Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Applauding Small Victories
It’s been about two weeks since I wrote what I’ve come to refer to as “Pam’s Pity Party Post,” a hearing impaired bitch-fest, if you will, regarding my frustrations adjusting to life with a cochlear implant. Venting over the Internet proved to be very cathartic (Thank you, Readers, for waiting politely as I revitalized myself with a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum). Once I let go of some of my frustrations and anger, I am happy to report good moments returned to my life.
As my Facebook friends might have seen, I recently posted a status that yielded nearly 100 likes (Thanks, Facebook Friends). In an abbreviated version of the following story, I wrote how my children, Colin and Claire, had their first piano lesson. The lesson took place in an old music hall, and I watched with joy as the kids happily familiarized themselves with the keys and notes of a beautiful, restored 1904 piano. I think I was so pleased that they were so enthusiastically engaged in the lesson that it took me a few minutes to be conscious of my hearing powers. As Claire’s fingers slowly paced up the keyboard, I realized I didn’t stop hearing once she got to the upper third of the keys. In the past, I’ve had enough musical knowledge to “know” what note comes next on the scale, and to be able to hear it in my head, even if I can’t sing it. (And trust me- when it comes to a high note, I CAN’T sing it.) In the past, I was also accustomed to hearing the “tap” of pressing down a piano key (think of pressing a key on an electronic keyboard when the keyboard isn’t on). But this time, I realized, I was hearing actual tones—crisp, clear, non-robotic, and in fact, pretty tones reaching higher and higher in frequency. Once I realized what I was hearing, I informed the kids’ music teacher that I was new to the high notes, and he allowed me to prolong my moment by pressing some more keys and even letting me experience the cymbals of a drum. When presented one by one, I experienced each unique tone like never before. It was a victory… a small success that my cochlear implant could happily surprise me after a long cycle of frustration. I was grateful.
Gratitude is a wonderful feeling, but sadly, it can be so short-lived once positive thinking is removed. After posting my tale on Facebook, I experienced a mild “Oh, how nice” kind of feeling that I had so much support, but there was a part of me that felt as though I was lying. Sure, hearing the upper register on a piano was new and exciting in the moment, but that’s not what I wanted from this surgery. It didn't make me successful. When I go out with friends, or participate in a meeting, I’m not interacting with a high G note, after all.
Speaking of interaction, however, I DID have a good CI outing on a Saturday with my husband Jeff. We were at a local restaurant, seated at an outdoor table while a very talented acoustic singer performed near our table. Pre-surgery, I would have loved listening to the music; unfortunately, that is all I would have been able to listen to, as the background noise of vocals and guitar would have surely dominated over any conversation at the table. The way I was hearing was different that evening, and by playing with my CI settings and volumes, I was able to come to a comfortable place where yes, the music was there, but so was Jeff. We could talk. I was still looking at him, and I was still focused, but we could do it. Another thankful day, another small victory.
A week after, a group of friends and I returned to the same restaurant for a girls’ night out. Once again, outdoor seating, and once again, an outdoor performance, although this time it was a band. I had even suggested the spot because of my previous weekend’s success, boasting to my friends that I would be able to hear them! And I could… sort of.
Dealing with four different female voices proved to be a challenge; though one setting might be ideal for Tara, the volume wouldn’t be right for Michelle. Though the sensitivity level would be perfect for Carrie, somehow I kept thinking Kim said “cranberry” when she was really saying “grape.” (I know... Not even CLOSE). With more noise surrounding me, there was so much more to consider, and the ability to hear all sounds harmoniously presented quite a challenge. It was certainly not the same as a single note, or one familiar voice. My brain struggled to keep up.
My optimistic self tells me this is to be expected, and little by little, my brain will allow more complicated noise to be deciphered. After all, I didn’t initially hear the blinker in my car, or the beep when the microwave turns off (I’m still startled every time it beeps, by the way). On most days, these small collection of sounds have become a “new normal," an experience I would have never had before. Still, my regular, perfectionist, impatient self typically ignores those moments and instead wonders why this whole confusing process has to be so damn annoying.
I TRY to remind myself that not every victory has to be the result of some complex, Olympian task.... I really do. Still, I struggle with Pam’s perfect expectations, not just when dealing with my CI, but when dealing with life, in general. Take my to-do list, for example. Too often I won’t finish it. I might get around to finally folding the laundry (a small victory in itself), but instead, I’ll brood over how I failed to weed my front yard, failed to make dentist appointments, failed to email my friend, failed, failed, FAILED. Even when I heard the high notes on the piano- quite possibly the first time I had EVER heard those notes- my gratitude quickly faded when I turned my focus to how much I was still missing in conversation, how difficult it was to talk on the phone… Failure, failure, FAILURE.
Please remind me during my next pity party to applaud the victories, big or small, to remember the beauty of a single high G note, and to smile and say THANK YOU. Being grateful just feels better.
Now what small victory are YOU grateful for today?