Did you know that I was named after Lindsay Wagner, the Bionic Woman?
Well in a strange turn of events, this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And mark the tipping point in journey that spanned the course of twenty-one years. A journey that was full of paradoxical emotions; one in which I experienced intense joy, but also immeasurable pain. I accessed an inner strength, fortitude and will to survive that I didn’t know existed, but then found myself in the depths of despair and losing the will to move forward. And finally, I gained clarity, perspective and even started to uncover my life’s true purpose, but also spent many days confused, scared and so consumed by what was happening to me, that I became physically and emotionally detached from the world around me.
I’ve got a story to tell.
Like to “hear” it?
Well “hear” it goes….
January 5, 2017
“Your hearing has significantly diminished to the point that hearing aids are no longer an option.”
“You have 4% word recognition in your left ear, which means that you understand relatively 4% of the words spoken in a conversation.”
“We can give you a cochlear implant in your right ear, but there is a chance that you will never hear words out of that ear, just sounds.”
2017 was supposed be a “new chapter,” a fresh start, new beginning, my “tabula rasa” after a horrible, exhausting, unpredictable and life-altering 2016. But after a fateful trip to the audiologist in early January, this year was shaping up to be everything but a clean sweep. Yet again, I was placed in a small, sterile and sound-proof room with only a clicker and a chair to keep me company. I stared blankly at the audiologist as robotic sounds that I used to recognize as real words were streaming into my headphones; sounds that served as a horrible reminder that my auditory command of the English language was slowly slipping away.
At that exact moment, the life I once knew as a healthy, vibrant and active mom of three was gone. That woman sitting in that chair over there? You know the one that lost her hearing and love for life all in one sucker punch to the gut? She was a stranger, someone I hardly recognized and honestly, was so wrapped up in her own negative thoughts, that even I would have avoided her at the afterschool potluck.
I read an incredibly moving, thought-provoking and revolutionary novel called “A Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, Vicktor Frankl recounts the time he spent in a Nazi concentration camp and how he and other humans managed to survive a subhuman existence. He states:
“The prisoner who has lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay.”
To paraphrase; when humans lose hope, they are pretty much as good as dead.
Okay, so I didn’t literally keel over and croak in the middle of the audiologist’s office that day, but my positivity, love of life and “faith in the future,” started to quickly erode the day I walked out of that building. By the end of the month, my hope for better hearing and a better life, was dead.
I often asked myself, “How the hell did I get here?”
You are probably wondering the same exact thing.
I wasn’t always a 38-year-old exhausted Mom of three, enduring the daily struggles of Lyme disease and living with profound hearing loss.
While technically my life story began the day I came nto the world (via C-section because apparently my stubborn nature was cultivated inside the womb), but in the interest of time, I’m going to fast forward to age 17 when I experienced by first bout of profound hearing loss.
But right before that, I was your typical teenage girl, focused on boyfriends, Friday night keg parties and most importantly, what I was going to wear each week for free dress day at my Catholic High school. Go Cougars! I had (and still do) a great group of girlfriends, enjoyed my classes (especially those that took place at the neighboring brother school) and relished in every single opportunity make my teachers’ lives a living hell. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t a total a**hole. The reality was that I really liked and respected most of my teachers. So much so that I became one in my mid-twenties. But the opportunity to do something totally immature and stupid, rather than focus on my classwork, was just too damn tempting. And who could blame me? I did have to hang out with chicks all day. I was determined to make the most of it.
Cut to Christmas time of my junior year. An otherwise uneventful trip to Tahoe would actually go down in family history as it marked the beginning of a twenty-one year long journey full of hearing problems and unanswered questions. I woke up one morning and could not hear out of my right ear. But because I was 17, resilient, gave “zero f*cks” about anything except boys, snowboarding and my social life, I shrugged my shoulders and went on with my business completely unaware of the shit storm that was brewing. Based on the theory surmised by my ear doctors’ that I had water in my ear, for months I relied on the hearing in my left and pretty much subsisted on Sudafed. While there wasn’t a lot of sleep happening at that time, on a positive note, I did ace my geometry class that semester because I was hopped up on legal speed and was actually paying attention instead of throwing tampons across the room. They were UNUSED and still in their package you sicko. Anyway, when the Sudafed did not help my situation, my parents took me to an audiologist and their worst fears had come to fruition—I was completely deaf. Like completely. And I say my “parent’s worst fears” because again I was 17 and as long as I could still go to Prom, smoke a little weed and hit up Blockbuster, a little hearing loss was not going to get me down.
