An assault on the senses

I’ve looked deep into the eyes of the MonSter. When I did, everything shimmered with radiating rainbow coloured clouds.

Whenever I glance to the left, he wiggles his outstretched claws and warps the atmosphere so that everything I see, I see twice.

When I stroke my hands across his shaggy hide, my fingertips often tingle, picking up a strange alien static, and my legs turn to jelly.

These legs, of course, are the legs that he clings to when I’m out and about, and the legs he gnaws when I’m trying to relax, kicking behind the knee every 23 seconds or so.

He also has a distinct smell when he gets hot and sweaty. If, like me, you’ve ever burnt out a clutch cable on a car struggling with a reverse park on a steep hill, he smells precisely like that. When I used to run, while I was still able, he would find it fun to chase after me slavering, grunting and panting as I tried to escape him. I’d overheat and, in the shower we shared afterwards, squeezing together too close for comfort in the cubicle, I’d smell the scent of his sweat, like burnt rubber wriggling up my nostrils.

Luckily I’m not sure what he tastes like yet, but if it’s anything like he smells, no thanks.

Strangely though, I’ve recently come to realise that I think I might also be able to hear him making a poor attempt to tiptoe around me at night.

For a number of years, if I’ve been especially tired, I’ve had a tiny bit of transient tinnitus that I’ve thought of as the MonSter’s pulse. It’s in my right ear. Try whispering the following as fast as you can: “pad-pad-pad-pad-pad-pad-pad-pad” like an extra superfast heartbeat. That’s what it sounds like.

Someone on Twitter told me what it was. I think it was to do with an oscillating bone in my inner ear or something like that. Like a twitching eyelid, I suppose. Eventually it goes superfast, rises in pitch and hums off into the void. I’ve no idea if it’s MS related or not.

But there’s something else.

I remember someone once telling me about when the composer John Cage was researching silence, leading to his piece, 4’33”. He realised we could never escape our ambient sound because our bodies themselves also generate it. The piece is actually a serious contemplation of our experience of sound. I suppose silence in music is like dark matter in the universe. It’s there, but what is its shape and mass?

As part of Cage’s research he spent a brief stint inside an anechoic chamber – a room that cuts out all background noise. He was probably excited at the prospect of experiencing absolute silence; silence in its purest form; the maddening slow-burning silence of solitary confinement perhaps. Of course, in terms of his immediate surroundings, he did. He must also have expected to hear his heartbeat, his digestion and breathing, his joints cracking and maybe the damp squit of his eyelids blinking. What he wasn’t expecting, though, was the deep rumble of the blood in his veins, and the high pitched hiss he was told was his nervous system.

I’ve been aware of this nervous system hiss since I was a kid as I thought that was what people were referring to when they talked about a ringing in the ears. I think it must be relatively loud for me, so the fact that Cage wasn’t expecting it surprised me (though there could also be over 30 years of gig-going tinnitus in the mix for me as well of course).

What I hear now is that uniform hiss for the most part, but, again when I’m tired, a brief “tschhh!” noise every second or two; a crash like someone tripping over a speaker, or hi-hat, or when you first switch on a garden hose and it spends a few minutes spitting out the air bubbles.

I guess my question is, if it’s the nervous system, am I hearing the MonSter stumbling around in the crashes or is it a sonic experience that everyone else has?

I imagine any demyelination of my auditory nerves could cause a tinnitus-like noise that a night watching Spacemen 3 at the Leadmill back in 1989 could do, or in the same way as demyelination on the optic nerve can cause expanding, shimmering rainbow clouds in my vision.

Whatever it is, sharing your life with a MonSter can be a full-on assault on the senses at times. When he eventually calms down and cuddles up to me in bed at night, wrapping me up in his big strong hairy arms and breathing his hot smelly breath into my neck, I wonder what he’s dreaming of. What plans to cause mischief does he have when he wakes up late, like the moody teenager he is?

It’s something you have to live with and get used to, no matter how unpleasant. He’s decided to attach himself to me for the rest of our lives and, while I can ignore him, or drug him into submission to a certain extent, he is getting bigger and he is getting in the way a lot more.

Also, it’s probably time to get my ears tested.

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