First Meeting

I met someone yesterday who touched my heart, she cleaned my house, but that isn’t what made her special.

Since I’ve been having this flare I haven’t been able to keep up with the house cleaning so we decided to have someone come in to help out. I was looking on the Nextdoor site and saw where a neighbor was asking about a cleaner for her home, several people answered her but one person’s comment struck me more than the rest so I messaged her and asked if she’d be interested in helping us out. Lucky for us, she said yes. That’s how we met Lennie.

After several texts back and forth we set up a date and she came over yesterday. When she came to the door I felt I would like her instantly, and within the first 5 minutes I knew I was right. Her smile lights up her face and she is genuinely warm and friendly. We have a sign in our front yard, I posted a picture of it on here before, it says things like “Love is Love”, “No Human Is Illegal”, “Science Is Real”…. This sign means a lot to me. It says a lot about what I believe in, and who I am. When Lennie came in she mentioned how much she loved our sign, she said she saw it and thought “These are mine kind of people.” I gave her a high five.

We chatted some as she went about her business. She knew from our messages about some of my health issues, but I didn’t know she had a few. Her illness was not supposed to be chronic, but it did have some long term complications. She really understands going through a long ordeal before being diagnosed.

The main thing I really wanted to write about was how she reacted to my hearing loss. When she found out I lost my hearing just a few years ago she first asked the same thing everyone else does, “Do you know sign language?” I wonder why that’s the first thing people ask? You know when you are not immersed in a language it’s hard to become fluent in it, especially at my age. Taking a class when you are fighting vertigo and migraines on a daily basis is almost impossible. Absorbing a foreign language while dealing with those? Well I haven’t been able to do it. But anyway, after we discussed all that, I promise I didn’t say anything rude, she asked me something no one else ever has: “Has losing your hearing been difficult?”

My first instinct was to say “No”, and just brush it off. I started to say that I thought it was more difficult for Stuart, but then I stopped. I looked at her and felt tears well up in my eyes, “Yes, yes, it has been very difficult.”

I was taken aback by the fact that she asked, and genuinely seemed to care. No one has ever asked me that before. I’ve never gotten the impression that anyone has felt that it has been very difficult. I think some people see that I have some challenges, but I don’t think they understand how difficult it is, and I think it would make them uncomfortable if they knew. I think a lot of people think my cochlear implants “fixed” my hearing loss, and others think I’m really good at handling it. Truth of the matter is, it’s extremely difficult, my CIs are far from perfect, and I think I handle it pretty well but that doesn’t mean I always understand what the heck you’re saying or that it’s any less difficult.

Meeting Lennie made me realize that I can still make connections with people in the “real world”. It may still be difficult to nurture a friendship when I can’t drive and may often have to cancel things and I can’t hear in many situations…but Lennie made me want to try.

You never know what kind of mark you may leave on a person, try to make that mark a good one. Look what Lennie has done for me.

(I will try to post about some of the difficulties I have dealing with hearing loss soon.)

Starting to Deal with My Anxiety

I’m in the infancy of dealing with my anxiety and I thought I’d share some of the things I’m working on with my therapist. There are a number of things I’m starting to implement but the very first thing I’m to do is to understand that it’s perfectly alright for me to avoid things that cause me increased anxiety. In the future I will push myself to do things that are uncomfortable, but, right now, I’m going to just back away and take a breather from things that make me the most anxious.

Next is to make sure I’m taking care of myself, eating well, exercising when I can (something that can be a challenge for someone with chronic illnesses, but something that can help a lot I’ve found.), keeping up physical hygiene and getting enough sleep. Sleep is so important that my psychiatrist prescribed something to help for days when I simply can’t fall asleep. I used to sleep 8 – 9 hours a night without aid before the mixed mania episode now I barely make it 4 without help. I had 2 nights last week where I slept almost 7 hours without any help, that’s a great improvement, now if I can just have more nights like that.

My therapist suggested I do deep breathing exercises during times of high anxiety and have reassuring phrases prepared to tell myself.

BREATHE…IN 1 – 2 – 3 – 4….HOLD…OUT 1 – 2 – 3 – 4

IS MY BODY CALM? REPEAT AS NECESSARY

I WILL GET THROUGH THIS.

I AM GOING TO BE OKAY.

THIS WILL PASS.

I have another grounding technique that I got from a friend that I find helpful but it is a bit challenging for me, because it’s based on the 5 senses, so I do it a little differently but I think it works just as well.

You do this grounding technique by taking stock of all your 5 senses. If you can, try to say this aloud as you are processing it, if not, that’s okay too.

