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My Hearing Journey: 10 Hearing Loss Thresholds to Cross

my hearing loss journey

I am about to cross another threshold in my hearing journey and it got me thinking about how many thresholds I have crossed since that fateful time between 1978-1980 when I “lost” my hearing.

I thought my recapitulation might be helpful to someone in the early stages of a hearing loss or even someone like me, who can forget how life has changed (and how we have changed) since that time when it seemed as if time had stopped.

1st Threshold: The Loss

Depending on the type of hearing loss one experiences, it may have been a slow discovery or for many of us, the sheer terror of suddenly losing one’s hearing. It’s a bad dream right? There is a fix for this, right? The moment of truth is also a gradual or sudden reckoning that life would never be the same. It may have also been accompanied by ear pain, vertigo and dizziness – the perfect metaphors for our condition – imbalance.

2nd Threshold: The Onset of Tinnitus 

If it happened, it may have happened simultaneously or come on gradually, but for many people with hearing loss, tinnitus is its nasty sidekick and sometimes seems worse than the hearing loss itself.

3rd Threshold: Seeking Help

I remember this time as being especially stressful, as it was such a different experience than just going to my doctor for the flu. My hearing loss gave me a special problem and I had no sense of where to go. My internist turned me onto a local otorhinolaryngologists (Ear-Nose-and Throat doctors, ENT) who gave me the bad news, but recommended nothing further than just trying to cope. When I lost hearing in the other ear 18 months later, my ENT suggested a specialist in New York to conduct a polytomography to rule out a tumor (which he did). With that out of the way I was back to the drawing board and I sought help where I could find it. I found a renown specialist in NY who put me on steroids and Florical, a calcium/fluoride combination. I then decided on my own to head out to the House Ear Institute in California. For all the stress, special medical attention and travel, I came home with nothing more than I started with – no cause, no resolution, just the recommendation to get fitted for a hearing aid.

4th Threshold: The Hearing Device

I was fitted with a hearing aid without any primer or experience with these devices. I knew nothing about the hearing aid I purchased, but was at very least thankful to be able to “hear” once again. I wasn’t concerned about the quality of the sound at that time. All I wanted was more volume so that I could communicate with my wife and friends again. This was before digital hearing aids and all the “tools and toys” that are now available. In retrospect, my first hearing aid might as well have been steam powered. But it worked and I could function – how well or how limited was for me to discover over time.

5th Threshold: Searching for a cure/resolution

When reality starts to set in, many – if not most – people go straight to the next threshold without bothering with this step… and for good reasons. “Let’s get on with it” is often the right response. I, on the other hand, became a very serious student of hearing loss – its causes, its effects – always looking for the cure in a paragraph somewhere, but never finding one. This was also before I had a computer and eons before Google, so I was dependent on what the medical people were telling me and on my own very limited and haphazard research.     

6th Threshold: Weighing the Impact on Work, Finances & Family

My successful music career was gone. My income from it was gone. My hope of doing more, making more from music, gone. So who was I and how would I work? My marriage imploded. The stress of my hearing loss and later a loss of partial sight proved too much for us to handle. Add to that my own loss of pride, dignity, confidence and hope. The future was nothing but question marks. And along came the shame and embarrassment of having to admit all this to others.

7th Threshold: Coming to Terms/Making Decisions

I was fortunate to have enough savings in the bank when I first had to deal with my hearing loss, which allowed me some time to reflect and consider what to do next. While I was still experiencing physical pain, discomfort and vertigo, what work could I do? I decided first to focus on my health and see where that would lead me. First, it led me to work with a variety of healers. Later, I got into the natural products industry and then into food and small farm advocacy and consulting. All that gave me a platform to write, speak and work, among other things, as a trainer and educator.  

8th Threshold: Settling In/Managing a Life with Hearing Loss

With a path to work settled, it was time to settle into – if I could – a life with hearing loss. Does anyone really settle in? Communication remained and remains the challenge. I nevertheless learned to use what skills I had to maintain and build new personal and professional relationships. I also had a variety of new health regimes that were showing promise, allowing me to be consistently well, and I believed, stabilizing my fluctuating hearing.  

9th Threshold: Starting Over

Sometimes with hearing loss – and an unquenchable passion – you get a break and can find something or return to something you love, that you lost when you lost your hearing. In my case, it was making music again. It hasn’t been easy, but there simply came a time when I felt that I no longer wanted my hearing loss to limit my choices in my life. I was much more than my hearing loss, and longed to feel confident and self assured again.

I also needed a change. My wife passed away in 2010 and I was more alone than I had ever been before. I received a serious nudge to move ahead and return to music – whatever it would take. Fate intervened on several fronts and I was able to start again.

10th Threshold: Refinements/Enhancements

Starting over was not possible without some new information, new breakthroughs, new people and new tools that I could employ in my quest. While life appeared to have changed little in 30+ years, there were many changes underway that are now making my life and my hearing better. Research into the brain, new hearing technology, and aural rehabilitation have completely altered my attitude and strategy forward. Heading out to the territory ahead with a new attitude and new tools, I am now about to cross my next threshold with some new customized ear monitors that I am testing to use while performing live and for recording.

If you are experiencing a recent onset of hearing loss, you will cross through many of these thresholds but will also have many advantages that were not available 40 years ago. That may help you to negotiate each threshold more quickly than I did.

The next hearing and hearing loss discoveries are always just around the corner as are the next technologies, adaptations and applications. Hearing loss organizations and associations are there to provide support, encouragement, references and services. There are now better ways to diagnose and treat hearing loss, and one day perhaps there will be the option to identify the “cures” for a full spectrum of hearing conditions.  

Whatever happens in your hearing loss journey, step lively, get help ASAP and move through these stages. You do not have to suffer alone. Ask everyone questions. Get information from every source you can identify. Do your own research and be up-to-date about hearing loss and all its facets.  

As you step across each threshold, be sure to congratulate yourself. Then keep going. There is always another threshold ahead, some we can’t even imagine right now.

Wherever you are, whatever condition you’re in, cross the next threshold. The tools you’ll need to endure are in place. Use them. Benefit from the experience and wisdom of those who have gone before.

Where are you in your hearing loss journey? Have you identified thresholds you have crossed? What’s the next threshold for you?  

Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”