knew?
One of the things that came to mind last weekend, when I wanted to have a nice weekend with my girlfriend, was that I could choose what my mind focused on. If I accept my anxiety about this ringing as a passing thought and nothing more, I can leave my focus to the important things: the task on hand, finding a solution instead of sitting in the problem, and overall improve my outlook. I can also avoid adding the extra stress of nagging, scary thoughts, and try to focus on the positive, what I can control instead of what I can’t.
This post may send a bit like a pep-talk but that’s because it is. There are so many times where I’ve truly struggled with the unknown, but none have been as blatant as this. Part of my routine is drawing one card every single day. This is the card I drew from Gabrielle Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back deck (whose tagline I just realized is, transform fear to faith!):
Tonight I go to bed manifesting a clearer, ring-free tomorrow knowing that while I can’t necessarily control whether the ringing stops or not, I can control how I think and feel about it. I keep these words in mind from What the Living Do by one of my favorite poets, Marie Howe:
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
I can still cherish myself through the fear and the pain of the unknown. I can continue to let my breath be taken away by the small oh so big moments that life has to offer. I can continue to say “thank you” for one more day on this beautiful earth. I can love and be loved. I can be bitter and sad and confused. I can be here, for this, for us, for you. We’re here today, that’s a blessing no matter its disguise.