It has been just over three years since my sudden hearing loss, which left me profoundly deaf in my left ear. The months following this loss were spent hoping for some recovery. I was optimistic about the possibility of learning invaluable pieces of information from every specialist I met, and was hopeful concerning each new treatment or therapy I tried. Though, these months were also full of frustration, anger, sadness; difficult feelings that grasped at me with all their strength, making each day a duel to be fought. Now that three years have passed, and I am confidently dealing with the practical effects of hearing loss, I can look back at this experience with clarity and more understanding about the emotional impact this loss has had on my life,
During the time immediately subsequent to losing my hearing, I didn’t allow my grief to consume my attention. In truth, I don’t think I even realised I was grieving. Instead, practical issues dominated my thoughts. I was productive and proactive in learning how to function in my new unanticipated state. I wanted to take control of my situation. I focussed on dealing with my noise sensitivity and tinnitus. I gradually learnt to cope more with everyday sounds. I set myself small targets to work towards and celebrated my accomplishments. I started to go outside and surround myself with difficult sounds, progressively increasing the exposure time with each day. I discovered where the best places to sit were in a restaurant with regard to limiting background noise, and learnt how to direct my hearing ear towards sources of conversation. I realised the power of subtitles, which enabled me to access all the dialogue when watching films and TV series. My boyfriend, and close friends and family learnt to walk on my right-hand side so that I would be able to converse with less effort. I began to study the movement of peoples’ lips to help me make sense of speech in noisy environments. I learnt my physical limitations. My emotional health, however, I didn’t even consider.
Hearing loss grief is something that medical professionals didn’t talk to me about. No recommendations were given for support groups or information sources. I’m not sure if the absence of emotional guidance was due to the language barrier, or if it generally isn’t offered to patients here in Spain. Perhaps those affected by hearing loss are expected to search for the type of help they feel will be the most effective for their situation. I haven’t widely verbalised my feelings of the different stages of grief I underwent following my hearing loss. Only those closest to me know the sadness I have felt. In fact, the impact of my hearing loss grief, and the importance of dealing with it in order to move forward in my hearing loss journey, is something that I’ve only recently started to pay much thought to.
There are so many different types of hearing loss, all that come with their own challenges and strains of grief. I wonder if having the time to prepare for the known gradual decline of hearing with age or a health condition brings any comfort. Yet, knowing loss is imminent must also present a tremendous burden. My hearing loss was sudden. I had no time to prepare. I had very little understanding of the practical issues regarding hearing loss. I had no awareness of the mental pain hearing loss could bring,
I felt guilty for feeling sad. I was swallowing down grief in giant gulps, trying to dismiss complex emotions. The pragmatic part of my character knew there were much worse challenges that life could present to me.
Then, several months after my sudden hearing loss, I was given some advice from a stranger, who I had briefly connected with online. I was told that, as with any other loss, I would need to grieve my lost sound with the attention it deserved. This advice proved so important in helping me address the emotional aspects of my new situation, and immediately made it feel acceptable for me to feel sad and allow myself to begin the process of grieving.
I suppose everyone with hearing loss will experience different emotions and stages of grief, and will deal with them in their own unique ways. I had periods of feeling angry. I was angry because I felt that I could no longer rely on my body; it had failed me. I contemplated the fragility of life. I felt sadness, isolation and exhaustion from missed words in conversations, that used to be so easy to follow. I continuously questioned my feelings as to whether they were a justified measure of grief and then learned to treat myself with more kindness. The acceptance, which took time, came ultimately when I sought a second medical opinion, and I was told bluntly by a specialist that it would be very unlikely that I would regain any hearing and that this was my new normal. I needed this closure.
I found the most help through my grief by talking to my boyfriend, who provided unfaltering support, strength, and compassion. I confided in him, explaining my feelings and new hearing sensations. We shared the experience of loss so closely and we found our own way to deal with these new circumstances together. I also reached out to others through writing about my hearing loss journey in my blog. I corresponded with people who were going through similar situations, and continue to encourage this communication. I now find comfort in being able to offer my advice and share experiences with others. Hearing loss grief remains one of the main topics of discussion.
I am reminded of my lost sound every day. Our senses play a significant role in how we engage with the world. For people, like me, who are accustomed to living in a ‘hearing’ world, our sense of hearing determines how we enjoy music, how we recognise the voices of our friends and family, and how we interact socially. I don’t want to forget life before my hearing loss and I consciously hold onto memories of past experiences when having the full ability to hear made these times so special – times spent enjoying music festivals and memories of past holidays, when my hearing or noise issues didn’t even need to be considered.
I am proud that I carry a tiny piece of my hearing loss grief with me; an invisible scar. Like other scars on my body – shadows of scuffed knees from playground games, teenage acne, and surgical scars – I regard it with pride. My scars are evidence of victories over health issues. They are evidence of healing. My scar of hearing loss grief is something I acknowledge every day. Yet, it’s much more than grief or sadness; it’s a little bit of strength I take with me everywhere. My hearing loss grief is part of my story.
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