I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to take my personality, my intelligence, my accomplishments, my ambition, my ego and put them all behind a gauzy thick wall that mutes most voices and distorts the sounds of everyday life. The siren could be a whistle or a baby screaming or someone’s worn out rear brakes, I won’t know until the ambulance crosses the street in front of me.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to stop the waves of self-pity, the dejectedness I feel when I realize that once again I have missed the point of an important conversation or become the target of loved ones’ exasperation with my having heard them wrong one time too many today. Until death do us part skipped the part about the burden of a disability suffered by the partner who doesn’t have it.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to breathe through my hearing loss like the nurse told me to breathe through contractions, how to accept what can’t be changed but not give an inch away too early, how to look at people when they are talking, how to fully concentrate on them, take each word one at a time, see it formed, watch hands showing, illustrating. I have been spoiled by the expectation of casual conversation, the challenge of finding the best argument, winning.

I wasn’t prepared for this. No one told me how to find other ways to be smart, different ways to be competent and capable, strong and steady, and how to resist the magnet of dependency, how to be honest about what I can no longer do well but courageous about what I can still do if I am not afraid, but I am always afraid, in my heart, of failing, of not being the person I was ten years ago or five.

But then I think who am I to think I should have been specially prepared for hearing loss? There are so many people who truly were blindsided by terrible conditions, limbs lost in war, speech lost in strokes, catastrophic blindness, extreme depression, all things coming out of the blue. That’s not what happened to me. My hearing loss crept up on me, a bit at a time, until the lines on the graph headed ever and ever more downward. In my head, a constant sound plays, like water running through a pipe, sometimes there is a humming accompaniment, a secret din. I look at people talking to me and want to say, you have no idea how loud it is in here.

Every day I remember that there are many worse things. I tell myself that it is up to me whether I see myself as broken. It is up to me to handle this in a way that keeps hearing loss from being the cancer that ends my career and hobbles my relationships.

It is my job to be stronger than the thing that is crippling me.

38 Comments on “Blindsided

  1. Reblogged this on Red's Wrap and commented:

    Six years ago, someone threw a rope ladder over the side of the very deep well where I had been living for years. And I climbed out. My cochlear implant was activated. This piece was written a year before my implant when I was overwhelmed with the loss that is hearing loss. It’s so much more profound that most people imagine. Deadly even. Now, I’m on the other side. Hearing isn’t perfect but I am able to be a person in the world again.

  2. Reblogged this on Red Said What? and commented:
    RED’S WRAP SAID WHAT?…Blindsided

    Jan Wilberg, another “Red” and fellow 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year was awarded for this piece about strength in the face of adversity. I had the opportunity to meet Jan at the BlogHer reception. She is lovely, as is her blog. Enjoy!

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  4. This taught me so much in such a concise piece–well done! I love your perspective too. Congratulations on your VOTY!

  5. How marvelously naive we were when we were young. I don’t think I was particularly dense when I was young, but I sure didn’t see what was coming. I knew I was likely to get old, but a young person just doesn’t understand what that actually means. I didn’t know I would spend several decades experiencing the range of insults time works on us as we age. I didn’t “get it” that becoming old is mostly about losing stuff: strength, beauty, flexibility, sex, friends and our ability to perceive the world with eyes and ears and touch. But it goes, doesn’t it? If we are lucky enough to hang around a long time, we experience a great deal of loss. I now make a study of people who are aging, trying to decide what good things they are doing that I might do and what unfortunate things I should avoid.

    Hearing is the first sense I have begun losing. Vision isn’t far behind, but my hearing loss is getting severe. The sense I want to hang on to most fiercely? Sense of humor.

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  7. congrats on a well-crafted piece. You must let your abilities conquer any disabilities. your written word certainly does that. We hear you loud and clear. Kudos.

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  9. Jan, this was stunning. All the pain, angst, anger, sadness, heartbreak… all the emotions are so palpable here. It is so honest and raw and accessible. I felt like I got an authentic glimpse into your lived truth. Thank you for that. Beautifully written.

  10. I’m terrified of hearing loss. We used to play this game, WWYRD, which would you rather do, in which you had to choose between two equally unpleasant options. Between vision loss and hearing loss it was no contest for me, because words are how I understand the world mostly and stay connected with it. When I was picking my first Medicare Advantage program just last month, I went for the one that covered part of hearing aids. I still can’t believe that hearing and vision correction aren’t at the top of our health care priority list.

    • Chris – I would always pick not hearing over not seeing.:) Can you imagine how many millions of people there are with hearing loss with no insurance coverage? And how many jobs are just impossible to do if you can’t hear? It’s just nuts that hearing aids and glasses and the tests that go with them aren’t covered.

