When Your Ears Fail You…Again

It’s almost 12 Noon on a Wednesday, and all I can think is thank God everyone is gone for lunch, because there I am sitting at my desk crying.

My head rests heavily in my hands, hung in shame, defeat and despair. Hot tears escape and roll down my cheeks, leaving salty  rivulets upon my flushed cheeks before gathering in small, captive pools in palms. I play the voicemail one more time, listen to the words that, despite their polite tone, pierce me like ragged daggers.

“This is technically not true, because I’ve been here for 30 plus years,” the man on my phone says.

“This is 1946 not 1968,” he continues. “It wasn’t…X or Y…it was Z and M”…and so on and so forth.

It takes everything I have to stop myself from deleting the entire story and retreating to the shadowy cavern that is the underside of my desk. The story, after all, is written evidence that once again, my ears failed me, this time with hearing aids. And once again, I feel incapable, diminished, abnormal.

Writing is who I am, what I do…it is what I love. In college I struggled when reporting over the phone, and I made sure to do as many interviews as possible face-to-face. Out of 32 articles, only two were from over the phone. One was a grainy Skype session. In short, I was desperate to avoid any situation that meant relying 100-percent on my ears, because I knew, even then, that they would fail me. I didn’t have hearing aids then.

And as I transitioned into law school not five months later, my ears once again failed me. And no, I still did not have hearing aids. Noisy, cramped rooms full of argumentative law students, echoing ceilings and hard surfaces were NOT ideal. Luckily, only my torts class was such a room and I had been able to grab the front row seat. My professor was also male, and while I’m pretty sure he hated me, I at least was able to answer his questions, though I was never able to join discussions or understand my classmates–all that took place behind my back.

The courtroom observations were the worst. Let’s go over the important people I needed to hear and understand: judge, lawyers(4), witnesses, and another lawyer who was trying the case by phoning in. Want to guess how many had their backs to me (excusing the obvious cellular lawyer)? All. Want to guess how much I heard? Everything. Want to know how much I understood? Nothing. Was I able to write my assignment? Not really.

When I moved to St. Louis, I started interning at ALIVE magazine. It wasn’t what I loved, focusing on fashion and society, but it was a chance to write without needing my ears. I’m a good writer, maybe even a great one, and while the tasks I was assigned were a lot less writing than what I was used to at The Missourian, they were so readily welcomed due to the fact that they required no phone interviews and a lot of time spent in peaceful silence with just me, my computer and an overflowing inbox. When I started freelancing for the St. Louis Business Journal, phone interviews were inescapable. It was hard, and while I tried many times to confirm facts via email (just to be safe), there were times when it was all I could do not to cry in frustration. My typical reporting necessities at this point? A silent room, iPhone headphones, complete focus and my computer. I was struggling so hard to hear and understand that there was no energy or focus left to write. Typing my sources’ quotes and facts was essential when interviewing on the phone.

I struggled and cried so many times after those phone interviews, and yet I stubbornly still refused to get hearing aids. I blamed my phone, static, network reception and anything else I could, all the while secretly loathing my ears. There were even some dark moments when I contemplated just cutting them off so that at least their physical presence wouldn’t taunt me with their obvious inability to function correctly.

I needed my ears. I need my ears. I need them to hear conversation, understand words and take in details, quotes and observations all at once. I need them to work so that I can focus on writing. To be a reporter, I need to hear.

Until this afternoon, my ears had actually been ok. Hearing aids had helped them to function so that I could do what I love and do it well. For almost five months now, my ears had actually worked. I still struggled at times, and voicemails are still enemy number one, but until this afternoon, I thought I was doing good. In March when I got my hearing aids, my ability to communicate and comprehend speech was shocking when compared with the severity of the loss in each ear, but it didn’t make me in any way grateful for what I was capable of.

Five months of functioning ears with hearing aids had fooled me into a false sense of comfort and happiness. I wrote as though I was possessed, pushing out 10 or 20 articles the first month on the job. The more I wrote, the more I published, the more comfortable I got. The more confident, happy and normal I felt.

Perhaps it was not the voicemail itself that resulted in me crying at my desk, but the shock of being thrown backwards. I had come so far only to fall once more, to fail. For five months, I’d been “normal” and had done what I loved and been respected for it. Being thrown back to the point where I hated my ears, hated myself and hated the hearing loss I had been cursed with…it was simply too much. I couldn’t help asking myself how anyone was supposed to respect me now, and I couldn’t help entertaining the notion of giving up – if only for a moment.

It’s hard to explain to people with normal hearing, the feelings you experience when you can’t do what you want or as easily as everyone else is doing it. What it’s like to be different, need help…to not feel as capable as everyone around you. No one understands your struggle because it’s cause is invisible, and they don’t understand how you can hear but not understand. The mutual exclusivity is lost to those with normal hearing.

And when you have hearing loss and are able to grab a slimmer of hope, a semblance of normalcy, there are no words to express the earth-shattering despair you feel when it’s gone.

I’ve fallen off horses more times than I can count, have been thrown mercilessly into hard wooden walls, solid jumps and from various heights. I’ve had bones broken into pieces throughout my body, eight concussions, muscles pulled and strained to the point of excruciating pain and nerves sliced beyond repair. I’ve ridden a day after having my appendix taken out, and have had my recently busted kneecap slammed into a metal rail by a mercurial pony not three days post-sutures. And through all this, I’ve always been able to get up, get back on, and move forward. Without doubt, without tears, without any emotion whatsoever.

For 13 years, I did this and never once felt what I do now sitting at my desk, crying. What I feel every single time my ears fail me.

It’s impossible to explain to  you what it’s like to fail again after months of flying, to once again feel isolated and alone. But maybe, just maybe this will make more sense: Getting back on my horse after immediately shattering my wrist and riding for another hour…competing for 5 hours straight after damaging both lat muscles in my back, slamming my head against a solid wooden pole and then another 6 hours the next day…riding for two weeks straight, for ten hours a day after only a week post-op from an appendectomy…all of that, all the pain, is NOTHING compared to coming back from the dark place I end up when my ears fail and my hearing loss wins.

And the worst part is the irony.

My hearing loss is why I started writing. And it’s also what can keep me from doing it.

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