Sunday, February 8, 2015

Life Whispers

Life has been whispering to me over the course of the last year.

I've known that I have been holding my truth too closely. I've known I should share my stories once more. But like many of life's journeys, the longer I let it go, the stronger the case was for me not to return. It seemed too hard, too much, to write any more about my hearing journey.

My life, and its inclusion of progressive hearing loss, has offered its share of intense frustration. Then there was the introduction of my cochlear implant in 2012, and the shiny hope attached to it that life would quickly get better. And then... there was its aftermath with its own frustrations, and the disappointment when I didn't hear the way I assumed I would.

Through the tears and tantrums, the pity parties, and the anger over not being able to hear “normally,” I have never doubted that this journey is exactly the life I am supposed to be living. From the time I was a child, I instinctively grasped that while I often resented my circumstances, it was a journey meant for me. I suspected purpose behind it all.

When I started this blog almost three years ago, that purpose became more clear. Sharing who I was- the good, the bad, and the vulnerable- seemed to strike a chord in people. I began connecting with family, friends and even strangers in a more meaningful way, and because I opened up, I found others did the same with me.

In 2013, I remember my husband, kids and I driving to the ocean for summer vacation. I received a message from a mother whose son was born with a developmental difference. She shared her hopes that in spite of his challenges, he would be able to confidently approach his life and accomplish his goals. She revealed she was also printing my blog posts and saving them for her little boy to one day read. Slumped in the passenger seat, I read her message over and over again. I was so incredibly moved, crying quietly to myself for miles as we drove down the coastline.

I felt as though my journey- and the sharing of it- was making a difference. It energized me. It freed me. It encouraged a greater acceptance and self-potential than I knew I could reach.

And then I stopped. A busy life got in the way.

Skydiving, Lake George. August 2013.
Those whispers-- they would come to me in life's more interesting moments. The time I jumped out of an airplane and couldn't hear a thing. The first time I saw a play and understood everything. The time I finally mustered enough courage to ask for closed captioning glasses at the movie theater, only to have them NOT work (resulting in free tickets- much to my kids' amusement- for a future visit). The time I tried again, and for the first time in ages, actually understood and enjoyed a movie. The time I was accepted into a research study at Vanderbilt University, and worked with the best in the audiology world to achieve better hearing. The time my sister, also living with progressive hearing loss, pursued a cochlear implant and how her results differed from mine.

Enthusiastically posing during Visit 1 at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.  July 2014.

Each time, a quiet thought would pass through: You should write about that, Pam.  And for a moment, I thought I would, only to distract myself with life's busy excuses once more.

Then 2015 introduced itself rather loudly.

I had a lovely reunion with my childhood friends, one who hadn't seen me since I received the cochlear implant. It's always fun to gather others' feedback as to how they perceive I am hearing, and I was pleased she commented on how much better I seemed to speak and understand. But she was also mad at me. She had loved the blog, and felt it had helped people. She was pissed at me for stopping.

The whispers were growing louder.

Immediately following the start of the new year, a dear friend of mine revealed a truth that was a long time in the making, plaguing this person's life with unnecessary exhaustion and secrets. Remembering my own big reveal, and the anxiety as to how people would respond, I can't even begin to express how happy it made me to see someone I love finally choose a life of greater authenticity. And then I questioned if mine was still in that category, or if I was masking my disability once more...

A couple of weeks later, I learned a college friend had tragically lost his life in a car crash. I didn't know Jason especially well- we shared a few classes at Syracuse, and lived near one another in our freshman dorm- but I knew enough to know he was a nice person. Through Facebook and mutual friends, I knew he had a good job, a beautiful wife he adored, a sweet 1 year old baby... he appeared to be a good guy living a good life. He was just 4 days older than me, a fact I did remember from the drunken birthday celebrations during college life. In the week following his death, I found myself wide awake one night, mourning for his wife, son, and parents, acknowledging the fleetingness of this life-- how often we save things for another time, only to never get there. I knew I wanted to write again, and I also knew I should.

A few days before my 34th birthday, I received an email from a stranger named Joan. She had found my blog about a month after receiving a cochlear implant, and was struggling with painful “zapping” following activation, as if someone was flicking her head each time a noise presented itself. It actually took me a minute to remember my own experiences with this-- those moments a coworker would cough and it felt as though someone was snapping a rubber band at my temples. Reading Joan's pleas to provide her with hope, I felt grateful. I had come so far. If all other instances were whispers, this occurrence was a loud smack in the face. It was a blessing to connect with Joan. I needed to write again, to share again, to connect once more.

I have yet to determine what will come from this post, and any follow-ups to it, but I trust that sharing these thoughts with you is what I should be doing at this point in time. My life has always been richer when I share it. And I nod to my whispers- my dear friend starting fresh, Jason, Joan, and all the others leading to this exact moment. 

When life whispers, it can be tough to listen. But I should in this journey, and I commit to trying harder.

-  This post is dedicated to Jason Anderson.