Nov 16: Thanksgiving & The Giggles
Tinnitus Ritcher scale: I’ve long since stopped brushing my teeth at night or turning on the bathroom light, which is connected to the extractor fan. Showers are too painful. I cower in my bedroom as the bath runs & lie motionlessly in it with the door ajar to let in the light, and a draught, from the hall. It takes another four mouths before the fog of illness lifts and I realise that relaxing, candle-lit baths are a much better option.
November is a continuation of September/October’s curse of the invisible illness but there are some significant milestones.
Milestone 1: Thanksgiving lunch
Three people are in my flat! It’s the first time since March’s ill-fated visit from my mum, brother and sister when I put my back out at the mere thought of the noise they might make.
This time, I cook an American-style Thanksgiving lunch inspired by the US election and in honour of all the American TV that I’ve binge-watched this year. Talk about making life hard for myself. Preparing a roast is a tinnitus minefield and my friends would be perfectly happy with pasta and pesto.
The only way to cope is to plan everything. Mercifully my solitary lifestyle means that no one witnesses the full extent of my control-freakery.
I stagger the shopping and cooking over a couple of weeks.
- Day 1: Buy sweet potatoes. Too tired to put them away so they stay on the counter.
- Day 6: Peel and chop sweet potatoes but then feel like I need to sleep for as long as it took them to grow.
- Day 9: Intend to start cooking but overwhelmed, return to the sofa.
- Day 10: Potatoes have started to wilt. Need to peel and chop a new batch.
- Day 11: Finally cook and mash the sweet potatoes ready to be reheated on the day of the lunch. Feel like I’ve won Wimbledon.
Golly this roast is going to take a long time.
Thankfully the meticulous approach keeps the tinnitus to a minimum but the best-laid plans always go to pot.
My friends arrive two hours late due to a rail-replacement bus service and we sit down to eat just as the tinnitus is gearing up for its evening crescendo.
It is wonderful being able to enjoy a group dynamic again but then, just as I start relaxing into things, my friends do the unthinkable. They LAUGH.
The noise sears through my ear and pierces my brain. I try to fake a dignified smile but it probably looks like the grimace of pain it truly is.
I’m presented with a fresh quandary regarding social etiquette. Which is most rude –guests who hoot with laughter knowing it causes physical pain to their host, or a host who bans all audible signs of enjoyment? I mean, what’s wrong with a silent smile?
It’s a preposterous question to be asking oneself. But even more preposterous is the fact that a journalist and three liberal British public servants are sitting here celebrating American culture as Donald Trump wins the election. Nooo…..
Milestone 2: The giggles
As per-usual, I wake up at 2am with roaring tinnitus and thoughts whirling around my head.
But suddenly, to my astonishment, it’s ME who’s laughing. Not just a little chuckle but breathless, side-splitting giggles. I’m laughing at how shit this year has been.
My life has fallen apart. I’m so lonely. I’ve lost friends. At the start of the year I couldn’t walk properly for months. People have sent flowers and I can’t unwrap them as touching the cellophane is too noisy.
You can’t make this stuff up. It’s just too funny.
Brexit, Donald Trump, loads of celebrity deaths. How shit can you get?
Tears stream down my face as I roll around my bed in a fit of giggles. The crying flits between sorrow and laughter. Wonderfully, the latter dominates.
The next morning, for the first time in nearly a year, I wake up feeling joyous and alive. It feels like a little piece of my personality has returned.
I arrive at work early and sit outside at my office. It’s a grey beast of a building where noise reverberates around the four open-plan floors.
For years I’ve called my job ‘the reverse radiator’. It radiates a coldness which freezes the warmth and happiness inside me and, by lunchtime, I’m as lifeless as the building. I can feel it happening now; the joyfulness from last night’s giggles is draining away.
Not for the first time I wonder if the prospect of returning to work full-time is slowing down my recovery. Since becoming ill I have discovered a creativity that is desperately trying to come out. I know the dullness of my office will extinguish rather than enliven its sparks.
But I can’t contemplate the future right now. I need to recapture the happiness from last night. I phone my friend Amy and we get the giggles about my giggles.
Milestone 3: Reminder to let everything go
The giggling fit was so remarkable because, so far, my symptoms at night have shown no sign of abating.
Big black blotches still obscure my vision before falling asleep, I’m plagued by insomnia and, when getting up in middle of the night, a deadly lightheadedness prevents me from walking the fifteen paces from my bed to the loo without resting my head against the doorframe in the hall to stop me from collapsing.
One night I go to bed upset about some deteriorating relationships in my life. I wake up at 2am screaming holding my right ear. It is roaring with loud, painful tinnitus. Please God don’t let me get tinnitus in my right ear too….
Luckily my osteopath fixes it the next day. She says the inside of my head feels like a pair of hunched-up, stressed shoulders. Her magical hands relax the muscles and nerve-endings in my skull. My right ear immediately goes back to normal. Phew.
It is a powerful reminder that, however hard, I must let everything go. This includes my desperate wish to mend my damaged relationships. Even thinking about them is too stressful for my fragile body. I must have faith that these relationships can be salvaged when I’m strong enough, and in the meantime, I must keep hold of the glimmers of hope.