Journey to Self-Acceptance: V 3.0

So at age 18, my life kind of started over again.

With my version 2.0 nose, newfound confidence—and utter relief at leaving the horror of high school behind—I headed off to college. Four years later, I emerged with a freshly-printed Bachelor’s degree in hand. Fast-forward a few more years, and I am working full-time as a Web writer while I complete my Master’s degree.

One day (around age 28, I think) I woke up and noticed that my ears were ringing. Most of us experience ear-ringing after concerts or being in a loud club; it is a temporary reaction to noise that eventually resolves on its own. Yet, I awoke to ringing and I had not been to a concert, a club, or even a loud restaurant. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I knew the ear-ringing that comes from exposure to loud noise eventually dissipates. I wasn’t sure why my ears were ringing, but I figured that at some point, they would stop.

At the time, it felt like it was an overnight thing, like, literally, go to bed and wake up different. After a few days of ringing, I became concerned. I thought, How long HAVE my ears been ringing? Have they been ringing for a while and I’m just now noticing? Or is this new? And when are they going to STOP?

From that day forward, they didn’t stop ringing. Ever.

I entered my 30s with another “new” aspect to my physicality: I had tinnitus, and it was not going away.

Sorry, what did you say?

Over the course of the next 10 years, my tinnitus, that ever-screeching creature in my head, got louder, while my hearing got progressively worse. I saw doctor after doctor, and not one offered an explanation that made sense to me, or that I was willing to accept. Not one doctor had the kind of bedside manner I expected as an informed and vivacious 30-something who was increasingly more terrified that she was losing her hearing. I took one humiliating hearing test after another and got no real answers. Your loss is mild-to-moderate, they said. Great, thanks. Now what? 

I eventually finished my Master’s degree and my first marriage, and I found a new love: a wonderful man halfway across the world in Australia. My hearing was still an issue, but nothing major. Yet.

As most of you know, I went on to marry my Aussie, tried my hand at expat life in Sydney, and came back to the U.S.—all the while noticing my hearing loss  declining. I could hear louder voices, music, noises just fine. They were often too loud. It was the volume of everyday life that I could no longer hear clearly.  But my life was busy, and damn it, I WAS TOO YOUNG TO BE HARD OF HEARING! I still had no answers and asked people to repeat themselves with annoying regularity.

I spent a good six years reading lips to get by. People who mumbled, whispered, or talked with little lip movement were the kiss of death. Trying to speak to me from around the corner or behind me was futile; I just could not hear clearly without being able to read lips as well. Many times, when people asked me a question and I paused a second too long, my husband rescued me by repeating the question so I could actually hear it, or he’d just answer for me. He was like my hearing-ear dog, my interpreter, my savior. God bless him, he has always been so patient, even when it irritated the hell out of him. And it did, plenty.

The Diagnosis

In the last several years, I have not been able to watch TV without using closed captioning. As I struggled to hear in the bubble of hushed tones and voices that is Corporate America, I began missing more and more. With each missed statement, each sentiment repeated for only my benefit, my hearing felt like sand slipping through my fingers, my ego right along with it. I was trying desperately to keep it from slipping away, to safeguard what was left. I wondered if I should learn sign language, in case I go totally deaf.

Occasionally, after asking a stranger to repeat themselves, I’d divulge that I was “hearing-challenged.” But mostly, only my closest friends and family knew. Admitting it to strangers made me feel deficient. Damaged. Stupid. Because they often did nothing with the information I gave them, repeating phrases to me at the same level as they had before, which by the way, is no help for someone who is hearing impaired.

Over the course of the last decade, I was convinced I had a tumor in my head. That was it! Why weren’t those doctors ordering an MRI? Or I had Meniere’s disease…there had to be a good reason for the tinnitus and the hearing loss I began experiencing at age 30, because if there was a reason, then there was a solution. Surgery. Something. Something to shut this mind-numbing ringing off and give me my life back.

The doctors, of course, told me one thing, repeatedly: It’s hereditary (my dad, who is in his 70s, is hearing-challenged too). And, this: You might be helped by hearing aids.

