Sunday, 29th August 2021, my 5th hearing loss anniversary. Every year on this day, I spend some time personally reflecting on my life since losing the sound in my left ear.
I have now had hearing loss for half of the time my partner and I have been together. I have spent the majority of my time living in Madrid, with hearing loss. For nearly an eighth of my life, I have been living with single-sided deafness. I mark periods of time by my hearing loss, remembering holidays, birthdays, and past events, as times before or after the loss.
The Early Days
In the beginning, I struggled. There were days, weeks, months with periods of darkness. Many aspects of my life have changed since the day I lost full sound. I found it was the small, personal effects of losing my hearing that carried the most impact.
My personality was chipped away by some of the cruel repercussions of my hearing loss. When dealing with tinnitus, dizziness, ear pressure, and sensitivity to sound I became tired, losing sight of who I was, my ambitions, and all the things in my life that were good.
Writing Towards Rehabilitation
I started writing. I worked through my feelings and thoughts. I found it cathartic. Through my blog, I shared my experiences with people all over the world. In being open and sharing feelings of frustration, sadness and grief , others started to share their stories with me.
I have connected with some kind and interesting people through my blog and hearing loss support group. Often people reach out for support, and our exchange quickly fades as they progress with their rehabilitation. But every so often, the communication continues a little longer, and with each email, they reveal snippets of their lives. We share news about loved ones and life events.
If it hadn’t been for my hearing loss, would I have met all these wonderful people?
Moving Forward with Focus
I now have more focus. I was forced to reevaluate my working life as a teacher. I realised that during the career that I had poured my entire energy and heart into for 14 years, I had often forgotten to have balance in my days. I ended my career, not due to my hearing loss, though this definitely made it more difficult. It was the vestibular issues that reared their ugly heads soon after losing my hearing that put a stop to my days as a teacher. I miss teaching and having my own class.
It was hard learning to live with the practical aspects of hearing loss, such as figuring out the best place in a restaurant to sit to have some chance of being able to have a conversation, or how to cross a road without the ability to identify from which direction traffic is approaching. It was even harder to manage the emotional aspects. The grief, sadness, frustration, anger.
Even now, I have times of frustration. But these are fleeting – like clouds passing in front of the sun, darkening the sky for brief moments. My partner and I have lived through my hearing loss journey closely together. He has been there through the frustration too.
With time came acceptance and the desire and determination to move forward with my life. To be more compassionate. To be more open to opportunities.
My hearing loss made me acutely aware of how fragile our bodies can be. Aspirations became resolutions. I didn’t want to sit still. I was driven. I started to take control. I reminded myself to be more aware of every moment, both positive and challenging. I still had times of sadness; I let myself feel them. Through life’s difficult times, I could truly appreciate the good.
I am now more open to opportunities; sometimes, I even chase them. I am willing to give things a try that before my hearing loss, I may have shied away from. My hearing loss has led me to be involved in some interesting projects. In particular, I have helped hearing loss and tinnitus organizations with projects and awareness campaigns.
I even told my story in a BBC World Service documentary. When I listen to this, it brings back some of the difficult feelings I was processing, years after losing half my hearing. Yet this documentary helped me focus on the sounds I love, reminding me never to undervalue their worth.
After hearing this documentary, my favorite band, The National, contacted me and invited me backstage to a gig in Madrid. They wanted to help me enjoy their music despite my sensitivity to sound – a cruel accompaniment to my hearing loss which forces me to avoid loud noises.
They surprised my partner and me by playing us an acoustic song in their dressing room. One of the most special moments of my life.
Though this demanded a lot of courage, it was such an honour to speak for all the people who had contacted me over the last 5 years, who are were also dealing with the intrusive sounds of tinnitus.
Most recently, in January this year, I began working on a resource to address the main questions I’d been asked over the past 5-years, by people going through their own sudden hearing loss experiences. And, in April 2021, I became the proud founder of the first-ever website for people affected by sudden hearing loss, offering information and support.
I wonder, if I hadn’t lost the hearing in my left ear, how my life would be? Would I have had similar opportunities?
The Best is Yet to Come
In the early days of living with hearing loss, one of my closest friends wrote a message to me which read, “These challenges are only presented to the strongest and most capable.” It took time for me to take this comment as a compliment and a source of strength. With time, I started to embrace my hearing loss; it was a part of me that made me unique. I didn’t want it to define me, though it was a pivotal part of my story.
I am smiling as I write this. My life has changed so much since the day of my hearing loss. Though I don’t always like it, I have my hearing loss to thank for so much. I’m wondering what the next 5-years of living with a silent world to the left of me will bring.