I’ve had hearing problems my whole life. Though most children contract ear infections and have burst ear drums, in the majority of cases, these issues pass with time as the ear heals itself. I never had the advantage of being of the fortunate many in this regard: once my ear drums burst, they stayed burst, and my general functionality suffered. I didn’t learn to speak properly until really quite late on, and I spent much of my childhood and adolescent years in various hospitals being treated by numerous doctors and surgeons: all of whom were trying to fix something that, ultimately, was presenting as really quite unfixable. Understandably, I became tired of what appeared to be this useless endeavour at around the age of 16 and, after my 13th operation, I refused any further treatment.
Looking back, I don’t know that that was necessarily the “right” decision to make. I say “right” in quotations, because of course every decision we make at any point in our lives is the best decision that we can make given our current base of knowledge and headspace. Regardless, if I’d known the future that lay ahead of me, perhaps I would have made a more concerted effort to stick to my doctors’ appointments. Now, at the baby age of 21 years old, I can feel my hearing running away from me quicker than ever. As a C-PTSD sufferer, it’s often anxiety-inducing and stressful enough to be in an environment with a range of unfamiliar faces and expressions – behind all of which lies minds capable of all levels of scary and predatory thought. To have this compounded with a physical inability to hear well enough to keep track of a conversation with the person in front of me, let alone to keep track of the ongoings of whichever setting I may be in, is heavily disorienting to say the least.
Such opens the gateway to a range of insecurities… What’s happening in this room where I’m currently stationed? Are my facial expressions appropriate for the conversation right now? Do they think I’m being rude because I didn’t ask them more questions about something specific that they’ve articulated is obviously important to them? Have I answered a totally unrelated question to whatever it is they’ve just said? Is that why they’re looking at me funny?
Of course, the simple solution would be to articulate my hearing difficulties. But it’s also frequent that such an important detail relayed to an individual is quickly forgotten. And how many times can you repeat a request to someone or to a group of people before you begin to feel bothersome and attention-seeking?
It worries me somewhat that there may well be a day in my future wherein I might wake up and hear nothing. I would rise from my bed and be greeted by absolute and never-ending silence. No voices, no music, no simple sounds – the ones you never think of as significant, but the ones that can add a spark to any day: a cat’s purrs outside, the rustling of leaves in wind, the pattering of rain against your window late at night. In a world where sign language is hardly universal, I would be forever excluded from not only group conversations, but also from most one-on-one interactions without the assistance of an interpreter. Even in this instance, I would never be able to engage in verbal exchange that was truly just mine and my friend’s; there would always be someone listening in. I can’t really envisage a reality as such that’s not isolating – at least, in significant part, at first.
Perhaps that’s an uninformed perspective to take. Yet in my mind’s eye, it’s far less disheartening to not do the research on what the deaf experience really is than it is to do the research and have my worst suspicions regarding the limitations of that life confirmed.
As you can probably see, I don’t really know precisely how to best “handle” my failing health. Though, maybe the only thing that can be done is nothing at all. Obviously to “do nothing” will not extend to seeking medical help when and where appropriate. Rather, I’d try to relinquish my hold over that which I cannot control, accept things for as they are, and allow myself to grieve to the fullest extent over such a substantial loss. As such, I would be granting myself power over my own emotions, thereby recognising that my grief is part and parcel of the joys that my hearing has blessed me with. For, in the somewhat warped words of Tennyson, it is better to have heard and lost than to never have heard at all.
Besides, in a reality newly defined by the disappearance of one sense, who knows how beautifully the remaining senses might be experienced in contrast? Not me… not yet.