Oddly enough, I’ve come to think that losing my hearing was one of the best things that ever happened to me, as it led to the publication of my first novel. But it took a while for me to accept that I was losing my hearing and needed help.
I believe that no matter how tough things get, you can make them better. I have my parents to thank for that. They never allowed me to think that I couldn’t accomplish something because of my hearing loss. One of my mother’s favorite sayings when I expressed doubt that I could do something was, “Yes, you can.”
I was born with a mild hearing loss but began to lose more of my hearing when I was a senior in college. One day while sitting in my college dormitory room reading, I noticed my roommate get up from her bed, go to the princess telephone in our room, pick it up and start talking. None of that would have seemed strange, except for one thing: I never heard the telephone ring! I wondered why I couldn’t hear a phone that I could hear just the day before. But I was too baffled–and embarrassed–to say anything to my roommate or to anyone else.
Late-deafened people can always remember the moments when they first stopped being able to hear the important things in life like telephones and doorbells ringing, people talking in the next room, or the television. It’s sort of like remembering where you were when you learned that President Kennedy had been shot or when you learned about the terror attack at the World Trade Center.
Unbeknown to me at the time, that was only the beginning of my downward spiral, as my hearing grew progressively worse. But I was young and still vain enough not to want to buy a hearing aid. I struggled through college by sitting up front in the classroom, straining to read lips and asking people to speak up, sometimes again and again.
By the time I entered graduate school, I could no longer put it off. I knew that I had to buy a hearing aid. By then, even sitting in front of the classroom wasn’t helping much. I was still vain enough to wait a few months while I let my hair grow out a bit before taking the plunge but I eventually did buy a hearing aid. It was a big, clunky thing, but I knew that I would have to be able to hear if I ever wanted to graduate.
Soon, my hair length didn’t matter much, as the hearing aids got smaller and smaller. They also got better and better at picking up sound. The early aids did little more than make sounds louder evenly across the board. That doesn’t work for those of us with nerve deafness, as we may have more hearing loss in the high frequencies than in the lower ones. The newer digital and programmable hearing aids go a long way toward improving on that. They can be set to match different types of hearing loss, so you can, say, increase a particular high frequency more than other frequencies.
Once I got my hearing aid and was able to hear again, I could focus on other things that were important to me–like my education, my career and writing that first novel! I didn’t realize it then, but that first hearing aid actually freed me to go on to bigger and better things.
I had long dreamed of writing a novel, but like others kept putting it off. As I began to lose more and more of my hearing, it was a chore just to keep up at work, let alone doing much else. Then once I got the hearing aid, I no longer had to worry about a lot of the things I did before, and I began to think that writing a novel would be the perfect hobby for me. Anyone can write regardless of whether they can hear. I was also determined to prove that losing my hearing would not hold me back.
My first novel was published in 1994 and my fifth in the summer of 2005. Writing turned out to be much more than a hobby, as I’ve been writing full-time for more than 10 years. I’m now hard at work on my first nonfiction work, a photo-essay book to be published in 2007. I honestly believe that I would never have sat down at the computer and banged out that first novel if I hadn’t lost so much of my hearing. Instead, I’d probably still be an editor somewhere and still dreaming about someday becoming a novelist. That’s why I sometimes think that losing my hearing was one of the best things that ever happened to me.