I’ve been falling apart since about 2006 when I quit smoking. I’m not sure if I’m falling apart because I quit smoking or just as part of the normal process of aging but it’s annoying as hell.
Today, I want to talk about hearing loss and how it’s changed my life. Pretty profoundly, to tell the truth, and more profoundly than I care to admit. I have chronic Meniere’s disease, and it’s robbing me of my hearing. Mostly lower frequency sounds on the left, but overall hearing is affected. (It also causes vertigo, general disequilibrium, tinnitus, and migraines. But I digress.) As a person who has always depended on aural cues before visual ones, this sucks. As a person who has always had a deep and meaningful relationship with music, it sucks even more.
When you can’t hear properly, there are a lot of microfrustrations in your life. (copying after Microagressions, it’s not anything huge, but it’s death from 10000 paper cuts)
You can’t hear people talking to you clearly. You ask them to repeat themselves. They do. Maybe you hear it that time, maybe you don’t. But you usually don’t ask again, because it’s annoying to have someone going “WHAT??? WHAT????” to you. Nobody wants to be that person. So you miss stuff. Eventually, you start trying to decide if the conversation you are missing is one you can just get by without hearing, because you are so tired of asking people to repeat themselves or talk louder or more distinctly. So you miss things. People talk to you and you nod and smile and hope you didn’t miss anything important. The aural world parts in front of you and sweeps past. You’re a human median strip with traffic diverting around you while you stand there, clueless.
You can’t hear the TV. (movies are not an issue yet, thankfully. They’re usually TOO loud, in ways I’ll get to later) You can’t hear people talking on the radio. You don’t want to turn it up loud enough so that you can actually hear it, because it would be blaring too loudly for the people who share your space.
You miss things in music. You can’t really hear the intricacies like you used to. I’m fortunate enough to have recently gotten a really great pair of headphones (Bass Buds, highly recommended) but the balance is off because the left ear is mainly the problem. You wonder when you’re singing if you’re actually singing on key. Fortunately I don’t sing publicly enough for that to be an issue. You don’t bother trying to play piano any more. Your scheme to start an independent business tuning pianos dies. (for more reasons than the Meniere’s but if you can’t hear, you can’t tune, end of story.) Sometimes you just cry because you know you’re eventually going to lose it all and you remember Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, laying his head on the case of the grand piano to hear what little of the sound he could experience. It’s fucking depressing.
Having most of the hearing loss in one ear and mostly lower register is also interesting. I think my brain has learned to some degree how to filter things somewhat, but being in a crowd or being somewhere there’s a lot of competing noise is absolutely excruciating for me. Everything comes in through the right ear and it’s jumbled and difficult and headache-inducing. High pitched sounds are awful. Low pitched ones are indistinguishable. Movies can be very difficult. It sucks.
I also get a sore neck from tilting my head so I can point the right ear towards the sound.
I’m dealing with it, and I’ll continue to deal with it. I never realized, though, how isolating hearing loss is. It makes me have a lot more understanding. Sometimes I feel like I’m becoming a desert island, but without the comforting sound of the surf. The seagulls, I can hear. At least for now.