The Tinnitus Story

I smiled when thinking about the tinnitus I have for the first time in a while.

I gave myself tinnitus 2.5 years ago when I played drums in a punk trio of sorts with Brad and Patti Harris. I was having such a good time in that rehearsal playing as hard as I could. It was so joyful because I wanted to be a drummer practically all my life. Well, at least since I was 15.

When I was 15 in 2005, I was beginning to lose interest in the pipe organ, an instrument I had loved and practiced a lot for the 2-3 years preceding this point. One day I stumbled on to an old Dave Matthews record, Live at Red Rocks (1995). I listened to the 5th track on the 2nd CD: Carter's drum intro to "#36". I remembered it from my first encounters with DMB's music in 2001, but this time it hit so much harder. That solo blew my mind! I remember having to play Mellophone at the VHS Boy's Basketball game later that evening and telling my fellow friends what I had just discovered.

So when I started playing drums in this trio, I was so excited to be scratching this itch finally.

After that practice, my ears were ringing, and at first, I thought it was okay. I figured it was like getting a runny nose after playing in the snow. Besides, I was on a high and didn't care. However, that excitement turned to horror when Brad told me his ears had been ringing for decades from playing loud music. I immediately felt the gravity of what I had just done.

The next few months were rough. I had quit Shakespeare's full-time and was preparing to get a job as a programmer at Carfax. I was alone often most of the time and rarely told anyone what was going on in my head. Many days I was so burnt out thinking about having to live with this burden for the rest of my life I had wished that I wasn't living anymore. At least when you die, the ringing has to stop, right?

To top it off, for the first year of living with this, I experienced an increased sensitivity to sound: everything from car breaks to little nieces and nephews yelling and having fun. I even recall a coworker squeezing candy out of a wrapper in the seat next to me; it made me stressed because it felt as if he were obnoxiously crunching the wrapper 1 cm from my ear. I was always down on myself thinking about how unfortunate it is to have the ringing, knowing that it's usually accompanied by hearing loss, but simultaneously having this distracting, sometimes painful sensitivity to high pitched sounds.

It was particularly bad the night before my 27th birthday. Besides the ringing, my ears were noticeably "unbalanced" in their ability to hear. My parents took me out to Booches for dinner that evening to celebrate my birthday the next day, and I was so miserable. I hid how I was truly feeling and tried to show my appreciation for their gesture, but it's hard to be appreciative when you want to die.

Well, I didn't want to die so much as I didn't want to live... or live with this condition anymore. But when faced with a condition that isn't currently treatable with Western medical science, you don't have a choice. I knew I'd have this every day for the rest of my life. And I wished so much to have the ability to forget about it being there... for just a day even — just one day of forgetting that I have tinnitus.

My mental health gradually got better. Fast-forwarding a bit over the next two years or so, the "unbalanced" problem corrected itself the next day. When I nevertheless got overwhelmingly sad again anyways, I watched comedy movies until I fell asleep. I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee because that exacerbated the sensitivity. I tried as often as possible to steer my feeble mind to my goals of building things with code and becoming a good software developer. Those goals eventually became reality. I got the job at Carfax. I traveled to Maine and India. I bought a house.

Even though I still thought about the tinnitus every day, I felt like life was worth living again. I discovered that my only real goal in life is to die happily. Whatever that means and whatever that takes.

Tinnitus is a scar that will never completely disappear, but it can fade, I believe.

And it's humbling to know that millions of people around the world deal with tinnitus in some form every day and don't let it drain their mental health. It's also humbling that countless other folks have it waayyyyy worse with other conditions and are somehow happy.

I've never been an extraordinarily happy person, but I do believe I've reclaimed my setpoint. And for the last six months, I can honestly say that by and large the tinnitus has not affected my mental health and there have been days when I've forgotten about the tinnitus entirely. And just remembering how I used to feel and how I feel now makes me smile and gives me confidence that I can deal with this for the remainder of my life.


I interviewed Matt Schacht last week and Dr. Michael Budds yesterday. I am behind on posting these things. I finally finished an admin interface that's going to allow me to edit items in the DB easily.

But I'm already thinking about my next improvement... self-hosting audio files. I'm tired of managing the interviews on my SoundCloud account and in a DB. So I may move all that stuff to S3 and call it a day. Some serious problems need to be solved, though. For one, I have to lock down the traffic to these files as much as possible as each download will cost me a bit of money.

Also, I want to keep the stream-playing features of SoundCloud so that people only transfer the data that need at that moment (like buffering a video). The only thing is... SoundCloud has a proprietary technique of doing this it appears. By scraping their site a bit, I noticed that they divide a sound file into many tiny chunks and have the client somehow know which ones to request at the precise times. I also noticed that there is some sort of token on each request.

That's a lot for one person to build so I may do something, but it'll probably be easier to abuse. I need to do a bit more research there.