How I lost my hearing, and lost fear too
Most people reading my recent blog about waking up completely deaf have had the same reaction "that must have been so frightening!" And it was. I was in ugly-crying, full-scale panic mode for the first three days while I pushed through one emergency health appointment after another.
But it also made me remember when I first lost my hearing. And it made me determined not to make the same mistake again.
It was 2005 when I lost all the hearing in my right ear overnight. I was 34 and had never met anyone younger than 65 with hearing loss. So I found myself in completely alien territory.
After three months of being sent away by my GP time and time again I finally got to see a consultant. It was only then that I found out my hearing loss was permanent, and that the medical experts had no idea what had caused it.
That 'not knowing' invited fear into my life. If I didn't know what had caused my hearing loss how could I stop it happening in my other ear? That lack of control made me very scared.
My fear asked "how will you communicate with your husband and friends if you suddenly lose the hearing in the other ear and wake up completely deaf"? You've got to love fear. It has a cunning knack of paralysing you with sleepless nights and stomach-churning days.
Added to that one HUGE fear were a whole range of everyday fears:
the fear of being an easy target for an attacker
the fear of everyday noises as my poor brain tried to work out what and where they were
the fear of making an idiot of myself when I misheard someone, or interrupted them because I didn't realise they were speaking
the fear of being ignored or excluded at social events because I couldn't hear (which I dealt with by taking my bat and ball home and excluding myself)
the fear of not being good enough at work and losing a job I loved.
Fear grinds you down. It shrinks your life. I became a shadow of the person I had been before hearing loss.
Then I came across a poster at my audiology clinic for lipreading classes. I had nothing to lose so I joined a class with 10 other people, all at least 30 years older than me. What a complete revelation! The lessons - and my fellow students - were inspiring, and educational, and entertaining and FUN! For the first time in many months I felt normal.
As well as practising in class I did the 'homework' - trying to lipread the 6 O'Clock news with no sound, playing spy and trying to lip-read random strangers in public (incredibly hard unless you have some context). I made it into a game as well as a survival tactic.
We didn't just learn lipreading. We learnt communication tactics which served me well at work and out socialising, and we learnt about the technological wonders out there to help us hear better. It was like hearing loss 101 rolled into a weekly class.
I found lipreading classes such a life-saver that I attended them for 3 years and benefited from the experience of three wonderful teachers.
You know that saying "knowledge is power"? Well, it's true. As my knowledge and confidence grew, my fear started to diminish. And I started to rediscover the person I had been before I lost 50% of my hearing.
And that's why after my initial panic at losing my hearing completely a few weeks ago I decided not to let fear rule me again. But chose instead the power of accurate information, supportive friends and family, and wise medical experts. And chocolate. A lot of chocolate (I never said I was perfect!).