When I lost my hearing, I changed. That is probably an understatement actually. It was the final straw for me, for my personality, for the person I used to be. It was the last crack in my foundation. Everything changed. Not just what I hear, but ME-everything about me. There was more than a temporal shift in my hearing, there was a mental, emotional and spiritual shift in my whole being. The slow and gradual change that had begun after my back surgery was hitting full throttle and could not be stopped.
It’s certainly no secret. I honestly don’t think that there is one person in my ‘before’ life that has not noticed, that has not watched me evolve, some days kicking and screaming, into the person I am today. Layers of personality sloughed off like dead skin leaving me feeling exposed and raw; revealing this new person that some like just the same, and some do not. Questions I could not answer ran through my head in the middle of the night-who am I now? For a long while I fought to reclaim bits and pieces of who I was, I tried to climb back into that skin I was so comfortable in, tried to keep up with who I used to be, tried to hang out with the same friends, and do all of the same things.
But I can’t. It just didn’t fit. I am not that person anymore. I am not the same.
Who I am now is vastly different. While I would still love to be the life of a party or go hit the bar for a night of great music, today it is more a source of frustration and sadness than anything else. A painful reminder of what was lost and left behind. I’d rather meet for coffee or lunch and grab a table outside, or in the corner-if it’s alright with you-so I can hear.
Oh, I still enjoy the energy and excitement of a crowded room-in my ‘past life’ I was a true extrovert, but now it is incredibly draining and difficult to navigate. Tracking several conversations above the din of the TVs and music, chairs scraping and children crying….tracking, always tracking, is tiring in ways you cannot imagine, and I cannot describe. In the beginning I would come home and need to sleep, sleep so deeply even I was amazed. But I was mentally exhausted. Three years later andI still find myself needing to escape when I am in groups or crowds, to go to the bathroom, check my phone, to look away for just a minute-to regroup, breathe, catch up. I feel awkward and uneasy, constantly waiting on edge, on heightened alert. I need to hear the next word, I need to listen carefully, smile at the right time, nod appropriately. I need to pay attention.
I miss a lot. Not just the words and jokes and things you would normally think of. I miss moments and connections. I keep conversations short out of fear and insecurity, embarrassment and shame; not that I am afraid and want to hide who I am, but because I am afraid will miss part of who you are, part of your story. I am afraid I will look uninterested and disengaged, something so, so far from the truth. I am afraid. I am afraid I will say the wrong thing at the wrong time, laugh when I should not, afraid I will just seem weird or strange, rude or aloof. Trust me, I want to know you, to hear you, to gently touch your shoulder when you share your sadness or to give you that sly smile when you whisper a secret. I do. But sometimes, I miss it.
I am missing moments, and more importantly, connections. There it is. As Oprah would say, there is my ‘aha moment’.
I returned from an amazing weekend in Vermont a few weeks ago, and I took away from it so many valuable and amazing lessons, along with a bunch of crazy, funny and beautiful memories. I now have new women in my life that shared that spectacular space with me and we are now our own group of cheerleaders for one another, personally and professionally-it was truly magical. But I still feel like I missed things. I feel like I could have made stronger connections, could have reached out more, been willing to try harder. Now that I am distanced from those days, I wish I could go back and have a do-over, or at least a few more days. I wish I could have named my fear and left it there. My fear of missing. Not FOMO, I’m not missing out on anything, It is just a fear of missing. Fear of missing the voices, whispers, jokes, and laughter. Fear of missing the connections and stories, moments and secrets.
But my hearing aids were not cooperating, the wood floors made the voices bounce off of the walls and the windows so they were louder than they should be and speaking as one en masse. The candles on the dinner table in the red dining room barely illuminated the faces and lips I was trying to read, to watch, for cues, for comments. The room was full of laughter and stories and I was trying to isolate the voices and it was so hard. I smiled, nodded, laughed with the crowd, but mostly on cue, rather than out of community. Without hearing aids, voices were muffled, stuffed under the din of my tinnitus.
So I missed. I withdrew. I tried in little ways to connect one on one, the best way I know how these days, over a beer with two fabulous ladies, while sharing coffee with one, during a walk in the rain, while walking with a horse with another. I felt myself shrink when we broke up for the day and the women formed circles and groups and their voices filled the air with laughter. I was afraid my discomfort was written all over my face, scrawled in big letters on my forehead in this room where everyone else seemed so at ease, so at home with themselves and everyone else.
So I missed. I missed opportunities to unite with these magnificent women the way that I would have liked. I missed the chance to accept and trust this journey all the way, to share completely who I am and more importantly to know others for who they are, to hear their stories and feel their connections. I missed the chance to talk to the women that have inspired me and kept me going during the worst parts of my life the last few years. Whose words and experiences felt like my own, who named things that I could not and who shared emotions that I was scared to admit I feel.
So I missed.
What I didn’t miss, thankfully, was the lesson. I am a firm believer in reasons, karma, chances, designs and all things related, and sitting here this morning I am committing this lesson to memory, I am going to remember this feeling of regret for a good long while. This fear needs to leave me. My fear of missing-words and whispers, let me miss the most important part of that journey, the connections, and that is no longer okay with me. That is on me, I own it. But looking forward, I need to leave it behind. On my next trip, that is what I hope to be missing.