About six weeks ago, I suddenly lost most of my hearing and, for a short time, the ability to walk without looking like a drunk. I knew the cause of it, an illness called Meniere’s syndrome, which I’ve been battling for over twenty years. It made me deaf in my right ear when I was 22. In addition, I fought increasing bouts of vertigo for years until I underwent surgery and physical therapy in 1994. After that, the dizzy attacks became manageable. I always knew someday that it might take my left side ability as well but this recent event still surprised me.
The Fear Monster
I’m not writing this for sympathy or even to complain. Life changes us all as we age. Meniere’s syndrome is but one bump in the road of the long, possibly rougher path that still stretches before me. At first, I reacted with a sense of panic. How was I going to finish teaching this semester? Did this doom me from ever teaching again? How could I communicate with my family spread across the nation much less the restaurant waiter or the sales person at the craft store?
The hearing loss will be permanent. I knew and accepted this the day it happened. And I cried a bit now and then when I felt overwhelmed. Crying was good. It helped get the stress out and reduce the fear to a manageable level. Everyone sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks to me, which puts a completely different spin on music. I don’t listen to those now unrecognizable sounds anymore nor do I sing. It is too painful.
I also counted my blessings often as well.
- First and foremost, I have the most wonderful husband who is now struggling to learn American Sign Language even though he hates learning foreign languages. We practice daily as our home life becomes increasingly quieter.
- My children are supportive even though our ability to reach out to each other is evolving.
- My friend, Michelle, who made a career working with the Deaf community, was overwhelmingly helpful with advice, product catalogs, conference info, and ASL practice.
- The Deafners, a NWI group that meets once a week for companionship, welcomed us with open arms and a great deal of patience. Most languages need immersion to get the words right. Through them, we will learn the correct way to communicate and gain extra friends as well. Always a bonus!
- Movies and TV have closed captioning, even in the theaters. I don’t have to give up my beloved big-screen films. In that regard, technology overall has made living in silence easier. Text-to-speech programs help immensely, when they work correctly.
- My college students took my sudden inability in stride. I had expected them to freak out a bit. I also had expected my boss to tell me I would not be hired back in the fall. After all, I’m only a part-time lecturer, not faculty. Why deal with someone who is so difficult to talk to? Yes, I know there are ADA issues, but they could have found any reason not to have me back. Instead, she is doing all she can to keep me in the classroom.
- My ability to walk without a cane or walker gradually got better after six weeks. I am more afraid of constant vertigo battles over the deafness issues. Vertigo will trap me at home and ultimately inside my head. I know hard times still wait ahead but for now, I’m walking just fine.
In truth, it took a while to realize that living deaf would not make my life lesser, only quieter. I was still blessed with so many good people willing to put a little extra effort in to work with me.
So I guess the moral of this wandering tale is that when life picks you up and slams you into the proverbial wall, reach past the fear and pain. Change with the times and always count your blessings. Living may become harder but you are still living. Every morning the sun rises starts a morning worth seeing the changing color of the landscape and breathing in the sweet air. Each day is worth tackling, surviving, loving, and living through. Each day can make you stronger if you keep fighting to move forward.