It is one year since the day in the auditorium when I suddenly lost the hearing in my left ear. It has been a year spent attending appointments with various specialists, a year of being observed and tested, and a year of taking different medicines and trying hearing aids. I spent almost a year without working; trudging slowly through my days, with the feeling of frustration weighing heavily down on me. A year has passed and there have been no answers, and no improvement in my ability to hear. It has been a year that has damaged my confidence. A year that has chipped away at me; with every hurdle and setback diminishing my character. Yet it has also been a year of building myself up; grasping at ways to find strength through my adversity.
It still feels very recent. I still wake up every morning to the realization that I can no longer hear in my left ear. A part of me continues to cling on to the tiniest of hopes that one day I will miraculously wake up with the full ability to hear; that my hearing will re-emerge as quickly and as spontaneously as it disappeared. This hope is an inherent part of me that I’m unable to control or even want to suppress. Yet, this doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted the reality of my situation.
In addition to becoming deaf in my left ear, I have been left with: tinnitus, a sensitivity to loud noises, the inability to identify where sounds are coming from, and difficulty hearing in background noise. Yet worst of all, there is a relentless feeling of pressure I feel in both ears, though more so in my left. It is these other issues that are proving to be more difficult to manage than the hearing loss itself.
Living with hearing loss and associated symptoms poses everyday challenges. Even though I have had no actual improvement in my symptoms, I have a better understanding of my hearing loss. I am improving my coping techniques every day; achieving small triumphs that feel like fairy steps of success. Notably, the discomfort I used to feel when this first happened, when going outside my apartment into a world of noise, has now become a habitual sensation. Although it is very present, it is something I rarely think about; an unpleasantness that has now been forced to the background of my focus. Loud noises are still painful. The sound of emergency vehicle sirens, motorbike exhaust pipes, and the clattering of dishes, all cause me physical pain deep inside my ears. But I have also discovered some noises that bring me comfort. The sound of a gentle river, the wind brushing past tree branches, and rustling leaves force my mind from giving attention to any unwelcome sounds of tinnitus. I have found that wearing headphones helps to block out the noise of the Metro and noise associated with trains and public transport. For short periods of time I am now able to listen to my IPod through my headphones, and can enjoy music and listen to storytelling podcasts; this is something I thought I would no longer be able to find pleasure in, due to my sensitivity to noise. I have developed my understanding of practices that can affect my condition. I now realise that if I drink alcohol, eat something with a high salt content, or if I don’t sleep well, my tinnitus will be stronger. The presence of loud tinnitus and tiredness, in turn, means I will find it difficult to concentrate well on hearing tasks. Socializing can be demanding amongst background noise. In restaurants and bars I have learnt to sit in a corner, or with my deaf ear against a wall and my hearing ear facing the person I am speaking to, in order to have some chance at hearing them in conversation. I have learnt that it is only possible to concentrate on listening to one person at a time. I have also learnt that with large groups of people and circular tables comes a lot of frustration!
It has been a year of firsts. There was my first run since my hearing loss, where I started to feel so much stronger, and more ‘myself’. There was my first train journey, where I watched the beautiful countryside through the train windows, with the sun on my face, and when I felt so happy to be listening to music through my headphones; thankful for the hearing I had left. There was my first time in a restaurant since my hearing loss, which taught me so much about the importance of selecting a table wisely.
It has been a year of being proactive; writing articles for hearing loss websites, and getting involved in fundraising campaigns for deaf charities.
It has been a year of ‘silly deaf moments’ and mishearing words: sitting with my boyfriend on a terrace and mishearing him say the word ‘parmesan’, and instead hearing ‘lederhosen’, and wondering why my boyfriend would want such a thing sprinkled on spaghetti!
It has been a year of feeling vulnerable. When I’m on my own in everyday places and situations, such as the supermarket or walking down the street, I worry about strangers talking to me, and not being able to hear them, or even worse failing to acknowledge them; if they have addressed me on my deaf side. I worry about cars pulling out of parking spaces, and not registering them until they are moving towards to me. I worry about crossing the road and hearing the siren of an ambulance, and not knowing which direction to move out of the way.
It has been a year of frustration. I am frustrated in train stations and airports where I can’t hear the Public Address systems clearly. I become frustrated with bars that play their music loud, or that are bustling with chatter too loud for me to tolerate. I am frustrated at people who speak in mumbled words, or who turn their head away from me during conversation; meaning I am unable to hear parts of what has been said. I am frustrated at feeling like a burden with every time I have to ask someone to repeat themselves. I am sad that I am now unable to continue my career as a teacher in a lively classroom. Yet I am proud of myself for returning to work in a less demanding role, which in actuality is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I still feel upset with myself when I struggle in conversation. It’s tiring trying to listen to conversation or to communicate for long periods of time. It’s tiring to be around noise. I am tired a lot of the time from trying to listen. I feel frustration in learning simple things again, such as keeping my balance whilst walking downhill. I feel frustration at there being so many questions that doctors don’t know the answers to. What caused my hearing loss? Is this going to happen to my right ear as well? Why do I often feel dizzy when I’m walking, yet rarely when I am running? Why does shopping centre lighting, stormy weather, and crowds of people, cause me to feel dizzy?
It has been a difficult year also for the people closest to me. I know it is hard for people to know what to say to comfort someone who is not ‘getting better’. I know it is difficult to know how to help. My friends and family have lived through this with me and have shown me overwhelming support. But, it is my boyfriend who has lived the experience closest to mine, and who has felt not only the frustration that I have, but has also learnt with me how to deal with my hearing loss. The unfaltering support, patience and care he has shown me, and continues to do so has undoubtedly given me strength to deal with the new challenges I now face.
This year has been difficult. Yet this year has had a huge impact on my personality, where my priorities now lie, and the way I view my life. I am stronger as a result of this year. It is also because of this year that I have realized the enjoyment I have in communicating through writing. By recording my experiences and thoughts in my blog, I have made sense of my feelings and gained strength. I hope also to have given others an insight into my world, and some of the difficulties experienced by someone with hearing loss. Writing is a pleasure; one which I can thank that day in the auditorium for the moment the world to the left of me abruptly fell into silence.