The Girl with the Noisy Head

August 8, 2017

I was always a quiet child. I didn’t speak unless spoken to, and even if spoken to, I sometimes didn’t answer. My parents weren’t particularly bothered by this. In fact, Mama sometimes said it was her saving grace, having one taciturn child.

“Thank goodness you weren’t a chatty one,” she told me. “Lord knows, your sister talked enough for the both of you–enough for a whole town. Filling up the space with words, sometimes just to hear herself talk. It nearly drove me bonkers, trapped in the winter with you girls and all of the yammering and chirping. I had to hide in the bathroom, just for a moment of peace.”

I don’t envy her those years. I, too, seek quiet spaces. Harsh light and hard noise have always made me skittish. I’d rather be drawn and quartered than spend time in a crowd of boisterous people. Leave me to the cool indoors and silent room, thank you very much.

Nobody really commented on this personality quirk until I started grade school. I came home with the following report card:


At conferences, my mother was defiant.

“She’s not nervous,” she insisted. “She’s sensitive. She always has been. And as for her being quiet, isn’t that somewhat of a relief for you?” Mama said. “You’d think you’d be grateful for a quiet one, in a room full of little bodies.”

When Daddy came home that weekend, Mama fussed at him about it.

“Really! Complaining about a quiet child! Can you imagine?” She rinsed the dishes and took her yellow rubber gloves off, thunking them on the counter.

“Mary, it’s fine,” Daddy chuckled. “Nothing’s wrong with her. She’s always been like that. Just one of those kids–you know the saying–‘Still water runs deep?’ That’s our girl. She’s a thinker.”

Mama nodded. “A thinker. Yes. You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” Daddy said. “And Jesus, wouldn’t it be nice if more people were thinkers, not talkers? We’ve got way too many talkers already. Thinkers stay in their head, where it’s quiet.”


It’s been over two years since I became afflicted with tinnitus, a constant ringing sensation in the ears. Back then, I went to the doctor and heard the discouraging news that basically, I was fucked. They don’t know what causes it, don’t know how to alleviate the symptoms of it, and can’t cure it. They don’t know how long I’ll even have it. It could end tomorrow or it could be forever, for all I know.

Not all tinnitus is the same. Some people only have tinnitus in one ear. For some people, the tinnitus comes and goes. Some people’s tinnitus manifests as a low, whooshing sound, like listening to a seashell or having someone blow in your ear. Mine’s not like that. Mine is in both ears and annoyingly high-pitched. In lucky moments, it’s a ringing. In unlucky moments, it’s a squealing. In really, really bad moments, it’s a piercing, persistent shriek, not unlike what a dog hears when someone blows a dog whistle.

The worst days are the days when, after several days of the shrieking variety, I develop vertigo. Vertigo blows. It can range from mild suckage (dizziness, a sensation of spinning, clumsiness) to stinking bad suckage (dizziness, spinning, clumsiness, nausea and vomiting). When you have vertigo, you really shouldn’t drive. It’s unsafe, and something about the motion of being in a car triggers vomiting. But sometimes I can’t avoid driving. I have barf bags stowed in every nook and cranny in the car but still: do you know how hard it is to drive and efficiently vomit into a bag?

I’m sad to say that I’m getting the hang of it. Although there was one unfortunate incident this spring while I was pulling out of the pickup lane at the high school. That time, I just might not have been able to grab my barf bag fast enough. I just might have hurled all over the steering wheel and my lap. At the high school. In the carpool pickup lane. With my teenage daughter in the passenger seat.

As awful as those times are, I will say that the Vertigo of the Vomiting Variety only occurs about 3-4 times a year. I have told myself that this isn’t so bad. I have, for the first time ever in my life, done math to make me feel better about things. If Dana has 4 cycles of vomiting vertigo a year, and each cycle lasts 2-3 days, how many days out of the year is she a retching wreck of a human?

Now granted, I have the less severe kinds of vertigo more often, but hey, feeling like a drunken sorority pledge isn’t entirely without its charms, right? Unless, of course, you have to operate anything that moves.


When the tinnitus first began, I called my mother, looking for wisdom or comfort or sympathy. Mothers are very good in that department.

“You have what?” she said.

“Tinnitus. Ringing in the ears,” I said. “It just started, out of the blue. It’s really annoying. Have you heard of it?”

“Yeah. I’ve heard of it.”

“What the Hell’s the deal?” I snarled. “Do you think menopause caused it? Just another of mid-life’s little bag of goodies; wouldn’t that be perfect. Dang. Is it the concussions? Do you think those finally came up to bite me?”

