Telephone Dread

I have been ruminating much on my hearing lately as I have an audiology appointment coming up on Monday.  Whenever these appointments approach I start to get nervous and irritable.  The audiologist is a reminder of my hearing loss and my likely march towards a cochlear implant.  

But what has me particularly on edge at the moment is the realization this week that I am no longer truly able to effectively communicate with my girlfriend on the phone any longer.  There were several occasions when I could not hear the words she was saying no matter how loud she was saying them.  I have been able to communicate relatively effectively with the people in my life whom I know well and talk to frequently, which is probably the case for most people who are hard of hearing.  I rely heavily on people’s speech patterns and the words typically used by a person to understand what they are saying at any given time.  A high degree of comfort with the person also helps greatly.  

I have been unable to really use the phone with most people for the last several months, and before that I needed my iPhone cranked up to top volume, a completely quiet location, and my utmost concentration in order to trudge through a conversation.  I have a certain process for dealing with phone calls when they came in.  First, I rush to a quiet room and shut the door.  Then I take out my hearing aid and hold on to it tightly so I wouldn’t lay it somewhere and forget it.  Finally, I sit with furrowed brow and concentrate on the conversation.  This whole process was never a relaxing experience, nor a passive one either.  A busy days of phone calls was absolutely exhausting.  

Now I am at a point where these processes and strategies are no longer working like they used to.  I truly dread getting phone calls or having to make them.  I tend to put them off or wait until I am in the most optimal location I can find in order to make the experience as least embarrassing as possible.  During the conversation I allot myself three requests for repeats before I give up.  I have grown less able to mask my own irritation during phone conversations when I am unable to hear what is being said.  I am sure this is increasing my isolation, but in the moment my mood tends to drift in a steady downward trajectory.  

Which makes me think of some new social norms which are associated with communication and phone use.  Texting is the preferred method of communication for most fiends and acquaintances.  Phone calls, and more specifically, conversations are for those for whom we are especially close.  In a digital age the very analog spoken word is a way of expressing intimacy.  For all the people we email and text on a daily basis, there are substantially fewer we call.  I’m sure we can all think of a flow chart which would illustrate our own personal methods we use to discern when to email, text, or call, and also to whom.  There is also that irritation provoking call to someone and then getting a text back:  “I saw you called, what’s up?”  That text is a good indicator to where you really stand with the person.    
Now in many ways I have benefited from this change from spoken to digital communication.  What saddens me, however, is losing that special place to the few people in my life where I am the person who is called.  A special connotation it is to be on this list for people.  I wonder if being on this list, but not being able to communicate in this fashion decreases the closeness and intimacy felt for the person.  I hope not, but I suspect this may not be the case.  I suspect this is a barrier to long term closeness and intimacy.  An unconscious reaction, no doubt, so if consciousness is applied to the matter then hopefully this is not the case.  Something to think about and mull over before Monday’s appointment.  

Why Race?

In June of 2013 I completed the Laurel Highlands 70 mile run in what is still my crowning achievement in running.  The last twenty plus miles I ran with a guy, whose name I sadly do not recall, who stayed with me through some extremely dark times.  I know I would not have been able to finish the race if it wasn’t for him.  Flash forward to June of 2015 and I am again running the race.  Around mile 45 or so I run into the same guy.  He and I start to chat and I realize at this point, as my mood was already starting to plummet, that I was unable to understand a word he was saying.  This is when it really hit me just how much of my hearing I had lost in the last two years.  The depression set in with a vengeance and I eventually dropped out of the race at mile 56.  While I do not blame my ignominious DNF on this moment of clarity regarding my hearing loss, there were many other factors, mostly from my own foolishness, it certainly did not help.  And since this race I only have attempted one other ultra, Stone Mill 50 miler, and I also DNF’ed that race as well.  Again, there were certainly other factors involved, but mainly I just did not have it in me anymore to finish.  Being completely unable to communicate with the other runners and aid station volunteers was a dismal experience.  And just like in any ultra, there was ample time to ruminate on my continued hearing loss and to fear for what the future will entail.


As my mileage is ramping up for my planned 100 miler in the fall, I have been thinking often during my runs of how my race will play out.  While it was never the primary motivating factor, the camaraderie at the races was a meaningful experience in which to be a part.  Having this no longer be part of the event is in many ways quite sad.  Also, running with someone and sharing some time on the trail and hearing their story, their journey to the starting line, was an integral part of the whole experience.  To have this no longer be an option is, again, sad and I will miss the interaction.  I have seriously contemplated getting a shirt or sign which says that I am hard of hearing so people do not make the assumption I am ignoring them.  Admittedly, this would not be an odd thing to do and would distantiate myself even further from the other runners.  