I then went to see a specialist in L.A who confirmed that yes, I was deaf. Thank you Captain Obvious… but he was unable to provide a reason for the fact that I was an otherwise healthy 17-year old girl who went completely deaf overnight. It’s freaking strange don’t you think? He chalked it up to a virus and sent me on my way.
After that visit, I pretty much went on to live a normal, fulfilling and completely happy existence, with moderate adjustments to my daily life. Like now my friends would have epic battles over who would get to sit on the “good side” at the movie theater. If you sat on my right side you were forced to actually watch the movie. No mid-movie side convos or snickering during the love scenes. I basically used my sick humor to deal with the situation and was relatively unaffected by the whole thing. We danced, went to parties, toilet papered houses, cried over break-ups and laughed over the ridiculous things I would say or do when someone was talking to me on my right side. If you asked me a question which elicited a “yes” or “no” response, I may just answer you with my life story. One time, while my friends and I were at a party, some dude sitting to the right of me, who was probably just trying to make casual conversation (poor soul) asked me what I was doing later. I said “Carondelet.” Because apparently, I thought he asked me what school I went to.
So, the awkward as f*ck exchange went something like this:
Poor dude: “Hey, what are you doing later?”
Half-deafie: “Yeah, cool. Carondelet.”
I never did live that one down.
I graduated, went to college, then to grad school, then earned a teaching credential. I went on to get married to an awesome dude who has loved me (deaf and all) and has taken care of me during the worst of times. We had two beautiful girls and one little surprise on the way. I did it all with one-sided hearing loss and it didn’t affect me or my quality of life.
But on April 27th, 2016 everything was about to change. I gave birth to my beautiful, crazy and perma-grin baby buddha. Even though I was incredibly sore, exhausted and emotional thinking about how the heck I was going to raise three kids while sitting on a hemorrhoid pillow, I felt okay. And I was happy. Stressed, but happy.
And then it happened. The single event that would ignite this entire exhausting and isolating journey. While talking to my Mom in the kitchen and lamenting over the fact that I was extremely exhausted and permanently hungry, the hearing in my left ear went out. Not completely, but enough to worry. I prayed that it was just a fluke, a weird reaction to the birth, or maybe, just maybe there was really water in the ear this time and I would get to go back on the legal speed! But after numerous doctor’s visits, tests, medications (which included enough oral steroids to kill a Clydesdale), my hearing never returned.
At this point, I felt exhausted, scared and defeated. A thousand and one questions and thoughts flooded my mind throughout the day, to the point that I couldn’t focus on anything but my fear. It felt as if a horrible horror movie was playing on repeat in my mind and I couldn’t even cover my eyes (no need to cover my ears!) during the scary parts.
“How am I going to hear my baby when he cries in the middle of the night?”
“Will I ever have a normal conversation with my husband?”
“What if I NEVER hear my kids again?” Yes I know there are times this seems like an absolute blessing, but trust me. It’s not.
“How am I going to live like this?”
I’m also pretty sure that I had post-partum depression and was insanely hormonal, so I did consider the following:
“What if Freddy Kruegar breaks down the door in the middle of the night and I obviously don’t hear it and he ends up ruining our dreams and scratching our eyes out?”
Just google him if you were born after 1985.
After weeks of sobbing, screaming and drowning my sorrows in bad reality television and Talenti, I somehow found clarity. It’s like I literally woke up one morning and was hit with a lightning bolt like one of the X-men. I said to myself, “You’re 37 dammit, you have three amazing children and you have an amazing life that deserves to be lived. I have got to make this work!”
And so I did.
