How I Hear by Michele


What identity have I chosen as my own?  This question came after reading Kim’s blog “On Developing A ‘deaf, not Deaf’ Identity…” posted May 1, 2008.  For me, the answer to that question is still up in the air and a big part of the reason I joined the SayWhatClub is so that I can better define myself in relation to being HOH. The only thing I know for sure is that no two identities can ever be the same. We are snowflakes in the world of”Abnormal Hearing.” We each lose our hearing under different circumstances, at different ages, and at different rates. How we deal with that loss and how we learn to cope, also varies greatly from individual to individual. However, I think we all face some of the same issues that confront anyone who cannot hear normally.

I have always been a writer and a reader. It is how I dealt with troubling occurrences in my childhood and teenage years. Several years ago I began writing again, and in doing so, I placed my life under the microscope to be examined. I learned many interesting things about myself that I had never realized, both hearing related and not, and also recalled wonderful memories long forgotten. Wonderful, but because they were knit together with other memories that were traumatic, I locked them away. It was the beginning of defining myself and also the beginning of my appreciation for how my hearing loss had contributed to making me, “Me.” It was through writing that
discovery came.

A telling title .. One particular literary friend and I became reacquainted after a thirty-three year absence in each other’s lives. We wrote to one another furiously at first, but after the first year and a half my friend become so taxed at reading and replying to my emails, as he had developed vision problems that made typing and seeing the keyboard difficult, he rarely replied at all anymore. Being the accommodating soul I am (because I give what I want in return), I tried several versions of voice chat, but was very limited in what I heard during our voice conversations. Frustrated with our lack of communication, I was left to wonder, “Where is the literary soul I have reconnected with disappearing to?” I missed talking with my friend, which prompted me to write a detailed explanation, an attempt for him to understand how challenged I was at voice communicating. This was also a time of a marked dip in my hearing and I was giving into those feelings of self-pity and grieving for the hearing I had recently lost. I have found self-pity and grief are normal to the process of losing one’s hearing, and also that they can come quite unexpectedly. Just as unexpectedly as a hearing dip can show itself.

I recently re-read that detailed explanation of how I hear, written all those years ago to my friend, and I realized something. My identity, how I define myself, is more evident in the title I chose for the piece, “This Is How I Hear”, than in any of the labels I have tried on over the years. Of all the things I might have focused on in choosing a title — not hearing, being hard of hearing, being hearing impaired, being disabled, being handicapped — I instead focused on explaining exactly how I hear in the world, and on describing what that world is like.  If I thought one label would uniformly convey “me” to the world I would use it, but how do you put the many aspects of hearing abnormally into one label?  Like a snowflake, no two of us are alike.

And so … This is how I hear.

Imagine standing beside a railroad track in a quiet, secluded, and peaceful setting. You are taking in all that is wonderful in the world.  Not only the sounds, but also the smells and the views — every aspect of it. You are savoring every sensation, looking at the world with your senses wide opened, marveling at how truly great it is to be alive!

Then … you hear it! It begins as a soft rumble in the distance, a faint vibration on the tracks. Slowly your senses shift their focus and you are excited slightly, for who doesn’t love a “passing” train?   Who doesn’t love the cadence of the wheels on the tracks, a wave from the conductor, or the colorful graffiti on the cars? Your excitement escalates as the train gets closer. Nearer and nearer it comes. You see it in the distance, and the closer it gets, the louder it sounds, and as it is upon you, it drowns out all else. You may even need to cover your ears as it passes, it is so deafening, but the sensation is more than sound. You feel the vibration of it. It is almost as if the train is passing through you. It takes over your every sense, dominates with its presence. Finally, the end comes into view and the train leaves much in the same way it came — gradually, steadily. You listen as it fades into silence once more, leaving you free to focus on
your surroundings as before.

The train passed, but while it was there it grabbed your attention. Your mind and senses were no longer taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of that peaceful, tranquil setting. Your mind and senses were taken up with the train’s presence. It commanded your attention!

