What It’s Like to Have Tinnitus

Is that an air conditioner? A plane? No, it’s tinnitus.

Benya Clark
4 min readMay 19


Photo by Dylann Hendricks | 딜란 on Unsplash

It was around three in the morning and I was laying in bed, lights off, ready to fall asleep. The only problem was that one of the neighbors had been running a noisy generator since midnight.

I couldn’t believe how rude they were to be making so much noise so late at night. I peeked out the window, trying to figure out which neighbor the sound was coming from, but I didn’t see any lights on anywhere.

Next, I tried finding the source by following the sound, but I had a surprising amount of trouble. Every time that I started moving around my room, the sound stopped. Then, when I stopped, I’d hear it again, but each time from a new direction.

I walked down the hall and the sound moved down the hall with me. That’s when I finally realized that there was no generator. The sound was entirely in my head.

It was a scary feeling. I wondered to myself whether I’d wake up fine the next morning and forget about the entire experience, or whether this was the start of something more serious. Unfortunately, it was the latter.

That night was three years ago, and I’ve had tinnitus ever since.

To quote the National Institutes of Health, “Tinnitus is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, so other people cannot hear it.”

The way I had always heard it described was that when you have tinnitus, you hear a constant ringing noise all day long. It turns out that while this explanation does apply to some people with tinnitus, it’s far from universal.

In my case, I experience tinnitus daily, but normally only late at night or early in the morning. Throughout the rest of the day, tinnitus is rare, although every few weeks I’ll get it at these unusual hours.

The actual sound that I hear is not a high-pitched ringing but rather a low rumble. It’s only in my right ear, and it tends to stop when I’m moving around. This explains why I mistook it for a generator, as well as why the sound was so hard to pinpoint that first night.

The sound is much louder than I expected. Even though it comes from the right ear, sometimes it feels as if…



Benya Clark

I’m a lawyer turned writer from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, and more. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter at exploringsobriety.com.