In January 2018, my ears started ringing, and they have not stopped since. Years of attending concerts, playing in bands, and listening to music loudly through headphones had caught up with me—like Icarus flying too close to the sun, carelessness finally led to consequence.
When I first realized I had tinnitus, I went through a fairly intense process of mourning. It felt like my most visceral connection with the world was cut off. For years I had found my most vivid and intimate joy through sound. From listening to albums alone at night with noise cancelling headphones to the rich sound of an open chord on a guitar, my ears connected me to the world. This process got even more intense when I learned that tinnitus is more than just a constant ringing in my ears. Sound physically feels different to me now, as if the door frame into my cranium is crooked and sound waves have to hunch over in order to enter. Sound doesn’t work for me like it used to. I used to think of my ears as a tool with two functions, one being as a receptor of information and another as a source of pleasure—certain sonic properties can feel good. Now I feel like that second function is greatly diminished for me. I get the information I need from sound, but the process feels less satisfying than it once did.
That winter I struggled with the symptoms I was already experiencing and became even more fearful of what symptoms might follow. I tried to avoid reading about tinnitus on the internet before I could see a specialist, but I couldn’t avoid at least peaking into the online reflecting pool of my worst fears: the ringing likely won’t go away, it could get worse, it could cause depression or anxiety, and it could ultimately be a harbinger for hearing loss.
When I did see a specialist, I was able to confirm that, at this point, I do not have any hearing loss. I also learned that tinnitus is far from uniform case to case—from what it takes to “get it” to the symptoms one can experience. The ear is an extremely delicate part of the body and because of this research and treatment is limited. There isn’t any way to know for sure how my tinnitus might change in the future, which is both terrifying and comforting. Ultimately, all this doctor was able to do was recommend that I avoid doing anything that feels like it aggravates my ears and to always wear ear plugs in environments with loud noises.
As I sit at my dining room table writing this, two and a half years after first noticing my symptoms, I hear a ringing in both of my ears even over the hum of the air conditioning and the buzz of the refrigerator. But that’s mostly because I’m choosing to notice it. It’s always there and because of that it’s become part of a new version of normal that is bearable. As long as I avoid headphones (especially earbuds) and am diligent about wearing ear plugs at concerts or other loud events, my annoyance with my ears stays at a consistent and therefore manageable level. If I think about it, I do miss the ability to use headphones and bring sound so close to my body. And if I’m having a hard time feeling inspired while listening to music, it’s hard to not wish my ears worked like they used to. But music can and does still move me—lately I’ve been particularly enjoying Paul Simon’s Graceland, Women in Music Pt. III by HAIM and Pillars of the Earth by Turtledoves. I’m thankful, at least, for that.
I do feel like I’ve lost a part of who I used to be, but any solipsism I have about my situation (aside from this post) mostly expired sometime last fall. What was once a given no longer is, and I’ve mostly learned to adapt—at this point, it kind of just feels like another brick in the wall of being in my twenties.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.