As a musician, my hearing is very important to me. This is why coming down with conditions that affected my hearing led me to seek out care, and ultimately led me to Dr. Gans’ Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction course. The course was a life-saver and I recommend that anyone who is dealing with bothersome tinnitus or sound sensitivity take advantage of this resource offered by the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic.

Four years ago, I came down with a sudden case of tinnitus and increased sound sensitivity, which my audiologist called hyperacusis. I was a part-time musician then, gigging five days a week in several bands in New Orleans. These hearing conditions sidelined me for quite some time, and finding adequate care for what I was going through was a struggle, to say the least.

My search for care led me to an ENT, several walk-in clinics, an acupuncturist, and finally to the New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center. They gave me the diagnosis of hyperacusis and set me on the path to healing. I purchased a set of hearing aids with sound programs that helped to calm the hyperacusis over a span of months. It took a year for this condition to subside, but I was left with extremely bothersome tinnitus. These hearing conditions affected every aspect of my life, from my job to my relationships to my mental health.

The Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction course was a godsend. To my amazement, I found relief within the first few days of taking the course. Now, each person’s tinnitus is their own journey – the condition can present differently in different people. Some people hear a high-pitched ringing, some hear a deep drone, some hear a scratchy noise. Some people’s tinnitus is louder or quieter on certain days. Some people have the same tone that never changes. But one thing is common in all of these different tinnitus scenarios: the feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

The most important piece of wisdom was given to me early on by my audiologist who, curiously enough, also suffered from tinnitus. They told me, “It will get better.” At that moment, when I was in the first few months of denial that I even had a hearing problem, it was hard to take in these words. I thought I might get better after the first week. Then came the second week. And the first month. And the first year.

I suffered for nine months on my own before finding the NOSHC. They, along with the New Orleans Musician’s Clinic, both recommended the MBTSR course to me. I was skeptical at first. How could meditation help me? I needed medication. I needed to find the right doctor who could find out what was wrong with me and fix me. But as the song goes, You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.

I put off starting the course for months. I spent every day living with my conditions trying to escape them—the last thing I wanted to was to focus on them, to be reminded of them, to have to think about them and pay them attention every day for eight weeks. Then one day, in a fit of the worst of my suffering, I started.

Day one was the hardest. Just getting over the hump of starting took every ounce of my will. But the most amazing thing happened on the second day. I found relief.

Something in me shifted, and I understood that with tinnitus you can’t go around it, you have to go through it. You have to know the condition and how it affects you so that you can understand its mechanisms. Mindfulness is the tool you use to accomplish this. By focusing on your conditions, by letting go of the striving to understanding why this is happening to you, you instead focus on what is happening in your mind as you are suffering. You watch your reactions as an impassioned observer. By doing this, you shift your awareness from being directly involved in your suffering to observing your suffering.

This simple shift, from forcing the mind to observe your suffering instead of taking part it in, is the key to mindfulness training. The simple act of becoming the observer literally takes you out of your suffering mind, and as you begin to understand the mechanisms of your suffering, the intensity of your suffering decreases. The more you practice this, the better you get at it. After eight weeks of strengthening these skills, they are with you for life.

One necessary component of the course is the reading material, Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Zinn developed the original Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses on which the MBTSR was based. The book gives real-world examples of how mindfulness training can help with bodily pain that traditional treatments are unsuccessful with. The book shows you the science behind what you are doing when you practice mindfulness. Reading the book was as powerful an experience as taking the course.

All of this is to say that your hearing problems will not be cured in any way by taking this course. But what will change is your reaction to your suffering, and that is an important step in your healing. So much of what goes on with tinnitus takes place in the mind. Yes, the physical manifestation—the noise—is there, there is no denying that. But your reaction to the noise can make the sounds appear worse than they are. Changing your habitual reaction to the noise is a healthy way of taking control of your suffering, and taking back control of your life.

Four years later, my tinnitus is still with me. Some days it is tolerable, some days it is more bothersome. When it gets bothersome, I practice the mindfulness techniques that I learned in the eight-week course. More often than not I can find immediate relief by asking myself, in the moment, which is more intense: the noise or my suffering? Usually, I find that my suffering is stronger, and that helps my mind to rest.

If you decide to take the MBTSR course, know that you are taking an important step in taking back control of your life. Yes, eight weeks seems like a long time, but this intensive course will strengthen your mindfulness muscle so much that you will be left with coping skills that last a lifetime.

— Jon Hebert

How the Mindfulness-Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction Course (MBTSR) Helped Me | May 2021