Holding Music

I’ve been deaf all my life. There was a time, briefly, when our parents – both my sister and I were diagnosed around the same time – worried we wouldn’t be able to appreciate music. They needn’t have worried at all. Music will be a constant in my life.

When I was 21, music started to slip between my fingers. My heart broke, quickly, splintering with speed; in an instant, then further more instances. My way of experiencing the world around me had changed, a whole set of frequencies disappeared sharply. My deaf ears had become deafer still. The progressiveness had kicked back.

Deafness exists on a spectrum, under the umbrella there are all different levels. Within each individual, the spectrum expands further; along with our audiograms, we all have our own history with our ears. With a progressive form of deafness, unpredictability is at the helm. I’d been so attuned and appreciative of the unique way I heard the world, that to lose that was a loss I struggled to accept, at the time.

My sensitive ears had rejected hearing aids for as long as I had them, growing up. With analogue hearing aids, I felt sure, certain, that I could hear the inner workings of them; a persistent, low level hum. When digital hearing aids arrived, it was still tumultuous; amplified sound – when compared to the natural low frequencies I could access without aids – wasn’t my thing.

A brief history; I got my first hearing aids at 2. The rocky relationship began at primary school – thus began the years I’d dutifully wear them for school, then rip them out as soon as I arrived home. At the age of 14 or 15 I abruptly made a decision not to wear them at all anymore, after a teacher had been trying to get me to wear them again after I’d removed them for break time. I stubbornly – rightly, perhaps – decided that I’d no longer be forced to wear these amplification devices. My body was my body – another moment I wish I could’ve given teenage Sarah a hug, and a high five. At 21, I began wearing hearing aids again; without them, at this point, lipreading was harder than it needed to be. In 2016, a little over 4 years ago, I received a cochlear implant.

The process of getting your brain to recognise the sounds from a cochlear implant can be a long one. There are multiple appointments after the initial switch on, called mapping appointments – it’s a slow and steady part of the cochlear implant rehabilitation process, wherein more and more electrodes are switched on. Each time you’re sent away with a little more sound to adjust to, along with more volume. All it all, it takes a few months. Then, a few years; even now, 4 years down the line, I still notice subtle differences occasionally. Music is awesome, and it makes my heart so happy.

When my hearing dropped, there were a few things that felt heartbreaking, and one was how different music sounded. A big part of this was simply because I wasn’t used to music with hearing aids – there are many deaf people for whom music is wonderful with hearing aids, my sister included. She’s written about music quite a few times – Feeling the Music, Auditory Hallucinations?, Purple Rain – and deafness many times – On the Complexities of Being Deaf, Being A Deaf Writer, and A Symphony to list a few.

These days there are songs that are still improving for me. With each day I have my cochlear implant, my brain must still be slowly adapting and tuning in the background – I barely notice it. Yet, with music, there are songs I can listen to now that sounded ridiculously wrong in the early days with my cochlear implant. I remember, during the months of research, that some found their musical tastes changed – sometimes drastically – after receiving their cochlear implants. That didn’t really happen for me, but I do find there are certain songs I can’t listen to pleasantly anymore; if too much is going on, it can sound like static. Literal static. I don’t worry too much, as there are thousands and thousands of songs that sound beautiful, including, once more, my old favourites.

To stop and think about it for a beat, it’s pretty amazing that the sound in my head is not actually sound at all; rather, it is my brain interpreting electrical signals as sound.

If I were to try and encapsulate all the ways I experience the world around me as a deaf person, we’d be here for hours and hours. It’s a topic I will return to many times, hopefully more words to come on deafness before the end of Nano Poblano.

Throughout this month I – along with many others – am taking part in NanoPoblano, the Internet’s least-official November blog challenge. Click here to see the full list of Cheer Peppers.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Steven says:

    This post earns all the heart emojis I can muster. Music is life… I cannot imagine how tragic and disheartening it would be, even for just a little while.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sarah says:

      Thank you! It is, for me, too. It was really painful at the time, and it led me on the journey, eventually, to my cochlear implant. Part of it was knowing it could happen again, and though deaf, I still want to experience the sounds of the world, in some way.

      Liked by 2 people

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