It’s been a while since I’ve last written and much has unfolded in my auditory world. As part of training my ear and brain to learn and recognize new sounds, I am to go to the audiologist every four weeks and receive an updated set of four incremental programs.
Each new program opens up the range of sound available to me a little at a time and this is so that my brain is not overwhelmed and therefore can adequately and somewhat calmly absorb this new world of pitch/frequency/vibration. Every seven or eight days, I increment up to the next program and I spend the week navigating that program.
To date, I’ve worked my way to the third increment within the third set of programs and I can see and feel a major difference from the very first day of initial activation -I must admit I feel like an android when I use this word but it’s industry standard and heck, there IS a wire peeking out from my hair so I might as well embrace the term whole-heartedly.
I’m now hearing more parts of sound. Because I was born with a high-frequency loss, my brain has no idea what high frequency sounds look like and therefore, this has been the most daunting part of the process. Every program has given me more access to high-frequency sounds and while it’s been amazing in its own capacity, I’ve felt so overwhelmed with the myriad of high notes out there.
What is overwhelming about this is that the sound fills my head. I actually feel the sound. The experience of “hearing” has taken on a new dimension to me. My eyes feel the vibrations. The space behind my forehead feels the sound and that rolls back into the inside of my head.
Silverware clattering into the drawer organizer, water turned on full blast into the kitchen sink, notebooks slapping the conference table at the beginning of a meeting, sirens of emergency vehicles a few blocks away, piles and piles of leaves rustling, clinking of glassware, brakes grinding as the subway comes to a standstill, the alarm on the exit gate that everyone uses when rushing to get out of the subway station, the ironing board screeching as it is opened and closed, even the tinkling of my own pee. I feel the sound of my own pee inside of my eyeballs and my head.
As much as I’m enthralled with all of these brand-new mini ear experiences, at times it becomes too much. I told Lisa, my partner that I don’t know how hearing people do it. How do you filter out or water down the power of all of that….noise?! On the days that I increment up to the next program, I go to bed exhausted that night. I’m crabby, irritable and I basically feel assaulted and worn out.
And then I wake up the next day, slap the magnet on along with ear piece, turn it on and it feels a little better. Not as overwhelming. Not too unlike beginning a new work-out course and making through to your third class without wanting to chuck your water bottle at the obnoxiously perky & energetic instructor.
What I’m learning, though, through this process is that it feels more digestible to look more closely and isolate the unique sounds I’m picking up. When I focus on the specific sounds and have a conversation with myself about what they are, I feel as though my brain catalogues the sound more rapidly. Often on the subway ride to work in the mornings because I’m fresh and rested, I’ll take the opportunity to turn the hearing aid off in my right ear and I’ll ride with my eyes closed, listening hard. The sound of the bell tone as the train doors open. The automated voices listing the available transfers. The grind of the brakes. The pull of the tracks as we careen around a bend. I recognize the familiar sounds of a typical train ride and interestingly enough, I feel safe in this experience. It’s consistent. My brain knows what to do with this particular mosaic of sounds.
It’s within the context of consistency that I’m able to then experience unusual sounds and to pick them out. On a train ride, I heard a sharp crack and turned my head to see a dropped smart phone had landed on the floor. I smiled fiendishly as I recognized that my brain was able to isolate that sound until I caught the look of dismay aimed my way by the owner of the phone. I didn’t feel that it would be fruitful to pick my way over to her and attempt to explain that I was ecstatic at hearing her phone hit the hard surface and why. She was clearly having a Monday morning.
Walking to work, I grinned happily at some poor unsuspecting fellow who sneezed right next to the magnet microphone attached to my head and I automatically replied, “Bless you!” I can only imagine what he thought of the overzealous smile right in his face as he turned to me. The light changed to “Walk” and I moseyed off. I heard him sneeze!
I had an ethereal experience in the forest a few weekends ago when my friend and I went on a day hike at Storm King Mountain. Hiking over rocks, streams and hills, I became so enamored with the isolated sound of leaves rustling past my boots that I found myself perched on a rock, staring down at all of the fallen foliage around me. Every single step I took made my head spin. Almost stimming like a person with autism, I started shuffling slowly -experimenting with my heady ear hallucinations. When I looked up, I found that my fellow hikers were piling up behind me, staring at me oddly and all I could do was shrug and take off again, maintaining focus on pace. Which brings me to a conclusive point.
As I move onto new programs and wider ranges of sound become available, maintaining focus and continuing dialogue with my brain will be what helps me to grow comfortable with these sounds -eventually learning to filter them appropriately into a larger picture -or a mosaic.