Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Facing Distressing Symptoms instead of Dreading Them

Depression, along with chronic illnesses and disabilities, can afflict us with disturbing symptoms so distressing that we believe we cannot possibly live with them. Here is my story on how I learnt to cope with one such distressing symptom.

When I was in my late thirties, the deep rumbling sound in my ears that had began in my late teens, had become rather severe. I was suffering from tinnitus, a condition that produces noises in the ears that are not caused by external sounds. (I have otosclerosis, an inherited disease that causes the calcification of the bones of the middle ear.) Along with the deep rumbling I could also ‘hear’ a loud waterfall, a birdcage full of screeching budgerigars, hissing white noise, and an endless deep monotone humming.

Things came to a head one night in the latter part of 2003, at 3.00am in the morning. A new tinnitus sound, which had initially come and gone intermittently, was threatening to become a permanent fixture. It sounded like someone pushing a very, very heavy wooden desk across a rough timber floor, and buzzed with an irregular rhythm with a one or two second gap between each buzz.

It was so loud and unsettling that I lay in bed for hours, dreading each subsequent buzz, hoping and praying that it would stop and go away, as it had each time during the past week.

I used every argument in the book in the prayers I lifted heavenward. “I can’t live like this, Lord! Haven’t I suffered enough, do I have to have this too? Please Lord, make it stop! The rest of the ear noises are bad enough but this one is unbearable!”

Receiving no discernable response from God, I staggered to the kitchen, hoping to find something to help me sleep, yet by the time I got there, I was consumed by rage at the injustice of this situation. I could not live with a deafeningly loud buzzing sound tearing apart my concentration and setting my nerves on edge, destroying my sleep and ability to relax.

Yet as I looked out the kitchen window into the darkness, I recalled that this was not the first time I had been afflicted with unwanted disturbing symptoms that I believed I could not live with.

Years earlier, I had been afflicted by dozens of unwanted mental, physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms while suffering from severe depression. Desperate to escape those symptoms, I had reacted by fighting or fearing them, which not only made those symptoms worse but also caused new ones to appear.

The most distressing symptom of depression for me was the lack of peace, where I felt disturbed and ill at ease all the time. I thought that if I could regain that inner peace I would be able to cope with life again.

From my diary, 7th July ’90 -
I just wish this sensation of being disturbed all the time would go away.
And know it will never come back.
I am not coping, and I know that.
I keep saying, "If I had inner peace, then I would cope."

Other symptoms I believed I could not cope with included:

From my diary, 20th July ’90 -
Sometimes my shoulder muscles ache to abandon,
the aching pain in my jaw drives me crazy.
My face and arms get a burning, prickling sensation.
My stomach feels trapped, as though it needs to burst,
my chest feels like it’s going to explode.
And as there are physical problems, so there are emotional ones.
They vary from a feeling that something big and dark will consume me,
to endless mental churnings that only makes me worse.

And now back to 2003. There I was at 3.00am in the morning, reacting to this new tinnitus noise in the same way as I had reacted to depression’s symptoms - trying to flee from or fight it.

So waiting on Jesus, I cast my mind back to remember how I had dealt with depression’s symptoms. Dr Claire Weekes book, “Self Help for Your Nerves,” had taught me to face the disturbing, unwanted symptoms caused by anxiety. She wrote, ‘I have no doubt that you are tensely shrinking from the feelings within you and yet, are ready to “listen in” in apprehension?...Now examine and do not shrink from the sensations that have been upsetting you. I want you to examine each carefully, to analyse and describe it to yourself...Do not tensely flinch from it. Go with it. Relax and analyse it…Now that you have faced and examined it, is it so terrible?’ (1)

So I took those same techniques and applied them to my current situation. Instead of dreading the disturbing new tinnitus noise and listening to it apprehensively, I faced it. Yes, it was bad, and I most certainly did not want it, but as I stood there listening to it, was it really so unbearable? Was it so bad that I could not think, function, or live?

No! Although bad, I could still think, function and live. I recognised that the worst aspect of this situation was my reaction to it – fearing and fighting it and convincing myself that I could not live with it. So I acknowledged there was nothing I could do to make the tinnitus go away and I accepted it instead of fighting and fearing it. I even thanked God for allowing this trial to come my way and asked Him to use it for good. After all, God is in control and there was no need for my heart to be troubled.

Instead of saying, “I can’t live like this!” I decided that I would learn to live with it and let it buzz, roar, and rumble away as though background music to my day. Instead of fearfully dreading the arrival of each new BUZZ, I let them come. If I had to live like this for the rest of my life, then so be it. Paul said that he had learned to be content whatever his circumstances, and by Christ’s strength, I would follow his example.