In my world, the train rarely passes, and who can ignore a passing train, let alone one that is ever present? Mostly, life, for me, is like a train that never passes. Life is noisy and I am constantly trying to hear past that train, which virtually is impossible. The concentration it takes is exhausting, so much so, that sometimes I just wish I would lose all of my hearing and get it over with. That is terrible, and I am always sorry for the thought, but the frustration of not hearing pushes me to that point. If you are watching television and the station goes off the air, and you wake up to just the fuzz and static, isn’t it annoying after a bit?  Don’t you get up and turn it off? That is what I want sometimes, just to get up and turn it off!

When it is quiet I can hear most anything…

0 thoughts on “How I Hear by Michele

  1. Michele,
    I’ve heard many analogies over the years. The train that can’t be turned off, the ever present static– yeah– that’s it!!! Hearing loss is so hard to describe. I love what you wrote here. Thanks.

  2. wow, this was beautifully written, very descriptive…and now I can see, it would be hard to not be able to turn the tv off. Thank you for this.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Kim and Val. I believe that losing my hearing is part of what enables me to write so descriptively. I want people to “see” what I am describing. My detailed explanation was much longer and I am including the remainder here…

    When it is quiet I can hear most anything. Of course I don’t hear high pitched noises and some sounds are distorted, but if I can’t hear something in the way that it actually sounds, I can at least put what I am hearing together with the way I remember it to be. My hearing can’t be enhanced simply by turning up the volume. I hear the loudness of things, but when more than one sound is present, the “bad” sounds drown out the “good” sounds. Turning up the volume only distorts sound even more. I don’t need to go through life at a higher volume, in fact, if anything I need the volume turned down.

    Just sitting here typing at 4:00 AM it is soooooooooooo noisy! I hear the furnace, the refrigerator, the hum of the computer… and all of those sounds would make it almost impossible to hear someone speak to me. To tune out those noises, because they are so predominant, takes so much concentration. It isn’t a wonder that I am often exhausted. I never really realized that was related to my hearing loss until I went to a seminar on Cochlear Implants a while back. I was listening to woman describe how utterly exhausted she was to have to concentrate so hard just to get through her day. Everyone I met there described something that was such a part of me, things that I didn’t even associate with hearing loss until that very moment. It was all so much that I just lost it and started to cry at the realization.

    It has been explained to me that the muscle that contracts to guard your inner ear against loud sounds doesn’t work in my ear, so I hear the loudness of things more so than a normal person. I am hard of hearing, but more sensitive to sound than normal. It is contradictory and people don’t understand it. I constantly encounter people shouting at me once I tell them I am hard of hearing. Then, when I explain further that I don’t need them to talk loud, only to speak slower, clearer, and to get my attention before they start speaking, it sometimes almost makes them angry. Like I am blaming them for my not being able to hear, or that I think they are stupid and need a detailed explanation of what I need from them, like they were a child. Neither is true, but there are an awful lot of insecure people in the world who see any question as to the way they do things as an attack on themselves. I can’t worry about that, I have enough problems of my own.

    And so, a lot people just don’t bother. I have told some very rude people off because of their behavior. They say things like, “Hey, I am talking to you.”, etc. A father (someone who knew I was hearing impaired) of another player on my daughter’s soccer team couldn’t seem to get my attention as I was talking with a group of other parents during a practice. He stood next to me, wanting my attention, but didn’t say anything. When I didn’t acknowledge him as soon as he would have liked, he kicked me. It was all I could do not to knock his lights out. LOL But instead, I carefully and thoughtfully explained that if he needed my attention he should approach me as he would any hearing person, and that I didn’t appreciate being kicked. I learned a long time ago not to let people make me feel inferior because of my hearing loss, but it doesn’t always take. I have times when I feel so vulnerable. It hurts to feel disregarded by the world, and sometimes that disregard morphs into feeling discarded. I am not explaining this to make you feel that I feel discarded by you, I don’t, but I do want you to know why I do get my feelings hurt sometimes when I am not accommodated. When you aren’t whole, aren’t perfect, people have a problem with you. You sometimes are too much trouble to deal with. You inconvenience them. Not everyone is like that, and it isn’t even intentional, for the most part, but it is the reason I am overly sensitive when I am not accommodated.