Hearing aids? WTF? At 30, 35, or 41? Doesn’t hereditary hearing loss only happen to old people? I’m too young for hearing aids!

But it had gotten to the point that it was significantly affecting my life. So this year, as a last-ditch effort, I selected yet another new ENT to see for an exam and those dreading hearing tests. He is a younger doctor (virtually my age) with a gentle, unhurried demeanor. He was the first one who explained, very compassionately, that my hearing loss is now moderately severe: between 55 and 70 dB HL; that is is bi-lateral (in both ears); and that because it is in both ears, and I don’t have headaches or vision loss (or any of the many symptoms of tumors), it did not make sense to order an MRI…but that he would if I wanted it. Finally, a doctor who listened, first.

And with that, 11 years later, it also finally clicked: I AM HEARING IMPAIRED. This is not age-related hearing loss. 

I finally had the answer that was there all along; I just never had the right doctor to put some context around all of it. I could get on board with this, and I did. For the first time in more than a decade, I felt relief. My hearing loss wasn’t from exposure to noise or a tumor, and I am not on the express train to my golden years. I am hearing impaired. 

I’d never judge someone who is deaf, or be anything but understanding about it. Recognizing that I am hearing impaired was like giving myself permission to finally accept this thing I had tried so hard to ignore and push away, and instead, make peace with it. My level of impairment is nothing compared to the diseases and physical disabilities so many people struggle with, every day, every second of their lives. I know that. I still consider myself so very blessed, so fortunate. This is an issue that is surmountable.

V 3.0

IMG_4510

Two weeks ago, another version of me was born, V 3.0, if you will. Armed—er—eared with two sleek, subtle, and life-changing behind-the-ear hearing aids (my bionic ears, as I like to call them), I walked out into a very, very loud world. It took me a couple days to get used to all the sounds I was hearing, and understand the three settings my hearing aids have, but like that day in 1989 when I emerged from Dr. Laird’s office, I once again felt like a new woman. I could be 100% confident again. I had gotten both the answer and the solution I was looking for.

I still can’t hear everything all the time, and my tinnitus will be with me forever, though the ringing is no longer my focus. Instead, I hear the squeak of a door I never knew had a squeak; I hear all the insects again, the birds, nature’s cacophony of glorious sound. I can hear the whisper of my beloved, those words meant only for me, spoken during the quiet acquiescence of the day.

I am me with a doctor-gifted nose; with 10 pounds more or 10 pounds less; with an impairment and hearing aids; with opinions spoken by the same voice I’ve known all along, but now hear much more acutely.

I’m me, in spite of all of it, and because of it. And I’m totally OK with it.

 

This post is part of my Journey to Self-Acceptance series. If you haven’t read The Moment I Realized I Wasn’t Pretty, start there. Thank you all for sharing this journey and your thoughts and experiences with me along the way.

Comments

  1. Serene says

    Oh Vahni! I can see why blogging is such a great medium for you! More evidence that we THINK we know someone by what they put forward, but we are all going through our own personal dramas that others don’t realize. Makes me want to put my internal “judge-o-meter” on permanent hiatus! We just don’t know nearly as much as we think we do…..

    Hearing aids are probably in my near future….my husband teases that I’m “deaf as a door nail” but I know my bad hearing is my own fault. A penchant for playing music loud in my headphones has done some damage. I’m so happy for you that you have hearing help now!!! That’s wonderful!!! Much love to you girly! Serene

    Btw, I left a crazy long comment (of course!) on your last post but when I went back to read other comments a day or so later, my comment hadn’t shown up…. Too lazy to redo, but I do want to say that your last post was great! Sometimes cosmetic surgery isn’t so much a vanity as it is repairing a defect.. (Like a hair lip, facial mole, etc…).

    • says

      Thank you, once again Serene, for the sweet comment. You know hearing aids these days are so inconspicuous and advanced…I’m so grateful for mine. They’ve already helped me so much at work. If you’re having difficulty, definitely look into them, my dear!