Comforted by God’s peace, I climbed back into bed, and although the hideous sound continued to buzz in my head, I was soon asleep.

And the good news is that by responding to depression’s symptoms in this way - by facing, accepting, learning to live with them as though background music to our day, and letting time pass, it breaks the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle, causing those symptoms to gradually reduce in severity and frequency, until they fade away completely. (More detail on this in the next article.)

‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ Philippians 4:12-13

p.s. - By God’s grace, an operation in 2005 that restored about 70% mid-range hearing to my left ear also reduced the tinnitus to about half what it was – that horrific buzzing sound is gone.

(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p21.

Photo courtesy of www.photos8.com


  1. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn.
    Blessings, andrea

  2. Thanks for this, Peter. Lately I've found myself having to re-learn these important lessons on 'riding the wave' rather than fighting it, and living fully by God's grace. Blessings to you!

  3. I've had tinnitus for 15-20 years. Although, when I think about it, it seems awfully loud, I'm not aware of it very often. I surrendered to it!

  4. Tara's comment was excellent:

    Especially about having to re-learn important lessons.

    I think that's why God repeats principles in His word over and over again because He knows we are but frail forgetful humans.

    God bless you Peter,


  5. I'm inspired by your decision to submit to God and yield to the Philippians scripture. So glad your condition improved! May God continue to bless and reward you for loving Him so much.

  6. Hi, Peter. Seems I am learning through your writing. I have a connective tissue disease (undifferentiated) that carries many, crazy, disturbing symptoms. Sometimes feel like a hypochondriac and sometimes feel like everything is so overwhelming. Have tinnitus-muscle aches and twitches-fatigue for no reason-sometimes excrutiating TMJ-Reynauds Syndrome-just a crazy list of things. Lately going through the TMJ pain, thinking as you said that I just can't keep living through this pain. Today wasn't so bad, though, and maybe tomorrow will be better! Maybe I am just supposed to be learning lessons. Nice to read your writing. D

  7. Hi Andrea,
    A hard lesson to learn because it seems so unnatural, the opposite to what we would think of doing. Blessings :)

    Lovely to hear from you again Tara. And that's part of human life, just as Ron said down below. We have to keep learning the same lessons again and again, especially me :( And that's a great point Ron, how God repeats Biblical principles because He knows that we are frail and forgetful.

    Thanks for sharing your success in dealing with tinnitus too Sherry.

    The Philippians verse is wonderful, Mary. Thanks so much for the encouragement.

    Thanks for visiting the blog, Donnetta, and so glad it could be of some help. Sorry to hear about the TMJ, and glad to hear that it is not the same intensity everyday. And, learning strategies to help us overcome these things is well worth it :)

  8. Great post with a lot to think about. Appropriate Scripture verse as well dear one. Much appreciated. Hard to swallow at times. Blessings.

    I also have this blog: GOD WHISPERS IN THE WIND

  9. Carrie @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com
    Youve expressed something I experienced with my chronic disease--I wanted to Escape! You nailed it! Thats exactly what I tried to do for months, just wanting the horrible thing to disappear and not wanting to face the reality of the situation. I finally submitted to what God had allowed in my life and stopped resisting what was going on. It didnt change the disease, but it did change my attitude, much like yours.
    Great post!

  10. Peter,
    wonderful reminders. God bless you!

  11. Came back for another read Peter.

  12. I'm still coming back to refresh your words.
    Facing is so difficult.... Memory and habit is my enemy. I try so hard to "make friends" allow... relax... but it's so natural to resist and when I do... more dread of another day of this. Confidence is robbed. Depression steals you confidence. Which says... no matter what ... I can handle this. If I am Happy, thats great, if not..... I will get through it: This to shall pass.... either way, I guess you can ALWAYS be happy ... with that type confidence. Where did that confidence go? That's the question...:) I love your words, and I continue to let them comfort me in time of need.....:)

    1. Dear Anonymous
      It certainly is a horrible cycle, as you've explained so aptly above. Thanks for letting me know that my writings have been of comforting. Praise the Lord for all the ways in which He helps us.
      God bless

  13. after many sleepless nights tonight I decided to just submit to God and get closer to Jesus and read some Bible verses. I have been praying to get closer to God and I was able to thank Him for what I'm going through. I pray God helps each of you and gives you rest and peace

  14. This is such an incredible blessing. Thank you Peter.