So, then I ask myself:  why am I training for a ridiculously challenging event, which already will have inevitable moments of extreme unpleasantness, that will not be even more difficult and draining?  Well, to be honest, I have not come up with a satisfactory answer to this question.  What I have realized, though, is the beauty of hard, all encompassing training.  I love the feeling of finishing up my normal 10 miler with a “that’s it?” feeling still in my legs.  I love the feeling of floating down the road and just how natural and efficient the body becomes at something when a great deal of time and effort have been put into it.  And I love the feeling of accomplishment after hitting my mileage or pace goal for each workout and for each week.  The fact I can not hear the cars as they drive by me is somewhat unsettling, and probably dangerous, but it is well worth it in my mind for the brief moments of elation I get on an almost daily basis (there are, of course,  some runs which are so awful and tedious their only redeeming quality is the acclimation to suffering they bring).  
And so the conclusion I have come to is that I am racing this year as an excuse to train.  As an excuse to spend hours and hours each week away from other activities and from other obligations, as a reason to briefly feel that everything is possible and things may just turn out just fine.  

Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are absolutely exhausting.  Having every little tick and tock, whir and hum amplified to the same level as to what I actually need to hear and listen to creates an absolute cacophony of distraction; slowly draining energy like a small electronic parasite attached to my ear.  Conversations just out of discernible range whisper around me throughout the day.  And while I can not make out the words of what is being said, it seems like I could almost feel the breath from these voices on my skin they sound so close.  For instance, as I walked to my car yesterday I could hear voices, which sounded nearby, and I looked around and saw no one.  Perplexed, I continued to scan the area.  I finally saw people across the street in the parking lot exiting a building talking to one another.  No words were detectable from them:  just a disorienting sequence of voices picked up and transmitted to my nerves in an incoherent fashion.  

Conversations in particular prove to be taxing experiences.  When I speak I am completely unable to modulate my voice to how loudly or softly I should be speaking.  The hearing aids distort and mask the volume at which I am speaking.  The volume of my voice is based on the looks on the person’s face I am talking to.  Is there a furrowed brow to indicate a straining to hear what I am saying or is there a slight wincing, or pursing of the lips from me braying a few decibels beyond the comfort zone.  My eyes dart back and forth and scan the scenario to make sure the volume is reasonable and appropriate, though at times I would be better served to pay closer attention to the content of the conversations is equally thought out.  Often I realize a little too late I have reached the Goldilocks conversational level, onto to discover I have subjected the person to tedium and boredom.  All of which makes for an exhausting experience and one which requires a certain amount of preparation and attention, a level I would not think is the typical experience of one engaged in light, pleasant conversation.  

One result of this inability to hear my voice in a constructive fashion in conversations is that I have been forced to limit the topics I talk about.  Since I am unable to tell just how loudly I am speaking, I tend to discuss only what I would be unashamed to have those passing by overhear.  This has inadvertently made me into a better person in some regards, and I must say I am I a little resentful of this.  Integrity out of necessity, as opposed to actually being someone of high moral fiber, casts a shadow on one’s soul.  

Something that is perhaps indicative of other issues, though still problematic in regards to having hearing aids, is the fear, rather terror, I have over losing them.  It is strange in many regards to depend on something so small and fragile to function with others throughout the day.  While I type this the smartphone comes to mind as somewhat similar, though not even close to being comparable.  While it is far from perfect, and indeed in many ways frustrating and actually maddening, I do absolutely rely on my hearing aids to get through the day.  If they were to stop working or worse, were to be lost, I would be unable to work in the manner in which I need.  This creates much anxiety about the care and placement of these small pieces of technology.  There are many nights when I am about to drift off to sleep and then jolt awake, wondering if I put them away safely in their drawer.  I get up and check on them and touch each one, counting out loud:  one, two.  Close the drawer and then open it again and repeat the process.  Just making sure they are alright.  Just checking on them one more more time like a concerned parent of a newborn looking over a sleeping baby in their crib, getting close to ensure soft, consistent breathing.  A worried look on my face until I know for sure they are there, and then the sweet relief sweeping through my body when I see them, touch them, count them and knowing that for now I have the tools necessary to function at a passable level.