For many people, the most pivotal, life-changing factors in their existence happens suddenly: meeting their partner, being inspired to start or change careers, or losing a loved one unexpectedly.
But in my case, the factor that altered the course of my life more than anything occurred over a short period of time, when I was too young to understand what was happening – much less do anything about it.
Around the age of 4 I lost some of my hearing. It happened for no detectable reason whatsoever, besides the mystery of genetics. For all the years since I’ve fielded the same questions from doctors, audiologists, and regular folks trying to convince themselves that there must have been some cause: Where you sick? (No.) Did you have to take some kind of medication? (No.) Were you exposed to a loud noise? (No.)
I think this frightens people, the idea that something so vital could just disappear permanently, through no external cause or fault of their own. They usually look uncomfortable and then change the subject. Or they say, “Well, you seem normal.”
There is a certain ease that people who have never had their body fail them possess. They aren’t aware of it, but I see it.
Even though everyone has problems to deal with, if you wake up in the morning knowing you can rely on your body to do exactly what you need, and that the world is set up for you to function well in it, you have a sense of security and intrinsic trust that life will be okay. Even if you don’t think life will be okay for other reasons – you have emotional scars, financial problems, relationship issues – you don’t doubt your body’s ability to perform in everyday situations.
I also see a commonality between people whose bodies have not won the genetic lottery, be it through hearing loss, surviving trauma, or other physical ailments: Some part of us is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When will more be taken from us?
At this point in medicine, hearing loss is permanent and usually progressive. That isn’t exactly an uplifting reality.
For years, I had the unconscious and conscious idea that I was broken. It was a message I’d internalized from years of hearing tests that showed I had a hearing loss (at first, mild-to-moderate; now it’s moderate-to-severe), to being one of only two people wearing clunky hearing aids at a school of hundreds, to hearing rude and ignorant comments about my hearing (which I also knew meant there were probably plenty of snide comments I wasn’t overhearing).
Today, I look at hearing loss not as a personal flaw I have to hide but more as a hindrance that I accept as part of my life. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but to go from feeling desperately afraid that anyone would ridicule me for missing what was said to being unbothered (okay, 90% unbothered) when people do so is a big, positive change, I’d say.