That Time I Lost My Hearing
On February 18th, 2017, I lost hearing in my left ear. Just like that. All of a sudden.
It was a Saturday morning and I went to yoga. Like I always do. When I laid down for savasana I thought I felt something in my left ear, like a drop of sweat, and then very odd sounds. I had nothing else to do in 'corpse pose' but lay there and my full attention was on the distortion of sounds and the sensation of cotton in my ear.
Everything sounded tinny like I was inside a metal bowl. Strangely, I thought my right ear was the problem because of the sound distortion.
"It must be a drop of sweat," I thought, "How annoying."
As I lay there, I was intently listening to the way the world and all the noises sounded different than they normally did. People from the next class were outside in the hallway, and soft music was playing. Had I ever paid this much attention to the way I listened to sounds, to the world?
No. I always and naturally assumed that hearing was hearing, and that was that.
When I got up, I tried to shake the water out of my ear, but I couldn't. I spent the weekend trying to get the water out of my ear: jumping on one foot, shaking my head violently from side to side, and even using a blowdryer until I thought I burnt my ear. But, the whole time, I had a feeling that something wasn't right.
It wasn't just water. My intuition knew, and my rational brain did what it could to soothe - and shame - the part of me that knew.
I tried to stay optimistic and calm on the outside, but inside I was panicking. I told myself that I was being overdramatic. "It's just a drop of sweat in your ear."
Unfortunately, it wasn't. Doctors, specialists, and tests all confirmed that I had, in fact, lost the ability to hear out of that ear.
The cause, they think, is a virus.
I specifically use the word 'think' here because they don't actually know. They have a protocol they follow, including injecting high doses of steroids into the ear when the pills didn't do the trick. That's right, injections through the eardrum with a needle! To that, I said, "No, thank you", especially when the doctor confirmed that he couldn't really know if it would help. The loss of hearing was too dramatic already.
WHERE WE FIND STRENGTH
So there I was, deaf in one ear. "I'll deal with it" I thought, as I walked out of the doctor's office. I'll carry on. Because, seriously, what else am I supposed to do??
I cried inconsolably the night of the specialist's diagnosis. I don't cry like that often. It's the kind of crying reserved for loss and heartbreak. It's the kind of crying that makes you question - in the big way - "Why?"
One night of releasing-- letting myself fall into despair, drama, self-pity, self-recrimination, and full-on life questioning, was a cathartic and necessary process. I let myself sob. I let myself feel it all: the anger, the blame, the pain. All of it.
Then I fell asleep and woke up to a new day. Everything looked the same, and even though the world was a little muffled, it was still a new day.
This part of my psyche, which I recognize as something that comes out when I'm faced with extreme, dangerous or critical circumstances, was there again. Like a silent and unknown hero hanging at the back of the room, it steps forward to lead when I need it most. My body, my resolve, my mind - they all fall in line. And I feel stronger. Steeled. Able to deal.
Thankfully this mechanism kicks in because I had a lot to overcome. And I had to continue to live my life. To carry on. To persist and perform. To push onward.
Though I had emphatically said no to a needle in my ear (thank you very much), I was still on a very high dose of cortisol that was starting to take its toll on my energy levels and moods. High doses of anti-inflammatory medication cause side effects like weakness, depression, joint-aches, fatigue and overall bodily pain. Yoga was a chore. My concentration was challenged. I was easily angered. Or moved to tears.
This whole ear-thing came on the heels of a string of good things, though! I was newly married (literally a few days earlier, on February 14th) and after dealing with some demons of leaving my old job, I had jumped into consulting and was loving it. In fact, I had signed a new client and I was about to fly to New York for a major conference where I was presenting a 'Woman of the Year' award in front of hundreds of my peers.
I didn't have time for this. And why the heck did this happen? Why now? Why me?!
WHAT'S THE POINT?
Why can't I just enjoy this run of amazing, happy things going on in my life right now?!
Then the questions I couldn't shake ... the ones that come from the inner victim and ego-conjurings of guilt, blame, and punishment (because clearly, I'm a bad person and must have done something karmically to be receiving this) ...
"What did I do to deserve this?" and, "What was I being punished for?" I even conjured thoughts like, "I'm not allowed to be happy" and, "I can't enjoy happiness, I always have to suffer."
