Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Dr: “He has nerve deafness. It‘s likely to be a complication from the mumps”.
Mother: “Is it permanent?”
Dr: “I’m afraid it is, but the condition cannot be fixed with a hearing aid. He will need to sit at the front of the class, all his teachers will need to be informed and you’ll have to talk to him on his right side. Situations with crowds and lots of people can be confusing as he will hear you but he won’t necessarily know where the sound is coming from.”
That‘s how I imagine the conversation started when they got the test results back which showed I had no ability to hear out of my left ear.
For 36 odd years I have lived with hearing in one ear and for much of that time no sensations at all in my other ear, or on that side of my head. It always felt like another part of me, and all through my childhood I proudly carried that badge of dis-ability. In some small way it made me special and got me attention and love in a way other things did not. Not only had I been programmed by what I heard in those early formative days and years but I programmed myself at every opportunity.
Over the years other benefits reinforced what deafness gave me - it meant I got some special treatment and attention in the earlier years of my schooling (it also meant I got teased a lot), I could pretend not to hear when being called to do something I didn’t want to do, I could mis-hear things, and best of all I could sleep with my ‘good ear’ to the pillow and not hear a thing all night.
Looking back I can see how all this programming set up a series of beliefs that have piled up, one upon another to create a reality I’m not even sure is real. You see, if there was a good ear, there must also have been a bad ear. If being deaf made me special, hearing made me normal.
For most of my life I accepted what they told me and was content enough with my lot in life as it related to my hearing, or so I thought.
It is only more recently that I‘ve become more aware of how not having hearing in one ear made me obsessively protective of the hearing in my other ear. It has seen me turn down offers to events I tell myself, and others, I’m not interested in because I’m too afraid I’ll suffer a day or 3 with tinnitus; or worse, I might lose lose all my hearing. It’s happened before...
It also had the paradoxical effect of making me feel entirely inadequate, so I strived as hard as I could to be better than everyone else and to make up for the fact that my hearing let me down. Imagine the disappointment as a teenager that you can’t join the military like the rest of the family and finally get that adoration of your father because you’re faulty in some way. A child’s way of thinking doesn’t account for such inconsistencies and so I had grown up accepting all as if they were true.
Between 2007 and 2013 I lost all low frequency hearing in my right ear at least 3 times, sometimes for several weeks and longer. The first time was the morning of my birthday. I remember waking up and thinking something was very wrong. I was gripped by panic when I discovered in the shower that I could only hear part of what I was doing.
Suffice to say the rest of that day was spent at the Eye & Ear Hospital in Melbourne. My work was busy and demanding and I frequently worked long hours. No doubt driven by inner sense of inadequacy and wanting to make a good impression in a new career, I was so stressed about what was happening at work that I sat in the waiting room continuing to work. This was a guy who had no boundaries...
At the conclusion of my appointment the Consulting Dr left me under no illusions that he had completely lost touch with patients - perhaps in his own effort not to be impacted by pain he witnessed every day. “You’re lucky”, he said. “At least you can hear something, most people are not as lucky as you”. I burst into tears, holding my head in my hands and he handed me a tissue as he left the room. Small consolation in my circumstances and a not so happy birthday.
He prescribed a strong dose of prednisolone and sent me on my way. I was riding a scooter back then and the part of my hearing that was lost directly correlated to the frequency of trucks and heavy vehicles. In retrospect I’m probably more lucky to be alive than anything else.
This period of my life has been marred by a series of unfortunate events. I had separated from a relationship that challenged the very core of who I was. It was my opportunity to step into a much stronger Tim but in the agonising pain of loss, I lost my sense of self and spent painful years ’getting over it’. It was my own dark night of the soul and through my recovery I found great solace in meditation and mystification if the mind through the world of spirituality.
If losing my hearing wasn‘t a big enough wake up call almost losing my sight definitely was.
On a cold winter‘s night I tried to light the small wood fire in my living room. It was one of those cast iron fire places that would either burn well or fill the room with smoke.
With no kindling to hand and desperate to stay warmer, I found a paper bag with household bills and pushed it into the small flames in an effort to get the fire moving. I had no bellows and would resort to blowing on the fire until I was breathless and spent. As I blew on the flames around the bag I heard a high pitched squeak that gradually increased in volume, a bit like the sound of air escaping from a small hole in a balloon.
It didn’t occur to me that I had left anything else in the bag until the squeal ended in a gunshot-sounding boom and flames exploded out of that bag and into my face. There was a small empty aerosol can in the bag.
Fragments of flaming metal flew across the room starting small fires on the carpet and my sofa. I ignored them as I ran screaming to the bathroom to check my face. I could still see and my skin was intact if not burned to a crisp with tiger-like stripes around my right eye
where I had clenched it shut. My eyebrows were singed and I looked like a complete mess.
I quickly doused the small flames on the floor and the sofa, saw a Dr and was back at work the next day looking very much the walking wounded.
Reflecting on these events now it should have been clear. I wasn‘t listening to my body when I became stressed and I certainly wasn’t seeing what was in front of me.
Those hallmarks of overwork were carried with me to Dubai where I poured my heart and soul into a job that rewarded me financially and sent me traveling to the far reaches of the planet. The extended days and pressure to deliver consistently eventually led to the A&E and no hearing in the same low frequencies in my right ear.
Cat scans were ordered, as were ultrasounds and even an MRI, but audiologists were still unable to explain how or why this was happening.
The answer lay far deeper and much further away in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon.
So, given the chance... would you get your hearing back if you could?
To be continued...
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