    I try so very hard to hear, but unfortunately hearing isn’t something you can be successful at just through effort. I hate that! I hate that I can’t hear just by my shear determination! There isn’t much I can’t do and I will try anything, but that doesn’t apply to hearing. I have tried everything available that might help me, all the latest technology. The only thing left to do is to get a Cochlear Implant, but I am afraid to do that. I am afraid that one day I will regret having a hole drilled in my cochlea. What if something more wonderful comes along, but I won’t be able to benefit from it because once you have a hole in your cochlea you can’t repair it? I am afraid (have been told this by one audiologist) that I will go through the surgery, mapping, and adjustment period only to find that it isn’t working for me and that I have given up my residual hearing for nothing. I am afraid I will ruin the exterior component since I sweat a lot and getting it wet is not a good thing. All I have to do is think about doing anything physical and I sweat, and so I couldn’t wear the exterior component when I might be doing something that would make me perspire, and that would be most of the time. I refuse to give up another thing for my hearing loss, I just won’t! It is so much to consider and I have looked at it from every angle and the final decision comes down to knowing that I have such a hard time adjusting to hearing aids and the same would probably be true for the implant. Also, insurance will only pay to have it done in one ear. I have tried one hearing aid at a time and it is very irritating to hear unevenly. My loss is bilateral, so I basically hear at the same level in both ears. All of those fears combined lead me to believe that the implant is not for me. At least not now.

    When I talk on the phone, I am not hearing everything that is said. I pull a few words out of every sentence and then my mind goes to work trying to put them together with whom I am speaking to, the subject being discussed, what was said previously, and what might be said in relation to what has already been said. Whew!! Does that make sense? To me it does. Anyway, I am good at figuring out what has been said, or close to it–not by hearing, but by brain power. It is the probably the single most reason that I can’t hear with hearing aids. In fact, I am so good at speech discrimination in sentences that I still test in the 90th percentile, though I do extremely poor with word discrimination. My audiologist said she would never believe I was as severely impaired as I am if she didn’t know better herself. It has been explained, that to adjust to hearing with an aid I would have to give up that ingrained ability to figure things out. When I try hearing aids it is a battle between my auditory nerve and my brain. I guess part of the reason for my lack of success with hearing aids is my own fear. It is hard to give up what has worked for you for a lifetime. I have tried hearing aids (several different models over the last year) but find I get very limited results. I can hear the bells and dings in my car, or the person in the next stall tinkling, but I don’t find that speech (what I need) is clearer. Some hearing aid settings have made me dizzy, nauseous, prone to migraines, and have made me feel as if my brain is scrambled. I just have not been able to hone in on a good setting. Or maybe it is just all me?

    Hearing the way I hear, also affects the timing in a conversation. Most people don’t pause long enough for me to figure out what they just said, and so I can’t keep up. They are going on to the next sentence before I have had time to digest the previous one. I could not hear normally when you knew me, as a child. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t hear like everyone else. I could never hear the teacher at the head of the class, but never knew that everyone else could. The way I hear is normal for me because I haven’t known anything different and because my loss, for the most part, has been so gradual I adjusted to the changes without knowing I was adjusting.

    I guess realizing that our situation, with regards to communication, may have no solution makes me frustrated. It leaves me a bit hopeless. Hopeless, because I can’t hear well enough to understand everything I need to understand when we voice chat, and hopeless because if I write to you and you never answer there are things about you that will always remain a mystery to me.

    Well, I am going to go since that lump in my throat is back. I have been kind of at a low point since my hearing has taken a nose dive over the past months. I realize that I am hanging onto a hearing world that isn’t willing to take the time I need to make itself understood. Poor me… LOL I get this way on occasion and it really has little to do with you. When something shines a spotlight on the fact that not hearing stinks, I have a pity party. I try to focus on all that my hearing loss has taught me, the good things about it, for there are good things. Things I have shared with you. Things such as experiencing “all that a whisper is”, a heightened perception, looking at the world with other senses, etc. But, I can only delude myself to the fact that not hearing isn’t all good for so long, and when it hits me it also like a train. I feel like I have been gut-punched, it takes my breath away, and I panic. I feel a bout of self pity coming on and so I think I will go for a bike ride today. I am thankful that I learned the gift of how to make myself feel better. I think my depression, in a big way, is linked to my hearing loss. That is what I choose to believe anyway, as it makes me feel better to think that I have a good reason to be depressed rather than just being crazy. Please don’t feel responsible for my feeling low, you really have little to do with it. It is something I struggle with constantly, but thankfully I have a good attitude. I choose to focus on what is right with my life instead of what is wrong, and when that becomes impossible, I go do something that I love. So you see, even my feeling bad brings about good things and allows me to enjoy my life more.