I cringe as I remember all this. Admittedly, I have to laugh at the sheer melodramatic flair of my inner victim ... the places the mind will take us - down that negative rabbit-hole, are as horrible as they are ridiculous. Especially if we believe them.
I reflected a lot, trying to figure out if there was a deeper meaning or a lesson in the hearing loss - somewhere - that would enlighten me. I kept drawing a blank.
I was painfully aware of the physical discomfort of the silence, the oddly heightened internal sensation in an ear that wasn't functioning, combined with the very annoying tinnitus (constant ringing in the ear) that also manifested.
In a way, being forced to reflect on that awful negative mental conditioning around punishment and victim-mentality allowed me to hear the voices for what they were. To identify them as just that - voices and old scripts from somewhere that were running on automatic. They had run as though natural, as though they were the truth. But they are not.
I began to understand a few things about those voices, then. I still did not understand the 'why' of the hearing loss.
THERE IS NO POINT, BY THE WAY
Asking 'why' to the Universe or the higher powers doesn't give us answers and even if we received answers, would we understand them? Would we accept them? Or would we fight them, resist them, struggle against them?
When we ask 'why', especially with indignant anger or desperate grief, we are asking with the part of our psyche that is called the inner victim. The part that doesn't want to be accountable for the action necessary to deal with the situation. The victim can be the victorious. It's a process we go through. We let ourselves feel it, sit in it, wallow in it if that's what helps us move the energy out.
After a while though, we need to move on.
PUT THAT BRAIN TO USE
There is little medical evidence or understanding of the sudden hearing loss. The occurrence is very rare. So I did my own research to find an anchor to help me deal with my situation.
Enter the rational mind, which was actually helpful now that I had given it a constructive task like learning how to heal and deal.
We took stock of what was what. We did research. We looked at options like hearing aids. I wouldn't have known how advanced these devices are. They can cancel out white noise at the click of a button?! What magic is this?!
We also went meta in our rationalization. We thought about the fact that I'd be an elder in human society just a couple hundred years ago. Maybe five hundred, but still. Life expectancy, medical and scientific knowledge and tools allow us to live longer than ever before. So in a way, I surmised, it's totally normal and natural that I'd be breaking down a bit. Just a bit.
SURRENDER. THEN TRUST
My search for answers, treatments, spells, and supplements turned into a form of surrender and trust.
Let's talk about surrender. I didn't wave a white flag.
I surrendered, in the most eloquent way, to the facts. Surrendered to what is. I surrendered to what I could - and mostly couldn't - do to change it.
Surrender is a highly stigmatic word. It conjures thoughts of loss, losing, loser, prisoners, enslavement, execution. Scenes from dramatic and violent films. Yes, surrender, as we know it in human history does not bring to mind or conjure feelings of anything good. In fact, the first definition of surrender in the dictionary is:
to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.
But there is a different type of surrender, and I learned to understand it once I took the time to feel into it, and to think about it in context. We don't get to this aspect of the word until the 4th line down:
to abandon oneself entirely to (a powerful emotion or influence); give in to.
Surrender is also used often in spiritual, self-empowerment and personal development texts and teachings. Surrender finally made sense, albeit on a practical, mundane level. There is no point resisting something that could not be changed.
Resisting it - the opposite of surrendering - fighting it, arguing with it, being angry at it, blaming it, all lead to nowhere but our own nastiness and inner victim.
Surrender is similar to acceptance. Accepting the facts. Even though we may not like those facts or their results, we must stay strong and positive.
Surrender and trust go hand-in-hand.
To surrender, we access acceptance and release ourselves into trust. Into trusting that the present moment, and the future, will not be as horrible as our worst imaginings. If we can silence those doomsday thoughts and visions of the overactive ego, we allow our mind to rest. Like a little dog that thinks its the alpha and must protect the pack from the dangers of the world, the mind is on high alert, full of anxiety and preparing for the worst.
With surrender, we fall into faith. We trust - in a way that comes from that deep place of knowing. The one we can't always identify but that is undoubtedly there. The deep inner knowing that we are all trying to connect with. A sense of self that anchors us when we feel thrown about by the winds of life, and that never steers us wrong when we let it chart our course.
I trusted that I would be ok. Because I know that I am ok. And that this was just a blip in my life. Another obstacle to overcome and integrate. Another challenge to transmute into strength and understanding.
And that's the only 'why' that becomes apparent. The 'why' that becomes a 'how'. How to carry on in the face of adversity.