She was strangely quiet on the other end.

“Mom? Are you even listening? Are you trying to talk on the phone when you’re ironing again?”

“No, I’m here. It’s just that I’ve only known one person who had tinnitus. She was the wife of the richest man in Grand Forks.”

“What did she do?”

“Nothing.  I mean, nothing could help her. Maybe it’s different now. Your see that doctor, because I’m sure they’ve come a long way since then. She told me it drove her nuts.”

I bark out a laugh. “Well, I can see that. For sure.”

“She got really depressed. Sometimes she wouldn’t leave her room for days, her husband said. Can you imagine that,” my mother sighed. “All that money. Richer than thieves, and it didn’t mean a thing.”


I’m beginning to realize that there’s truth to what Mama said. If something is so insistently yelling at you in your brain, can you think of anything else?

What the fuck else matters?

What else can you think about, even if you really would give anything to think about anything else?

It also seems like a perverse irony to me. There’s a quiet, noise-hating girl who escapes to live in her head.

What does she do, then, when her head is the noisiest place of all?


So I have a raucous, impossible head.

Noisier than ever, because I’ve had the worst month ever. Forget that math equation I worked out, trying to soothe my mind with numbers. The numbers are changing. And I’m going to be honest. I’m scared.

In the last month, I’ve had two episodes of crushing, vomiting, debilitating, vertigo-laden episodes of tinnitus. I have spent days throwing up into bags, buckets. The last one was so bad that it wasn’t just the car that made me sick. For the first time ever, I threw up when    a) I was in a sitting position and   b) when I was in a standing position.

Every time. For days.

Wanna do the math on that one? When do you need to sit? When do you need to stand?

I don’t want to spend my life lying prone, or looking for relief in cars, or waiting for the next ugly incident, and I sure as hell don’t want to live with infernal ringing in my ears.

Then again, I’ve always been the girl with the busy head. Maybe it’s the way things just have to be.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendi August 8, 2017 at 12:54 pm

D, my tinnitus is very different from yours but you are not alone in this club. Maybe we can come up with tshirts and a slogan? Hang in there….


Dana Talusani August 11, 2017 at 10:53 am


Suggested sloagan: You’re totally fucked.


Lisa @The Meaning of Me August 8, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Oh how awful. I have some tinnitus (and family who get vertigo) but not as intense as yours. Mine is irritating enough. So sorry you’re experiencing this.


Liz August 8, 2017 at 5:37 pm

Oh Dana….
Just reading this freaked me out. My close friend has chronic vertigo. Severe. So I know how bad that is. I have a whooshing in my ear that occasionally occurs and drives me INSANE & I have to make myself not panic and overreact. So I can not even imagine what you must be thinking and feeling. What can I say other than sending good vibes & thinking of you. Keep us posted.
Ps. Have you tried acupuncture? (Seriously)


Annie August 8, 2017 at 6:34 pm

This wouldn’t load at the hospital so I’m just now reading it. I’m so so sorry! I understand how sucky constant dizziness can be (and dangerous for driving) but having the vomiting pushes it way out to the next level. Maybe an interventional pain specialist could help? Some injections to the back of the occipital nerve area and cervical spine area made a world of difference for me and has lasted years now. Hope it gets better and backs off for you soon. Xoxoxoxo


Dana Talusani August 11, 2017 at 10:52 am


That’s a great tip! May have to give that a try!


Arnebya August 9, 2017 at 11:59 am

Oh, friend. I’m sorry. I don’t have vertigo, but I am afflicted with constant dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea. I don’t drive often at all anymore. And no dr seems to be able to figure out what it is. It’s maddening when it happens because it feels like I can’t breathe and will pass out aaaaaaaaaaaany minute. Best of luck to you managing.


Dana Talusani August 11, 2017 at 10:50 am


That doesn’t sound like any fun, either. :(


Papa Guy August 9, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Had it for as long as I can remember. Learned to tune it out. I wish I knew what frequency that is? Or, how to find out.
Nobody told me that this gettin old shit was gonna be easy.


GEW August 10, 2017 at 9:56 pm

So is it the same as Meniere’s Disease? Regardless, it sounds awful, and I really hope you can get some relief. Getting old sucks. I had an ultrasound for a mysterious lump in my thyroid yesterday. Guess I’d better saddle up!



Dana Talusani August 11, 2017 at 10:52 am


Meniere’s is a little different in that it involves fluid levels in your ears, but it does cause tinnitus and sometimes vertigo. It all stinks! Hope your thyroid turns out to be healthy! Thinking of you.


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