5 – See – What are 5 things you see around you right now? I see my computer, my water bottle, my walker, the fireplace, the rug.

4 – Touch – What are 4 things you could touch or feel right now? I can feel the water droplets on my bottle, I can feel the softness of my blanket, I can feel the ribbing on my sweater, I can feel my hair

3 – Hear – What are 3 things you can hear? (okay for me this one is different, if I can’t hear 3 things I list things that could make noise, or noises I’ve heard that I like….) Right now I hear a whistling in my tinnitus. I hear the TV is on. I can imagine there is traffic making noise outside.

2 – Smell – What are 2 things you can smell? I can smell….well not much I have a cold..hahaha…but if I didn’t I could smell my tea, I could smell my dog.

1 – Taste – What is 1 thing you can taste? I can taste my tea.

I’m doing this exercise at least once a day just to become aware of my surroundings and to make sure when I do it when I’m anxious I’ll be able to just easily fall into it and not be freaked out trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I did that once and it freaked me out worse.

I keep a card in my purse and one in my side table at home that list this grounding technique, I admit I can never remember what comes first and then I get all anxious so it just negates the purpose. On the other side of that card I have the breathing techniques and affirmations written to remind me, because when I’m having a panic attack nothing much is really getting through this noggin’ of mine.

I’m also working on trying to be more mindful. As anyone who reads my blog knows I have focused on mindfulness for a long time, but for some reason when things started to get worse my mindfulness practice started to stray. The senses grounding technique is also a mindfulness technique that’s a good start. I’m also trying to consciously take at least 5 minutes a day to be very mindful aware…. non-judgmentally.

So that’s what I’m doing right now. As I go through this journey I’ll share more with you. I know that my hearing loss and other things in life are causing me to have a lot of anxiety at the present, but I’m not giving up. I also know that it’s not just my hearing loss. Before we moved to Tucson I was starting to really deal with my hearing loss anxiety, I was starting to get out there and push myself. I went to a couple of Christmas parties, and made some friends. I got involved in the Hearing Loss Association. I was driving again, for short distances (the traffic in Charlotte was crazy), but once we moved here my physical health took a turn, and so did my mental health, not to mention the stress of the move itself. I feel like all the strides I took are gone, but I know I can do it, I have. As a friend said to me, “We can get far going one step at a time.”

Anxiety and Hearing Loss, my story

image by w.holcombe. all rights reserved

I’m having severe anxiety issues surrounding my hearing loss. I’ve been trying to do research on the subject and I’ve found quite a few articles that mention anxiety and hearing loss but I don’t feel that they go into enough detail. Every article I found only spoke of hearing loss and anxiety with the elderly. There are many reasons one may lose their hearing other than age. I lost my hearing quickly from an illness. The articles all speak of getting a device to for your hearing loss to relieve anxiety. I got my first cochlear implant (CI) almost as soon as I lost my hearing, my assissitive devise has not taken away my anxiety. I do not know if my anxiety would be higher if I did not have my CI’s and lived in a completely silent world all the time or not, I never have. But I can tell you that my anxiety has risen significantly since I lost my hearing.

At first I didn’t realize I had anxiety due to my hearing loss. I knew I had anxiety due to the sudden attacks of vertigo so I simply attributed much of it to that. I can say that both have been a big part of my life for years now, but at this time in my life, I’m not as concerned about the vertigo. Not because I don’t have it, but because I deal with it much better. I’m not so freaked out by an attack, I can deal with it if it happens and I rarely have attacks as severe as the attacks I used to have on a regular basis. I’ve come to realize that the majority of my anxiety now stems from my hearing loss.

Many people believe that with my CI’s I can now hear normally, that is far from the truth. It also confuses people because I can hear fairly well in a quiet place, I can also hear certain people much better than others (it depends on the frequency of the person’s voice) this makes it hard for people to understand why I can’t hear under every circumstance. However it is very hard for me to hear when there are 2 or more people talking, or when a person has an accent or someone has facial hair or doesn’t move their mouth much, or puts their hands in front of their mouth…. I simply cannot understand speech in a lot of situations. Most of the time I am completely lost in a noisy environment. How am I supposed to socialize?

