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What’s it like to go deaf?
I was born to hear. I learned language at my mother’s knee and attended main stream schools. The piano was my first love. When I was about 9 years of age I had measles.No one thought much about it because I recovered. However, by the time I was 16 the legacy left by the measles had begun and a small high pitched hearing loss was measurable.
Even then, though, it didn’t impact on my life and it wasn’t until the tinnitus started when I was 18 that I thought I might have a problem. I visited specialists around the country. The best they could say was – “Nothing can be done. Give up. Learn lip reading. You’ll be totally deaf by the time you are 20.” This was devastating. My life was based around music. I was attending College and studying to become a high school teacher with piano as one of my majors.
The tinnitus made it hard to hear so I left college – the first time my hearing loss impacted on getting an education. A few years later I married. My children arrived and each time I was pregnant I noticed a decided drop in hearing. Once again specialists assured me that when my pregnancy was over my hearing would return. It never did.
By the time I was 28 my marriage had broken up and I had to return to the workforce. My qualifications were incomplete but despite my encroaching deafness I had the skills to work in the music industry. I sold pianos and organs by day, taught piano in the early evenings played easy listening dinner music in restaurants at night. But the day came when my hearing loss was impacting on my ability to work in music. By now left ear was completely deaf and my right ear was following.
But still the specialists couldn’t do anything. One told me I had lost all the hearing I was ever going to lose – it would remain stable, while another told me I was young enough that in a few years I would benefit from a new invention, the bionic ear.
Just seven years later my right ear had lost all but a small amount of hearing and I was now living in an almost silent world. The world was no longer familiar to me. My ways of interacting with others had changed. I missed music and withdrew from many social occasions. I could no longer work in the music industry so dredging up my old secretarial skills I took a job in marketing.
To improve my chances of a better job I decided to study. But after three years of Uni two nights a week for three hours, often when I couldn’t hear the lectures or interact with my classmates, I gave up– the second time my hearing loss interfered with my education.
Despite my hearing loss I worked my way up through the ranks until I became the General Manager of a Marketing Services company. I had assistants, sales people and other staff who could do the phoning for me and take notes and interpret as needed. I used lip reading when I could and bluffed my way when I couldn’t. I got the bits I missed from the minutes. But the company headquarters was in New Zealand and I couldn’t keep in touch with the owners.
My sales manager did this for me, so much so that the owners considered he was the manager and I was retrenched. I was now 40 years old, unemployed and deaf. Over the next two years I applied for 473 jobs, attended 100 interviews and was short listed 9 times and still only got part-time or temporary work. A former colleague, who believed in me and knew my worth, offered me a job interstate and I jumped at it.
By now my children had moved out. For the first time in my life I was living alone. I hadn’t realised how much my children had been my ears. I had no friends, no social networks and no way to easily develop these. It was nothing for me to leave work on a Friday night and not even speak until I returned to work on a Monday morning. Life had taken a severe down turn. I was isolated, friendless and slipped into depression. I had almost given up hope that life could ever be good again
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