I went back to the audiologist, got fitted with some ultra-stylish red hearing aids that matched my hair and began my new life trying to make handi-capable look stylish and fun. And after months of practice, something funny happened—I started to actually embrace and enjoy my new normal. Of course, there were times that I would look back at my former, healthy and unencumbered life and long for the days when my biggest issue was whether my youngest daughter went poop on the potty at school. But for the most part, life was copasetic, my baby was getting older (and sleeping through the night) and we were falling back into a well-deserved routine.
That is until December 28, 2016.
I woke up at 4 a.m. that morning with a loud ringing in my ear and intense dizziness. I nudged my husband awake and almost projectile vomited when he started talking to me and he sounded like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons. I shot out of bed, flipped on the switch and began sobbing. I just knew. My left ear, my work horse, the one I completely relied upon for every bit of sound that entered my life was dying. And so was the life I once knew and loved. Gone are the days of listening to the beautiful noise of my kids playing while I was folding laundry in the next room. Casual conversation about life, kids or the most recent celebrity breakup with my girlfriends without one of them screaming in my face or lip reading? Bye Felicia. And I never did get to hear the sweet melody of my son’s baby gibberish—you know the kind that starts with a couple “da-da’s” and “baa-baa’s” and magically one day evolves into something that actually resembles the English language. But out of all the things that have been taken from me along with my hearing, what I knew I was going to miss most was the ability to pick up the phone after a really crappy day and talk to the one person that could make everything wrong in the world right again—my Mom. She could solve the Iranian/Palestinian conflict in a couple hours if given the opportunity. Seriously.
So after my hearing had gone out for the second time, I knew sh%t was about to get real. Like really real. I went back to the audiologist, who yet again put me back in that sterile, sound-proof room. But this time I stared at her blankly for what seemed like eternity. There were barely any sounds coming into my headphones and words sounded more like a bunch of disgruntled robots doing dishes. Because I had so many damn hearing tests prior to this, I just knew the results were going to be bad. And they were. The audiologist confirmed that I had only a 4% word recognition in my supposedly “good ear.” That meant that I could only understand roughly 4% of the words that were spoken to me during a conversation.
I left that day feeling like I had been sucker punched by life. I don’t think I had ever felt so vulnerable, so alone. Like I was the only one in the universe who at 38 and with three kids, lost her health and hearing. There was not a single soul on the planet who could identify with my pain. Did you know that there is actually a therapeutic term for this feeling? It’s called “the fallacy of uniqueness.” Yep, I felt “unique” all right. Like the freaking bearded lady at the carnival with three boobs and the ability to burp “Today was a good day” by Ice Cube on command.
However, after months of worry, sadness, weight loss (damn I was looking svelte) and too many sleepless nights, I finally qualified for a cochlear implant. While I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the thought of having a metal plate stuck in my head and months of occupational therapy, someone was finally dangling a carrot of hope in my face and I would stupid not to bite the crap out of it.
So, I’m getting a brand new bionic ear! I have all the feels—I’m scared, hopeful, shitting my pants, giddy with excitement, worried about the recovery but ready for that puppy to be turned on so that I may have the opportunity to watch television without the subtitles. In the meantime, I’m going to do what I always do, stay extremely distracted (not hard), write down my feelings and make completely awkward Facebook Live videos that will keep me (and hopefully you!) entertained.
Wow I feel 20 pounds lighter. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you.
Stay tuned next week where I’ll explain what a cochlear implant is and how it works! I’ll will also answer some of the most common questions that I get asked (and then some). And then the following week, I’ll take you in the room with me where you and I will experience what it is like to hear for the first time in TWENTY-ONE YEARS!
Not much of a reader, then listen to my story instead! Captions available!
So what are my favorite recipes, health and lifestyle tips, products and kid-related stuff?
Follow me on Pinterest!
I just created a board called “Health for Hearing Loss” with tips for coping with the sucky days, as well as memes and personal stories.
And once again, I’m so sick of talking about myself. Do you have a story to tell? I would love to “hear” it.
Let’s chat! Post a comment below or message me!