You know those toy microphones? The ones that make your voice sound kinda echo-y and twing-y? That’s how Kristina’s voice sounded the day my hearing began to change, in March 2016.
Within a few days, all female voices and most music sounded that way. One day, I woke up from my phone alarm going off. But it was the vibration that woke me. I couldn’t hear the sound at all, even when I pressed the speaker to my ear. I walked to class that morning and an ambulance sped past with sirens on. No sound, only pain in my eardrum. I could hear low pitches, but they were a bit muted, like I was listening to them underwater. I turned around and went back to my dorm to research what could be causing the problem. I didn’t think my hearing would be gone for good. I was annoyed, but relatively calm.
I actually lost the hearing in my right ear in 2010 from an antibiotic I was on. I had gone to school and realized I couldn’t understand what people were saying. Plugged my left ear with my finger and it was totally silent. Plugged my right ear and I could hear through the left. It was a frightening day, and one I remember every detail of because it was so life-altering. I adjusted in time though, and most people didn’t even know I was half-deaf. I protected my hearing extra carefully because of that though, never turning my music too high and blocking my left ear around loud sounds. I was afraid of losing the rest of my hearing, but at the same time, I didn’t really think it would happen. I guess that’s why I didn’t freak out too badly when my left ear started getting weird. The “universe” didn’t hate me that badly, right?
So, six years later, I was in the audiologist office and feeling pretty sure I just had water stuck in my ear or something despite not hearing well for about a month by then. I was just hoping the appointment would pass quickly – that they would drain the water out – so I could get back to the newsroom for a meeting I had. I didn’t make it to the meeting. Instead, I was told my hearing wasn’t going to return and left to sit in a hall with Kristina for about an hour to process that sentence. How do you process that? I’m not sure. I expected my family and Kristina to process it better than me. I demanded that they act more sad and afraid than they were, to stop telling me it would be okay. I demanded that they feel strongly and negatively, despite me feeling numb.
The doctors had put me on steroids about a week earlier, hoping that could restore my hearing if the loss was related to inflammation in the ear. Steroids do indeed give you “roid rage,” which took away the numb feeling soon enough. I became furious. When I got back to my dorm that night, I screamed, “THIS IS SO UNFAIR! WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?” I knocked my shins against my coffee table and threw around some papers and plastic bottles. I’m not usually one for whining about the universe being unfair, but I was in that moment. I didn’t know how to process the idea of a new disability when I worked so hard already to succeed in life, in spite of my lung disease and mental health issues. By now, my lungs were getting steadily worse along with my anxiety and depression. The only things that made me happy in those days were my work as a journalist and editor, and my relationships. Now I couldn’t interview, I couldn’t be an effective leader, and I could hardly communicate with my friends or Kristina. I didn’t even have music to turn to for comfort. It was the perfect recipe to ruin me. So many tears were shed and I was so broken.
(This is the part where I applaud Kristina for being the perfect angel she is: sticking by my side and keeping me in the fight. If you see her, give her a hug, because she’s been through a war she could have left at any moment – I even told her she could. She never did.)
I still had some residual hearing back then, but I could only hear the lowest of sounds. Once my lungs got really sick, the doctors had to put me back on that antibiotic from 2010, which slowly stole the rest of my hearing over a three-month period. It seemed like every day there would be one less sound I would hear. I began to cherish the small sounds I could hear (cars engines, bass, thunder), while having constant anxiety that they could no longer exist to me the next day. They’re all gone now — I live today completely deaf, outside of tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
It’s still a mystery why my left ear first began to lose its hearing, although my doctors have had a few theories. We didn’t really see the point in pursuing answers.
I’m set to get cochlear implants in a surgery on August 31st. With implants, I could hear again! Others try different methods to restore their hearing. If you’re interested in that, I suggest checking out the blog My Hearing Loss Story, a fascinating read!
This is a three-part blog series about deafness. Consider this post the boring context-setting history of how I came to be in this position. In a couple days, I will post a blog about what it’s like to be deaf. It’s not all bad and there are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like to not hear. A couple days later, I have a post of tips on how to interact with deaf people. Hope you tune in for both!