Sunday, May 28, 2017

You'll Adjust

In the last 10 days I've been able to add another experience to my list, sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), or sudden deafness. I woke up one morning, and simply couldn't hear much with my left ear. What I do hear is terribly muffled and distorted. The once clear chimes of my  grandfather clock now sound like a creepy movie sound effect. I also have tinnitus, a constant, simultaneous high pitch ringing and low pitch roaring in that ear. It's a waiting game right now to see if my hearing will return, and from what I've read, the chances are between 30-70% that I will recover some of my hearing.

While I know the gradual loss of hearing is part of the aging process, that is not what I'm experiencing here. One day I could hear perfectly, the next day I couldn't. I'm not sure that anyone prepares for such an event in his or her life. I know I certainly didn't. It has been a very emotional 10 days as I have begun to process this.

And it has served as quite the PTSD trigger.

Like all survivors of violence, I have developed a set of coping skills to compensate for the fear of becoming, again, a victim. I have rules of survival. Rule #3 states:

Always know where everyone is at all times.

And I did. Even across 15 acres, two greenhouses, and a barn, I knew where my parents were at all times. I knew who was approaching by car, tractor, or foot. I could distinguish the sounds of my animals versus the neighbor's animals. I could tell who was walking up to me by the sounds of their steps and the ways in which they breathed. I would not be caught by surprise.

That skill morphed over time, and earned me the title "Ninja" from my 6th grade students, because I could listen to 5 groups of students working (or not working) on projects, know what they were saying, and even unexpectedly respond to conversation from across the room.

I have depended on my sense of hearing. It has kept me safe and in control.

Two days ago I went to the grocery store. Simply walking in the store there was an immediate difference.  First there was an increase of pressure on my ear, similar to but stronger than applying a single noise reducing headphone. Secondly I noticed how much noise goes on in the grocery. People talking, carts rolling, beeps and chimes...a cacophony of sound played out in an echo chamber. And add my own tinnitus to the external stimuli; it was unsettling to say the very least.

It was in this unsettled state that I had my first panicked moment, the first real flare of PTSD. I stood at the meat counter looking at all the options even though I knew exactly what I wanted, but I didn't see the butcher approach. When I realized that he spoke to me TWICE to get my attention, the wave of panic that swelled up in me was very real. I was vulnerable. I was unaware of everyone in my environment. I was unsafe.

Although I really wanted to cry, I smiled and held it together and forged ahead to the the produce section (yes, I shopped in reverse that day). As I turned the corner from deli to produce, the acoustics changed again. The double L shaped walls that divide the two departments funneled all the sounds from the bakery, deli, and the cash registers straight into my head. If you've ever woken up from surgery before they take you to the quiet of the recovery room, then you know that moment when someone is talking to you and others are cleaning up the OR suite for the next patient, but you aren't awake enough to understand what's happening or to be able to respond. That's what it felt like. I could hear all sorts of sounds, but I couldn't understand them, I couldn't identify their source. The audible distraction made it difficult to make decisions on which fruit to purchase. It was as if everything was in a blur. And it was in this echo chamber from hell that I struggled to make my transaction, as I couldn't understand a word the sweet cashier was saying to me.

Understand, in that moment, in the store alone, I was not simply dealing with the physical ramifications of losing my sense of hearing. I very much was triggered. I was 6 years old again, that 6 year old I was before I had developed my survival strategy, fighting to stay safe without fully understanding any of my surroundings.

I relayed this experience on Facebook, simply as a way to cathart in the checkout line without tears, and a good friend, experiencing this same malady, told me "You'll adjust."

You're damn right I will.

If there is anything I've mastered in my lifetime, it's been the ability to adjust.

Before my 5th birthday, I learned to adjust to my dad's moods, and to keep myself (mostly) safe from his violent rages.

Before my 7th birthday, I learned to adjust to the presence of a predator on my property, and kept myself safe from his incessant attempts to do me harm.

Before my 13th birthday, I learned to adjust to being without parental support, scheduling my own doctor's appointments, even surgery, to coordinate with my school/bus schedule so I could get myself there alone.

Before my 15th birthday, I learned to adjust to my mother's insistence on me being the choir accompanist and her aversion to my "beating and banging on the piano," and would get up at 4:30am to practice after she went to work and before I went to school.

Before my 18th birthday, I learned to adjust to being made homeless by my mother, withdrawing myself from one high school and enrolling myself in another without a parent present.

Before my 21st birthday, I learned to adjust to an abusive husband, getting myself through LPN school, pregnant with my second child, so I could secure a divorce.

Before my 25th birthday, I learned to adjust to a father who would simply drop out of my life for no apparent reason.

Before my 30th birthday, I learned to adjust to a narcissistic mother, placing firm boundaries on our relationship.

Before my 35th birthday, I learned to adjust to the loss of a career, and completed another degree to enter a second one.

Before my 45th birthday, I learned to adjust to being a victor over the bastard who raped me.

And before my 48th birthday, I will learn to adjust to this.

But adjusting doesn't mean I won't be angry. I mean come on! Who wouldn't be angry over this? I'm pissed. I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's not my fault, and yet I am forced to deal with the consequences. There are no words that anyone can say that will make this anger magically go away. There is no comfort you can give that will erase my fury. I simply need to go through it. As uncomfortable as you may find anger, I find it quite motivating and productive. It is in anger that I will research, learn, plan. Anger has always moved me forward.

And adjusting also doesn't mean I will skip over the grieving process. I've learned the hard way what skipping the grieving process does to the human psyche. Guess what! I'm allowed tears. I'm allowed some time to feel sad about losing something I held precious. I'm allowed to feel unsure about how the future will work out, and to question how I will get through this. I'm even allowed to feel frightened in situations where I used to feel safe for a while.

If this hearing loss is indeed permanent, I have a lot of learning ahead of me. I've seen how often the hearing-impaired are victimized because of their vulnerability. From school age kids taking advantage of hard-of-hearing teachers, to cashiers/waitresses being rude to my father in law, to the deaf being burglarized and then having civil rights denied by the police when reporting the crime. Safety is not a guarantee in this world, and I must figure out how to maintain mine with or without my hearing. I've come too far to live in fear now. I will find a way to continue being the strong, courageous survivor I have been the last 40 years. I will find a way to feel safe being alone in public again.

Yes, I will adjust. But I may also cry from time to time.

Links for info on SSNHL

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