Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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When God Smiles At You

So, I took the steroids for four days and I completely flipped out, disappointing a lot of people along the way. All for nothing. There was no chance that taking the medication for only a few days would do anything at all to reverse my self-inflicted hearing loss, considering even with the full course the odds of a measurable positive outcome was slim in the extreme. It was a complete failure.

Except when I went to the audiologist to have moulds made for my future hearing aids about two weeks after the steroid drama, a final hearing test was done and to everyone’s amazement it turned out that there had been some improvement. Not in both ears – there was no change at all in my left – but hearing in my right ear was almost exactly back to where it had been back in May! It’s impossible to say if this was down to the steroids or some sort of freak natural reversal, but the tests were clear. Yes, my hearing loss was still severe enough to warrant some serious hearing aids [none of those tiny, invisible, in-the-canal domes for me], but this regain of hearing in my right ear means that a cochlear implant may not become necessary.

I felt as if God was smiling at me!
[My far wiser friends have since reminded me that God is always smiling at me; I’m just not always all that receptive to it].

About a month later – three weeks ago today, actually – I went back to the audiology department to pick up my brand new hearing aids. The audiologist popped them into my ears, did a bit of fancy-schmanzy computer twiddling and, finally, switched them on. I took a deep breath, mentally recited the shehecheyanu and BANG! – just like that I had Spiderman-like hearing. The most emotional part was hearing the sound of my own voice again. I wasn’t born deaf, so I’ve obviously heard it in the past, but it’s been quite a long time since I’ve been able to hear it. For a long time I’ve only really been able to feel the vibrations of my voice when I speak rather than actually hear it, and it was a pretty overwhelming sensation to hear myself again. It was something of a shock to discover that it didn’t sound at all as I remembered it. It sounded tinny and harsh and extremely loud, reminding me of how it sounded when I as a child would hook my father’s microphones up to the stereo and speak into them. Every time the audiologist asked me a question I had a Cheshire grin on my face, because it was so completely rocking that I was able to actually hear him – even when he was turned away from me! – and every time I answered his questions I jumped at the loudness of my own voice. The audiologist did a bit more twiddling and tested my reaction to him opening and closing doors and windows etc, to see that it wouldn’t be painfully loud. As he put it: ‘It will be annoyingly loud, but it shouldn’t be painful’. There are so many sounds that my brain has not picked up for a very long time, and to the brain any new sound is automatically processed as ‘important – needs to be actively listened to’. I have been told that it will take possibly upwards of three months for my brain to retrain and figure out which sounds are important and which sounds are merely ignorable background noise, because it is in essence rebuilding the sound filtration system from scratch.

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– My New Best Friends –
I call them Watson and Mycroft

 

I won’t lie – having the hearing aids is both totally amazing and incredibly difficult. It’s super cool to be able to hear things, but it is also quite disorienting when people walking past my house sound as if they are in my room [not great for someone with PTSD who is already on permanent high alert], and it can be quite tiring when just brushing something off my clothes sounds like a major earthquake.

In the first two weeks I found it quite overwhelming and confusing to hear my own voice, because it was still sounding tinny and foreign to me – as if someone else was speaking my thoughts, and I really missed not feeling the vibrations anymore [I suppose by brain was too busy processing the sound of it, to also allow me to experience the physical sensation of it], but now – three weeks into wearing my hearing aids I’ve got used to what my voice sounds like – it no longer sounds distorted – and I can once again feel it in my throat and chest, which is reassuring.
A lot of sounds are still very loud: refrigerators, traffic, people coming and going, but I suppose that eventually those sounds will fade into the background. When I first stepped out of the hospital I felt as if the world was assaulting me with its sheer loudness, but, in the midst of sirens and buses and people talking on their mobiles I picked out a sound I hadn’t heard in a very long time: the sound of a bird chirping.

I suppose you have to listen out for the really good stuff, in the same way that you have to actively tune in to sense God’s smile..

And the other week, when visiting my sisters, I had ample opportunity to practice this; as annoying as the sound of my sisters’ kids rummaging through boxes of Lego and train tracks was, being able to hear their little voices when they excitedly called out for me made it totally worth it! It was ace!

The journey is of course far from over, I’ll have a re-tune of my hearing aids in a few weeks where the volume will be turned up even louder, but all in all, I am really glad that I finally made the decision to do something about my hearing.

xx

Consequences Of One’s Actions

A lot has been going on in the last few weeks [or is it months?] since my last proper post. There have been some serious ups and downs, and I don’t quite know where to start.. So, I’ll just start with what’s on my mind right in this moment: my hearing. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

I’ve not really written about this before, because up until about a year ago, it’s not really been too much of an issue, or at least it has been an issue I have had the luxury of being able to ignore.