  11. But even though this hearing loss crept up on you, I get the sense that you really didn’t see it coming. That’s what I loved about this post–it’s so emotionally charged, so complex yet so simple. Really lovely.

  12. You put the things my mother has been trying to tell me for years, so eloquently. I feel so sorry and so much closer to her. Thank you so much. Just keep braving on, the way you are now. 🙂

    • Give my regards to your mom. Tell her she has a comrade out here in internet land. And thank you for your kind words.

  13. Thanks for sharing this. My mom has been steadily losing her hearing since she was about (eep) my age. She doesn’t often talk about how it feels for her, but once after a radio special on hearing loss, she started to put words to how tiring it is to be constantly striving to hear, to never being sure if people are saying what they’re saying, to always reminding me to get on her good side. I really appreciate reading more about how this feels, and hope I can be more empathetic.

    • It’s so hard to describe to other people. Please tell your mother that I completely and totally know what she’s talking about and give her my regards.

  14. Hello! I’m so glad you decided to link up with yeah write! This post addresses such a universal fear, and when it’s gradual (as opposed to a sudden accident, etc) we have the time to sink into mourning as opposed to immediately deal with the new reality. Wonderful post!

  15. This was beautiful. You captured so well how life changes and we must adapt. It all comes to a head with your line, “You have no idea how loud it is in here.”

  16. I think your writing is wonderful. I know that one thing doesn’t make up for another but I wanted that to be the first thing I said. We are often unprepared for the changes life throws at us but how we handle them makes all the differences. Writing out the fears and feelings of loss are so important. You’ve written about this beautifully here.

    • Thank you Michelle and thank you for having that be the first thing you said. You’re right. It’s becoming almost the more important thing for me.

  17. Thanks, Jan. This is poetic It resonates. Sorry for your struggles with your hearing loss. This seems to be the year I wasn’t ready for either. Blessings.

  18. so difficult.. none of us are ever really prepared for age, to change, to not be our promised younger selves. but we cope, we adapt, we cry a bit but still appreciate what we’ve got and keep going.

  19. I have read a lot of posts, but this is the first where I am having difficulty seeing what I am writing because of the tears. Where I have to stop responding because it is impossible to sob and write. I remember writing over and over in my journal that it was so frustrating to do everything right but still not be able to have the life I had lost. Just like you I know I am not the only one to face the loss of a life as we once had. But our loss is still real, and the grief we feel still comes up when we least expect it and blind sides us with sobs and anger – and sometimes self-pity. I am so sorry, Jan, for your loss. I wish with all my heart you didn’t have to face it because I think I understand how hard it is for you. And tomorrow we will cloth ourselves in strength and courage and face life with guts and determination. Because we cried together tonight, tomorrow I will take a deep breath and be able to start trimming the Christmas tree. We will not give up.

    • No – we won’t give up. We will just make something new. And that’s a good thing, right? Better than being in a place of constant mourning. I have to catch myself so often and get my wheels back on the track.

      • I agree. But I too get into the pity party mode every so often, but it is a lonely party so I don’t stay long. 🙂

  20. I was with my mom when she had a hearing test. In addition to the “raise your hand when you hear the beep” stuff, they asked her questions about how the hearing loss affected her life. I remember her responses when they asked her if she was embarrassed and frustrated when she couldn’t hear.
    All this is to say that I was marginally prepared when the same condition stole some of my hearing. I was marginally prepared for the anger my husband feels when he can’t hear me and vice versa. But I don’t think you are ever really prepared, especially for how much you hear in your head when you can’t hear outside of it.
    Very well told, Jan.

    • That last sentence says so much — “how much you hear in your head when you can’t hear out of it.” Right on the money. It’s nice to hear, so to speak.

  21. I’ve always thought losing my sight and not being able to read would be the worst, but really losing any of our senses or even just having them dulled would leave a gap. I’m grateful when you write about your hearing loss, it helps me better understand some of the squabbling my father’s hearing loss has caused between him and my mom.

    • Yes – hearing loss puts a lot of stress on relationships — communication becomes such work — not just with spouses but with kids as well.

  22. Those words expelled with such passion, pain and sadness . Thank you for sharing and also preparing any of those who might read your post some prompts on how to manage loss of something that so many take for granted. I don’t have permanant hearing loss but I’ve had ear issues all my life and many times I walk about in my muffled world just praying for my ears to pop( sometimes it can be weeks. The many around me joke at my expense as if it’s a fun for me or something . Forgive their ignorance I tell myself, sure! But I sure do sleep better :).

  23. You have taught me so much through your writing on this particular topic, and I respect your vulnerability and honesty so hard right now.

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