Why the Ability to Hear is not Enough

On the day I chose to have my first tympanoplasty, May 20th, 2004, I believed restoring my hearing would provide a “perfect life” and solve all of my problems. At the time, I was full of rage about isolation from hearing loss and ear infections occurring at least every six weeks. My ability to trust human beings was in the toilet after being bullied by my classmates and placed into special education by the school district. The only thing I trusted was money because it came consistently, regardless of my health, every time I did a favor for someone else.

Old and lonely.

Closing my eardrum, obtaining hearing, and “becoming normal” seemed to be the be-all and end-all to those problems. I believed I would be able to trust people, escape special education, and overcome the infections the moment I had a “healthy” ear. Once all of those things happened, I would “live happily ever after” and skip off into the sunset, where I would suddenly become a popular girl with straight-A’s in the blink of an eye.

June 3rd, 2004, showed me otherwise. While a middle school friend and I were on the phone plotting revenge on “our worst enemy”, someone tried calling the house three times. I ignored each call, until they went to my mother’s cell phone. Within minutes, my mother screamed at me, “WHY DID YOU IGNORE THOSE CALLS? GRANDMA’S HOUSE IS ON FIRE!”

Immediately, I dropped the idea of revenge and spent the next two weeks waiting for the fate of my grandmother. Though she was not badly burned, Grandma called her lawyer because Mom forced her to live in a nursing home and quit smoking cigarettes. The lawsuit was dropped on June 12th, however, because Grandma was hospitalized with hallucinations connected to severe dementia. Watching my grandmother disintegrate into nothing was a wake-up call that surgery would not be enough to save me from my own anger.

My distrust, anger, and hunger for money reminded my mother very much of Grandma. Repeatedly, Mom told me, “You are just like my mother, and you’re going to end up as alone and isolated as her if you are not careful.” Until that June, I thought Grandma’s isolation was the ideal way to live. She overcame serious illnesses in her childhood, was undeterred by sexist bullying in her pursuit of an M.D., and remained self-sufficient through a series of trust funds.

I greatly admired her success, and thought her path was perfect for me until the fire destroyed her house. It was then I realized her success and life were undermined by the same rage, mistrust, and misdirected greed I carried in my own heart. If I did not change my attitude, with or without surgery, I would fulfill my mother’s prophecy, end up alone, and have nobody to stand by me as I fell into disintegration.

Since June 3rd, 2004, and every day I have had any type of hearing, I have never forgotten that the ability to hear is not enough for a good life. Hearing aids, surgeries, and cochlear implants can open new doors, but the individual must still decide whether or not to enter. After coming to this realization, I made a commitment to myself that I would never run from human connections, hide in mistrust and anger, or use my hearing loss an excuse to do less than my very best.

Instead, I would take advantage of whatever hearing I had to communicate with others, free myself from walls built of suspicion, and always feel proud of my greatest efforts. I can’t say that “attitude is everything” because there are days where I get so exhausted from my hearing loss that I throw a barricade around myself, become ferociously angry, and isolate myself so I can rest. Memories of my grandmother’s decline, however, remind me that this change in attitude must only be temporary and for the sake of release.

Beyond decibel charts, knowledge of your body, and the ability to advocate for your needs, hearing is only as good as what you make of it. If you have the ability to hear, but remain as angry and distrustful as Grandma, you will still find yourself at a loss of opportunities and friends. Should you have hearing aids, along with openness to friendships and taking chances, you can have as much success as your able-bodied peers. The ability to hear does not make or break a person. That can come from only one source: you!

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