I often just smile and nod, or I chime in at an inappropriate time and get embarrassed afterward. Sometimes I talk too much, after all if I’m talking then no one else can so I’m not missing anything. There’s a problem there too, often people will chime in and I’m lost again, and I seem very rude. So normally I look at Stuart for cues and ask occasionally if there is something I need to know. It’s not a pleasant experience and it is very anxiety provoking. Imagine sitting at a table where everyone is talking and you have no idea what is being said. You simply eat your meal and wait until it’s time to leave. Since moving to Tucson there have been numerous times that we have gone out to eat with the family that includes between 7 and 9 people. We’ve been to extremely noisy restaurants and we’ve been to quiet restaurants, it makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, they seem to only want to go to the noisy places so I normally bow out of those outings.

When we had them to our home I did have the children sit at a different place than the adults which reduced the noise but our dining room does not have carpet so it echoes, that makes hearing harder. However, one person kind of dominated the conversation so I kept up pretty well, I did miss some and Stuart caught me up on that later, which I thought “when did that happen” but since I was in my home it was not as bad. But my anxiety leading up to that dinner brought on a full blown panic attack. I will not go through that again. I’m not sure dinner with the whole family together is worth it to me.

There are many other things that cause me anxiety around my hearing loss:

  • sleeping alone in the house – I can’t hear the smoke alarm or anything else.
  • being in a store I can’t hear when anyone is around me
  • I can’t hear when someone calls my name
  • I can’t hear when someone comes up behind me
  • I often can’t hear if someone knocks on the door.
  • I can’t hear emergency vehicles.
  • I can’t hear the GPS
  • I meet someone and tell them I’m deaf and they begin to use ASL
  • ….

I realized recently that my anxiety over driving is not totally the action of driving itself, although living in a new town and not being able to hear the GPS is pretty bad, it is also the anxiety of what happens when I get there.

The last time I drove I went to Whole Foods. a whole 1 mile from my home, I got there and was fine, I went to get a basket and found a phone in my basket. I knew I had to take it in and find someone to turn it in to. Anxiety started. I found someone as soon as I walked in the door as she was returning glasses do someone who had left them at a register, we exchanged pleasantries and I walked away not really knowing what she said but I knew it was nice and hoped I had responded appropriately. As I walked the aisles looking for my groceries I was acutely aware of the people around me but still one person came up behind me, and another came around a corner and I did not hear either before the were right on me. When I got to the register I had to tell her I had profound hearing loss and had to see her lips, she went on to say how wonderful it was that I could read lips and I have no idea what else she said, I paid for my groceries and left. When I walked outside I was still shaken but the day was beautiful and I saw a lady I saw when I went in who was eating her lunch and I decided I wanted to put myself out there for just a bit (my therapist would be proud) she was reading a real book and I commented how nice it was to see that, she said how much she loved real books and I went on my way. I only spoke to her because it was quiet out and I was sure I would know her response, and I did. At least I’m pretty sure I did. However, when I got in my car I realized I was shaking. I felt the car vibrating like it was running but I hadn’t started it. I looked around to see if big truck had gone by, but the only thing I could attribute it to was me.

When reading over the articles about anxiety and hearing loss the suggestions they give to help include getting a hearing assistive device like a hearing aid, give the device a change, see a therapist, ask family and friends to help what you need to hear easier, get a hearing dog, get involved in a hearing loss association…

So out of those suggestions, I have a device that I’ve had for nearly 6 years, I give them a chance every day. I have not shied away from situations. (Although a I have started to). I have a therapist. Stuart helps me, I’ve asked others to understand and help but most do not even attempt to help, I’m considering a hearing dog, but I need to make sure we can take on the added responsibility of caring for another dog, I have been involved in a hearing loss association in the past and I’ve looked into it here in Tucson but my anxiety simply hasn’t allowed me to do it yet. (If it’s like the last association I’m not sure I’ll feel like I belong)

Studies, sited below, have shown that hearing loss is related to anxiety, depression, social isolation, and demetia.

We need to work with those with hearing loss to help them integrate with main stream society better so they do not feel so left out. We need to help them understand they are just as viable and cared for as they were before their hearing loss.

Ryan, Cynthia. Link Between Untreated Hearing Loss & Mental Health. Vestibular Disorders Association. Sept. 13, 2014. https://vestibular.org/news/09-13-2012/link-between-untreated-hearing-loss-mental-health

DeWane, Caludia. Hearing Loss in Older Adults-Its Effect on Mental Health. Social Work Today. July, 2010. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/071510p18.shtml

Alzheimer’s Association. What is Dementia? Oct. 1, 2014. http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp

Boyles, Salynn. Hearing Loss Linked to Mental Decline in Elderly. WebMD Health News. Jan. 22, 2013. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20130118/hearing-loss-mental-decline