Ever thought of it that way?
I didn’t until recently when I discussed my journey from a successful music career, to sudden onset bilateral, sensorineural hearing loss in my late 20’s, and back to music again. I said that after my hearing loss I had lived a life with a serious “joy deficit.”
The reasons may seem obvious, as among other things a loss of my career and music, but that quote made me wonder how I could say that. There have been so many years after hearing loss to adjust and so many moments, people, places and experiences that must have been happy and joy producing. Weren’t they?
Shortly after, I read a book about joy and how important senses are in experiencing it. I began to understand better what may have created that “joy deficit” in my life. Sensory challenges – not only my loss of hearing music, but also the partial loss of sight – had limited my experience of happiness and joy.
But was music the only thing that brought me joy all these years?
All the challenges I had because of my hearing loss seemed to cancel out all the joy in my life. Simple conversations and activities seemed to illuminate other deficits and inevitably influence the isolation, loneliness, and anxiety I can feel.
Untreated hearing loss has serious emotional and social consequences for older adults. A study done by the National Council on Aging reports that people with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids. The study also found that people who don’t use hearing aids are considerably less likely to participate in social activities.
OK, but what about those who have been treated and fitted with hearing aids and cochlear implants? Don’t they experience depression, anxiety and social isolation too? And to what degree?
According to the study:
“Hearing aid users reported significant improvements in many areas of their lives, ranging from their relationships at home and sense of independence to their social life and their sex life. In virtually every dimension measured, the families of hearing aid users also noted the improvements but were even more likely than the users to report improvements.”
I had to think back to what had previously brought me joy. Much, but not all, came back to my music – listening to it, playing, composing, recording and most of all performing it. Music was the landscape of my life. Shutting it down was a terrible blow and one from which I did not recover quickly or easily. My current pursuit of these activities should be indication enough of my passion for them and their importance to my life and happiness.
But was the loss of music the only reason I experienced a “joy” deficit?
As I do, you probably know folks with hearing loss who have not recovered well even after they get hearing aids or implants. The pain, fear and embarrassment are just too much for some and can become overwhelming. They were for me for a time as well. Thanks to discoveries about the brain, hearing technology, hearing rehab and vocal work, I have found music again.
But have I found that elusive joy I have been missing?
I’ll put it his way. I have found great satisfaction in working hard to reclaim my musical life with exciting results. My story has given me a pretext to write and speak about hearing loss. But I’ve also learned hard lessons along the way. For too long a time I forgot, or did not appreciate enough, other things that brought me joy and happiness. Because I did not hold onto the memory of those things long enough, I did not fill that reservoir of sensory and emotional experiences. So, I had little to draw upon it when things got tough. Instead, I felt that life meant compensating first and living second.
Part of learning to live with hearing loss is letting go of things one may have thought was dependent on having perfect hearing.
Having music in my life again is wonderful, but I also have other things in my life that are helping me rediscover my happiness. I have love in my life and a patient partner and soul mate; brothers and cousins; nieces and nephews; friends; my work; years of travel and better fortunes, and the memories of them, and new ones waiting to be created. Joy.
I am enjoying, with even greater intent, those things that better connect me to my body – yoga, meditation, walking, exercising, and more. Joy.
My sweetheart and I swim in Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts (made famous by the writings of Henry David Thoreau). Joy. We love the mountains and the ocean. Joy. I love old New England Inns where recently I had a “joy moment” sitting on the porch of the very Inn I escaped to right after my hearing loss – and being now in a better place. Joy.
“If I were to be asked what brings me the most joy now, it’s not perfect hearing.”
Enjoying sensory experiences are not all dependent on perfect hearing of course, and all of them give us a window into what brings us joy. If I were to be asked what brings me the most joy now, it’s not perfect hearing. It’s family, friends, nature, love, sex, my work, my music and countless other things. It’s the joy that might be present at any moment that I will miss if I do not pay attention. It’s close up face-to-face exchanges, the visuals in life, the outdoors, the body, feeling the flow of life…and sharing that with others.
I lost many things when I lost my hearing. Joy did not have to be one of them. If not hearing, then I can use my other senses to see, smell, taste, touch, remember and experience those moments, people, places and things that bring me joy. It’s up to me to regularly quiet myself long enough to savor the joys in my life.
Was I blaming my hearing loss for that joy deficit? Yes, I think I did in part. My joyless streak caused many difficulties for me – not enough time with family and friends, gaps in my relationships, not reaching out to the hearing loss community and insisting that my social crowd be limited to those with good hearing. That’s changing and I am better for it.
Joy is a choice.
Dear friends and many guides have helped me understand something else – that joy is a choice. Any choice can become joyful by actions that we take – not just emotions that we feel. If we don’t pay attention in every moment, we will miss the good things. If we allow hearing loss to disconnect us from the other parts of ourselves and life, it will inevitably limit the joy we can experience.
Our emotions are connected to our senses and ultimately to our experience of joy.
Listen to music, sit by a stream, hike in the mountains, walk by the sea, visit a museum, read a good book, be among friends and family and try not to be moved. We fail the soul when we fail to allow our other senses to move us, even when hearing is limited. And we fail the soul when we purposely shut the rest of us down out of fear, anxiety or embarrassment.
It’s not surprising that many of us with hearing loss have found peace in spirituality, meditation, yoga, and in those people, places and things that through interactions and the senses bring us joy. We can mourn our hearing losses, but the resources to help us reconnect to our joy ARE out there. Don’t avoid getting a hearing aid and allowing a joy deficit to fester.
Find your joys – whatever they are – and hold onto them and nurture them selfishly.
If you have a hearing loss, try a hearing aid. As the aforementioned study suggests, that alone may bring you happiness.
If wearing a hearing aid or cochlear implant continues to distress you, take some time and contemplate the state of your own joy and happiness and ask yourself why they continue to be elusive. If perfect hearing is the only thing that you think will bring you happiness, you may be in trouble.
There are things I cannot do anymore, but most of them have nothing to do with my hearing. As I have grown older, and even less auditorially perfect, the number of things that can bring me joy has grown, but only IF I recognize them, appreciate them and hold onto them.
I don’t mean to be glib. The social isolation, anxiety and depression are real and not easy things to overcome. We try medications, therapy and other things to help. But it comes down to gratitude and those personal habits we practice to identify and express our joy that are at least as important.
Joy and happiness are choices. They demand making changes in perspective and behavior simply because the old ways are not going to work anymore.
“Joy and happiness are choices.”
Don’t miss the joy in each moment because of your hearing loss. When good thing happens, drink them in and build up that reservoir of joy inside you.