Learning to breathe, as walls close in around you

I never knew true anxiety until the moment I lost my hearing. It came in waves, the first couple of times. 5-10 minutes of deafness and vertigo. Then the hearing loss kept lasting longer, until once it just never came back. Those first moments, the first few weeks after, my world had ended. I had no idea how to function or survive. Without a support network, I wouldn’t have.

I had valium from my doctor, both because she knew I was freaking out each time and because it could be caused by stress. We didn’t know the cause yet, and even when we did it was still devastating. I was deaf, there was very little that could be done. I had to learn to live with no sound. As the story goes, I eventually regained about 40% of my hearing in my left ear, mostly in lower frequencies. Then got a hearing aid for that ear and thrust myself back into normal life as best I could. I learned skills to cope, there was very little choice.

Earlier this week, I was talking with my husband about this blog and I’d mentioned it was time for my February post – I try to do one once a month – but I had nothing to talk about right now. Then it happened, an old internet friend M. posted on Facebook on Tuesday that she suddenly couldn’t hear. I went into rescue mode. So my sincerest apologies to M. if my needing something to write about jinxed you, because you are my topic this month.

Now M. is a ridiculously smart woman with an amazing career as a lobbyist. She relies on her hearing every day, as every single hearing person does – in more ways than you realize. You don’t know until you don’t have it any more. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. Fortunately, she was smart enough to get in to see an ENT right away and has started a course of prednisone, which is the best response for sudden hearing loss. She is doing all the right things – and right or not, she’s talking to me.

When it happened to me, I didn’t know anyone who had been through anything like it before. I had no one, except some random patient at the University of Iowa that happened to be there the same day I was and she was gracious enough to talk to me about her bilateral cochlear implants (which at the time, having one was pretty rare – having two was pretty much unheard of). Talking with her for even just half an hour, I felt better about myself and my future. I wish I remembered her name – I would love to reach out and say thank you to her now, she has no idea how much she helped me over these last 17 years.

I have always remembered that woman, and I’m sure my mother likely does too. She comforted me and gave me hope, when I had none. If I can be anything for my friend M., I want to be that woman for her. I have never felt more than this week that this whole thing happened to me for a reason, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So to M., and everyone else who may go through this or has gone through this, you will learn to breathe again. The anxiety will fade and life will go on. It won’t be easy. You’ll cry, you’ll scream, you’ll want to die. But you will breathe again and the walls will open up and you’ll be okay. I promise. And in those moments where you don’t think you can breathe, reach out to me. I’ll help you through it.

I want to quote a message from M. here because for everything she is going through right now, she already knows it will be okay, one way or another:
“I feel a little conflicted when people say they hope [my hearing] gets better because there are plenty of people with permanent hearing loss who are just freaking fine. There is stuff that is helpful to hear but if you have a society that can recognize you just have a different situation, it is navigable. It’s all about the people around you.” I love you, my friend, and I’m happy I can be here for you.

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