Notes on My Hearing Loss

I have “Profound High-Frequency Sensorineural Hearing-Loss,” a mouthful of a diagnosis that simultaneously sounds more severe (all those words!) and less severe (it’s not total deafness) than what the disability truly entails. Our ears perceive sound, lots of sounds, some on a high-frequency, and some on a low-frequency. High-frequency sounds are typically your consonants, particularly: “s,” “f,” and “sh.” If someone has high-frequency hearing loss, speech will sound less intelligible, more muffled… but the individual’s perception of volume remains unaffected, which results in a somewhat frustrating day-to-day experience. This kind of hearing loss is common amongst people who’ve experienced noise-induced hearing loss and can naturally occur as a result of old age.

My experience with this diagnosis and my path towards getting one is odd. I was diagnosed late—in my Freshman year of High School—and Dr.s and Audiologists I’ve had presume that it is either congenital or occurred when I was quite young. I’ve been told that the specific pattern of my hearing-loss, the line-graph that charts the sounds you can/can’t hear during a hearing test, is consistent with individuals who survived childhood cancer. I’ve never had cancer. Every five years or so I try to make a point to pin down how my hearing-loss occurred and open up a new avenue of inquiry but the result is always the same: I’m told it’s a mystery.

I don’t like mysteries. I like knowing things. I’m one of those people who, if growing impatient, will google the ending of a movie if I can’t figure out where it’s going. Performing a personal exegesis always seems like an exercise in futility, I mean really, how much of a person can be truly adequately explained? But I’d venture to guess that my particular distaste for the unknown stems from my experiences as a child growing up with an undiagnosed hearing disability. Back then, I was constantly unknowingly mishearing speech (my perception of volume was of course fine). This resulted in a heightened level of paranoia and a belief that people were constantly talking unintelligibly around me to either make fun of me or keep secrets from me… which in turn led to me having more than a fair share of panic attacks… and caused me to act out in ways that were, in retrospect, quite embarrassing. Upon receiving my diagnosis and receiving hearing aids, this problem became near-nonexistent. With my hearing aids, I can hear. I can know things. Nearly fifteen years later and I still haven’t really gotten over that joy.

But I can’t know my disabilities origin. At this point in my life I think I’ve come to terms with that. After all, does the specific origin truly matter? It would not change the diagnosis, the prognosis, or the course of treatment. With my hearing aids, life opened up, my schoolwork improved, and I’ve been able to participate in so many activities that, during my youth, were near-impossible: I got to go to parties, have conversations at restaurants, attend conferences—which, I wouldn’t have done as a kid regardless, but man those things are loud—and am no longer a paranoid ball of nerves. I’m working to gain a newfound love of mystery and wonder… which starts, I’m sure, with putting the phone down during movies and lettings answers come when they may.