Friday, May 9, 2014

How I Took My Hearing for Granted, and How Losing it Affects my Connection with Nature

EcoYogini shares a loss and how that had a surprising impact on her eco-life...

Something I never thought would impact my connection with nature: my ability to hear.

I say this because I never actually thought I'd have trouble with my hearing. I'm a musician. I sing, play the piano (classically for a while), play the guitar and spent my teenage years listening to stupidly loud music (ok still do that), sang in a band and eventually worked as a bartender. Honestly, my noise exposure was about typical for most teenage, early twenties experience.

Concurrently, I grew up loving the sound of all sorts of wild life, especially bird calls. My dad is a bird nerd- and that definitely shows in me. One of my favourite parts of our new house is our ability to have different bird feeders. One of my favourite memories growing up is sitting on our cottage deck at dusk and listening to the loon, night birds, peepers, bull frogs... and the ringing in my ears.

I don't remember a time when I didn't have some sort of ringing in my ears. Especially when everything else got really quiet. I just assumed that this was a normal part of the hearing experience.

Until my first year in my masters. As part of a master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology you have to complete a minor in Audiology. Which involves practicing basic hearing tests on your fellow students. It quickly became clear that most early twenties people do not in fact have a ringing in their ears that complete masks a few frequencies. 
(My audiogram looks kinda like this one. Normal hearing for lower to mid frequencies then a huge DIP into it needing to be louder for 4000-6000Hz followed by a return to normal hearing)

At the age of 23 I was diagnosed with a bilateral, sensorineural mild to moderate (it is now strictly moderate) high frequency notched hearing loss with tinnitus. Sounds scary? It's cuz it is. It's permanent hearing loss in a pattern perfectly matched to noise induced hearing loss. What that means exactly is that for about two frequencies (or sound pitches) it needs to be pretty loud of me to hear them. Otherwise I can't tell the sound apart from the high pitch squeal, the tinnitus, that is always in my ear. (for more info on Tinnitus, ringing/noise in your ear, check out this link).

Ok ok. So beyond this being a "The more you know" commercial for hearing protection (wear those ear plugs at concerts kids!), what does this have to do with the environment?

A month ago the peepers (or tweet tweets as we used to call them) came out at our new house. While we were sitting in the living room with the windows closed Andrew looked at me and said: "Wow! Listen to those peepers! They sure are loud!"
I couldn't hear anything beyond the ringing in my ears. He had to open the windows before I heard them.

Not a week later we were lying in bed one Saturday morning and he exclaimed: "I love waking up to the sound of birds singing outside"
Again, nothing.

This past week I've been participating in David Suzuki's 30x30 Challenge to spend at least 30 minutes every day in Nature. Most of my 30minutes have been meditative: finding a quiet moment to sit and observe. To be present with what I sense: smell, see, feel, hear. 


Now I am super aware of how I will never enjoy what others enjoy as a "quiet moment in nature". I'm always competing with the ringing in my ears to enjoy the natural sounds around me. I also know I may be missing a whole world of natural sound-life without even being aware... and there is no way of truly knowing what it is I may be missing.

It makes me sad that such an important part of my life, my enjoyment of nature, has been dampened because of my loss of hearing. It's also sad that it won't be getting any better and I have to mentally prepare for the eventuality of further hearing loss as I get older.

So. I gather each and every sound, hold it close to my heart and weave together my sounds of nature memories. So I can treasure them later.

May is Speech and Hearing Month: check out your National Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology websites for tips on language/sound disorders/development, literacy, hearing protection and disorders, stuttering and much much more!
Canada: SAC/OAC


Betsy Escandon said...

My husband also suffers from tinnitus and hearing loss. Not much helps. I feel very bad for him. He thinks mainly due to working with his dad on a/c units as a teenager, but I'm sure the Metallica concerts didn't help. I can't imagine the ringing in the ears. When my kids yell/ cry (often), he is in physical pain. My husband tells me kids not to yell so that he'll still be able to hear them in the future :(
A good reminder to appreciate what we have while we have it.

Green Bean said...

I am so sorry to read this! We all need to appreciate what we have! said...

Tinnitus can be a real PITA! :( I know because I have it. The only way to deal with it really is to habituate it. That's the proverbial "elephant in the room".

I just won't think about that thing that I think about all the time because it's constant in my life. Easy!


I haven't perfected it, but lately I am able to "ignore" it more effectively. I wish you luck and LOUD Peepers.

I haven't heard any yet. Hmmm.. Or maybe I just haven't noticed.

P.S. We are also doing the David Suzuki Foundation 30x30 challenge. There are even a few #natureselfies. Oh boy!

Eco Yogini said...

thanks for all the kind words of support everyone! Betsy, I'm sorry for your husband and can totally related to the recruitment (loud noise pain). movie theatres do it for me. :(

@GreenBean: thank you! yes, definitely do :)

@Peady: Exactly! A fan at night has been helpful, but i've been trying to go without since we moved to the new house. We'll see...
and yay Nature Challenge!

robbie @ going green mama said...

I am sorry you are going through this! I am realizing as I get older how the loud music did the damage; thankfully I am not there yet but do all I can now to preserve what I have. :(

Mindful Echo said...

Sorry to read about your hearing loss. At the risk of sounding obnoxiously "glass half full" about it, I've always found my own comfort in *smells* of nature personally. I think waking up to the morning fresh air from an open window is one of my favourite aspects of the warm weather.

bryan flake said...

This is such sad news to hear. I am an avid duck hunter. I often use a large shotgun and no ear protection. Your story has encouraged me to not only use ear protection, but to also get my hearing tested.


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