  4. <<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>> I so know what u mean Michele…..I can so relate to what u wrote as I go thru the same exact motions with people, sounds and frustrations. thank u so much for sharing this.

  5. Hi Michele,

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this. I love the way you presented this touching story to define your type of hearing loss. Anyway, I have minor hearing loss since I was born. Do you mind sharing more of your experiences on my blog too?


  6. Thanks for sharing your experience. Good writing. Am hard of hearing, I lost part of my hearing in serious accident. I felicitate am still alive. That accident made me more care about my life. I recently join a deaf dating site . I met some friends who has similar encounter with me. We all believe that we can still live happily.

  7. My purpose in sharing this very personal story is the hope that someone will read it and relate, and feel they are not alone in their experiences. That there is someone else out there who completely understands how they hear, or at least understands aspects of how they hear.

    The first time I related to someone “like” me was such a sigh of relief, such a burden off my shoulders, a release. I have gone through almost half a century of living and joining the SayWhatClub is my first experience with a support group. I am not sure why I didn’t stumble upon the concept sooner? But I am a firm believer that things come to you for a reason. There is a reason I was given the challenge of not hearing normally and I wouldn’t trade all I have learned from it for anything. Just as there is a reason that I found a SayWhatClub newsletter on someone’s website and my interest was piqued in what they were all about. Isn’t life great!!!???

  8. Michelle,

    I so relate to all you have written, and I thank you for voicing (in writing) the reality all of us (HOH) have experienced.

    People in general don’t seem to realize it’s the “little stuff” in life that matters most. The stuff we take for granted, like hearing a bird song, or a whisper from a friend. Maybe being in on the joke that a group is sharing – I miss that a lot.

    Thanks for a great blog post – BTW, you don’t need any coaching on blogging at all, in my opinion. 🙂

    Paul S

  9. great post and thread. Very helpful to someone who doesn’t have a hearing loss, but wants to udnerstand it as much as possible. You are right about HOH people – no two exactly alike…. so, how CAN one possibly fit into any category?

    I wonder if my 11 year old son would enjoy this post also… he has moderate hearing loss.


  10. Michelle,

    Great description. Sounds like my husband. Our first house was located on a half-acre lot with wonderful landscaping to attract butterflies, bees, birds and such – it backed to hundres of acres of undeveloped park land with lots of deer. The flaw – it was in the flight path for a major international airport. My husband was unable to hear the bees buzzing, the birds chirping or the squirrels scurrying about – the one thing he could hear while outside was the aircraft engine noise – which never seemed to end. We moved after living there less than 2 years, he didn’t think he would ever adjust to the constant noise.

    With my “normal” hearing, I had learned to tune out the aircraft noise and could appreciate the noises provided by mother nature. People couldn’t believe we were going to move. After all, they said, can’t he just turn off his hearing aids if the planes are bothering him?

    I tried to explain that it wasn’t that simple, but unless you have it, you can’t fully understand sometimes.

  11. Wow, your story is a lot like what my hearing is like. I am really starting to enjoy the quiet, it is when I can focus the most. My brain gets tired of concentrating, then I just get crabby and can’t function. Hearing people don’t understand, it is not something they have ever had to experience. I am new to the hard of hearing world, and this has been truly difficult. I have wished sometimes I would just go deaf and get it over with as well, but I know that would not help the situation any. I have lost my identity, I feel like a stranger to myself sometimes. It is not something that I can just explain to hearing people, they can not relate. But I am really glad that I read your story, it is nice to know that there are people out there that have similar experiences. And I like the idea of being a beautiful snowflake! Thanks for that analogy as well!

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