  2. says

    Wow! Thank you for sharing that, Vahni! I have to say, once again I am astounded. For starters – after bartending for ten years on and off in loud nightclubs and leaning over to hear people yell their orders into my right ear overtop of thundering bass cannons – I too, have lost a degree of my hearing. It manifests in people thinking I am ignoring them. So often I’ve been told “Hey, I saw you on the street and was calling after you…and you didn’t stop?” Or in meetings when at work…”Diana? Diana…? What do you think?” Now I tell people b/c otherwise people think I’m being spacey or something…

    And then secondly – the panther bracelet? I had the same one – it was my favourite! I lost and replaced it twice over the last couple of years and then gave up every finding it again to see one in a store here in Perth. Again with the similarities? Trippy!
    Diana’s latest post: The Best Place in Perth To…My Profile

    • says

      Diana, this is pure-T CRAZYTOWN, the similarities…though I do wish you did not have hearing challenges in common with me, for your sake! Yeah, the whole people calling out to you from afar and not hearing them, I know that one. For a long time I have not shared my impairment with people, but now I do, right up front, if it’s a situation where I think they should know. It just makes it so much easier on me and them in the long run. Hopefully your hearing will stay where it is and not decrease any more.

      Hope you are well, love!

    • says

      I’m so glad your tinnitus hasn’t hindered you! That is such a blessing. I know for some, it can be absolutely excruciating. Thanks for sharing.

  3. says

    V, this is a great post! I’m a new reader but I’m still really happy for you that you got hearing aids. Isn’t it funny how long it can take to get to acceptance–and how good it feels once we finally get there! Congratulations! Amy

    • says

      Hi Amy, welcome to G&G! Thanks so much for your kind comment. Sorry it took me a bit to respond. I just adopted a sweet little dog and have been so busy trying to get her settled into her new life!

      Hope you will come back again soon. :)

  4. says

    You know, I saw the broken nose coming but I didn’t see tinnitus! It’s such a relief to see SOMEONE write about this because I have tinnitus as well. I got it first for a few months about 2 years ago after a loud concert. It went away but not before driving me nuts. I got hearing test and luckily they told me my hearing was perfect.

    Then it came back again after my ear drum ruptured while I was sick and flying last November. My ear drum has since healed. I haven’t had a hearing test since the first one but I think it’s pretty much the same.

    I think the important thing for me has been not to beat myself up over it. I also know what makes it better and worse. I don’t drink caffeine anymore, for example. And I know when I get sick that my ringing gets worse. My coping mechanism has been to always have some sort of fan, music or radio going. I only notice it now at night before I go to bed and even then it’s pretty faint. If I avoid the caffeine and let the wax in my ear build up, it usually gets quieter and quieter.

    My father also has tinnitus like yours. It was kinda funny. One day I told him about the ringing and he said, “Oh yeah, I have that.” And I asked him for how long and he said since he was kid and it never went away. He didn’t seem to freak out of treat it like a disability, so I kind of followed his lead. Luckily my hearing is still pretty good so my situation is a bit different from yours.

    But yeah, what a relief to read this. You can scare yourself to death googling tinnitus!
    Courtney’s latest post: The App That Made Me Love CookingMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Courtney…I am so sorry you have to deal with that annoying ringing too! But I thank you for sharing your experience here. There are actually several of us who have tinnitus, and while I’d never wish it on anyone, sometimes it doesn’t seem quite so bad when you know that others have it too. Clearly it is quite common when three of my regular commenters have it.

      Knowing how to deal with it is key. Most of the time, I don’t notice it. It’s only on rare occasions, as I’m trying to get to sleep that it irritates me. But it is not the worst thing, either. At least your hearing is still good. That is a blessing. One does not necessarily come with the other. I hope that you will always have good hearing, that is for sure!