As my long standing friends will know I lost a big chunk of my hearing many many years ago, when I was about twenty. I was doing voluntary work at an orphanage in a village outside a village outside another village, in the Middle Of Nowhere, India. It was Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and as a special treat for the children we had bought fireworks and penny crackers, which they were allowed to set off. All was going great, big bright smiles all around, lots of happy dancing and singing.

Until one of the kids threw a firecracker up in the air and it exploded right next to my left ear. My whole world went silent in an instant. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, that sudden and complete absence of sound. I remember screaming, but not being able to hear the sound of my own voice.

Over the next hours and days some hearing in my right ear did come back, but the hearing in my left ear was almost entirely gone. I managed to see a doctor when I went into town a few days later. He very carefully examined my ear and hearing and confirmed the damage with a simple “This is not good” and a slow, sad shake of his head.

And that’s pretty much how it’s been until recently. I knew I could probably be helped by wearing a hearing aid, but I simply wasn’t ready for it, and since I was able to use the remaining hearing in my right ear well enough to compensate for the loss in the left, I just left it at that. Something was broken, but not enough to bother fixing it.. There has been a lot of “If you want me to hear you, you’ll need to walk on my right – if you’re only going to talk rubbish, stay on the left” going on over the years, but all in all, through a combination of lip reading, context deduction and plain ol’ guesswork, I’ve been able to fake hearing pretty darn well. It’s amazing how easy it is to just laugh when everyone else laughs at the end of a joke you haven’t even heard, or to cover up giving the wrong answer to a question..

However, a bit over a year ago I started noticing that I was no longer as able to compensate with my ‘good’ ear as I used to be, and – being fifteen odd years older – I decided that it was kind of silly to routinely pretend being able to hear when I couldn’t, and that I should really do something about it. So, I went to have a test.

The results were shocking; not only was the hearing in my left ear really poor, my right ear was also significantly worse than I had thought. I was advised that I was a prime candidate for double hearing aids, and that I should get my GP to sort out a referral [private hearing aids are horrendously expensive].

A number of months later I was finally given an appointment at an NHS hospital. Only by the time I had that second round of hearing tests there had been a distinct further drop in my hearing, particularly in my right ear, and as this wasn’t normal I needed to be seen by an ENT specialist. The audiologist told me that this kind of drop could quite possibly be down to an acoustic neuroma – a fancy way of saying that I might have a brain tumour affecting my hearing. Consequently, an Urgent Referral to an ENT specialist was made. For those of you who don’t know, an Urgent Referral in NHS/ENT terms means ‘probably around three months’. Thus, I spent three months trying to not give myself cancer by worrying about this possible tumour, while not being able to hear what people were saying, since hearing aids can’t be issued while you are still under investigation.

The three months passed and I very nervously went for my appointment, having absolutely no idea what to expect. It turns out that in those three months since my last appointment a second drop in hearing had occurred. More bad news. On some level I kind of knew this, but I had talked myself into believing that the drop was ‘just in my head’, that it was simply down to a higher awareness of my hearing loss, having now stopped pretending to be able to hear when I can’t – but – the audiogram clearly showed that this was a genuine drop, and not something I had imagined.

The ENT specialist sat me down and took an extremely detailed medical history, after which he concluded that it was exceedingly unlikely to be an acoustic neuroma, as only 13 people in 1,000,000 have them, and that my sudden sensorineural hearing loss [SSNHL] was far more likely to have been caused by my two most recent overdoses, as the drops follow that pattern precisely, and the chemical I had taken is well known to cause hearing loss in those who survive the overdose.

Needless to say, to me, this was quite a powerful emotional bombshell. I had been medically cleared after those overdoses and there had seemed to be no lasting damage.. But, clearly, this was not so, and I was now seeing the consequences of my actions in black and white.

The ENT person said that it was possible that the SSNHL might not be permanent, and that a short, high dose, course of steroids might jump start some hearing cells in my ear, partially reversing some of the loss. Ideally this kind of treatment is given within days of the hearing loss occurring, rather than months later, so it was in no way certain that the treatment would work, but he felt that it was definitely worth giving it a go, because whilst there wasn’t really anything to be done about the hearing loss caused by the initial blast trauma, there was still a slim chance that the more recent drop could be helped. I’d still need hearing aids, he told me, but I might be able to avoid cochlear implants further down the line.

I’m going to end this update here, simply because this is already a massively long post, but, I will write more about what happened with the steroid treatment and my hearing in the next few days.

I feel very aware that I haven’t really talked about the emotional impact of not being able to hear, or the fact that part of my hearing loss may have been caused by my own actions, and I hope that I will be able to touch more on that in the second part of this saga, because – of course – this is a big deal.

Until then, do be kind to your Selfs.

xx

PS. I’ve yet to sort my PC out, so I do apologise if the formatting of this post is a bit rubbish; it was all typed on an iDevice, and that’s a lot fiddlier than one might imagine..