  5. says

    Really inspiring reading. Thank you for sharing your story. You share so many good points in this post, which I will remember for a long time:) Especially it was an eye-opener with your father also having tinnitus, but didn’t freak out about it, but had just accepted it.. Even though it must be tough. I am so glad to hear that your hearing is quite good today:)

    All the best,
    Carrymystyle.com

  6. says

    Its interesting how long it takes us to accept what cannot be changed & when that time comes find a workable solution. I’m glad you found something that works for you & allows you to hear the squeak of doors again. The things many of us take for granted or are annoyed by gives you a new found sense of joy. Thank you for sharing this with us, I’ll appreciate my squeaky doors for a few squeaks before I allow them to get on my nerves again :-)
    The Shoe Diva’s latest post: Tampa Blogger BrillianceMy Profile

  7. says

    Hey V, thank you for posting this- I too suffer from ear ringing- my mom has Meniere’s disease and is deaf in one ear, partially deaf in another. I see myself imitate her “fake listening” habits- you get tired of repeating Huh? over and over and still struggle to figure out what is being said. My ear ringing has gotten worse- so much so I wake up from the “pain” of it. I have just sort of suffered it thinking I have what my mom has, and no health insurance or money to see a doctor about it. Reading this, is kinda a wake up call (differing of course from the ringing ears wake ups) in that I need to go and check this out. It really is a shameful secret I keep, hoping nobody notices that I talk to loud most of the time, and prefer subtitles to everything.
    Bella Q’s latest post: Outfit Post: Garage #PlaidMy Profile

    • says

      Bella, thanks for sharing this. I’m sorry your tinnitus is so severe; it’s a very, very frustrating thing to have.

      I know this shameful secret…I used to carry it myself. As I noted in this post, finally, FINALLY, I thought: WHY AM I ASHAMED OF THIS? It’s not my fault or yours that we have hearing impairment. It’s no more our fault that we cannot hear at a normal level than it is that someone would be legally blind, or have freckles, or be born with a deformity. It is not something we do by choice. BUT, we do have the choice to stop beating ourselves up about it and fix it.

      No insurance is a tough place to be in, and I’ve been there too. But Bella, I’m hoping that you can start saving toward an exam, hearing test, and maybe even hearing aids. Even if you have to finance them. They are LIFESAVERS, and while they do not erase the ringing or make everything suddenly loud enough again, they give you some control and normalcy back. So you don’t have to feel bad asking your guy to repeat himself, or watch TV or movies with captions on. Or feel embarrassed when someone says something, three times, and you still don’t quite get it. They don’t make everything perfect, but honey, it’s a hell of a lot better. And for some reason, they “legitimize” the reason you ask someone to repeat what they are saying, even if that part is only for your (our) own mental state.

      Please keep me posted on how you go with this, and email me if you have any questions. It took me a good 10 years to get to this point. I should have accepted my impairment and gotten the hearing aids a lot sooner.

      xoxo

  8. says

    This year, I am wearing braces to correct some horribly crooked teeth (a reason you get the Victoria Beckham ish smile more often than a wide brim, because at times I feel like a little vampire) – I work with kids and they are the cruellest with their comments, telling me I am ridiculous; the only adult they know with braces (much laughter ensues). Happily, at the age I am at, I can see the long term benefits of this year of slight lisping and general teasing. I have so loved this series V – it’s a wonderful teaching in the benefits of being comfortable in your own skin.

    http://www.styleonthecouch.com
    styleonthecouch’s latest post: Friday Lingerie Lust: Fleur of England AW13My Profile

    • says

      Hi Sarah, thank you!

      Yes, as you know, kids are a tough crowd. I didn’t realize that they are your primary patients. But, as you said, it will be worth it in the long run! And hey, when you finally find that special someone, it makes you feel a lot better knowing they love you with the braces (or hearing aids!), or without.

  9. says

    This series so powerful. I am floored by your ability to share your thoughts and connect with the online world in such a real way.

    While I am terribly sorry to hear of the challenges you’ve faced, I commend you for being able to share such issues. Your readers (myself included) are better and stronger women and men for having read it.

    Thank you!
    Rachael @ Style Every Day’s latest post: STL Shops: Mister Guy Women’s Store {+ Giveaway}My Profile

    • says

      Hi Rachael, thank you so much. It means a lot to me that others feel like they can identify with these posts, at the least…so for anyone to feel better or stronger after having read them is such a compliment.

    • says

      HI Anja, thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad this resonated with you. And who is your friend that shared my blog? I’m always curious who is reading. Thank you both for your support!

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