“I’ve had hearing loss most of my life, so when COVID-19 hit, everything changed and absolutely nothing changed. I’m a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, who finds herself living alone during a global pandemic. When cities first started shutting down, a wave of articles and news programs came flooding in about the dangers and symptoms of isolation on your mental health. I remember thinking to myself, ‘That sounds very familiar.’
Having lost the majority of my hearing, I’d say I’m a pro when it comes to isolation. I grew up missing info in conversations, always being the last to get a joke, chiming in a minute too late, and mishearing words. I remember one time in high school, I had a conversation where I confused the word ‘inclination’ for ‘fornication,’ adding some humor to what had been a serious conversation. Not everyone has that kind of patience or humor, though. Sometimes I was told, ‘It’s just not worth it to try and talk to you.’ Since I’m every bit an extrovert and an introvert, a walking contradiction, I never stopped giving it my all—but I learned early on I wasn’t going to fit in.
Fast forward to 2020. We’re all self-isolating in our homes, wearing masks, and washing our hands a hundred times a day. For most people, living alone during a pandemic would turn their personal lives upside down, but for me, it feels a lot like any other day. It’s typical for me to randomly wake up and not hear anything for a week or sometimes even a month. Talk about self-isolation! Top it off with living alone and being a songwriter who works from home, and you’ve got yourself the starter pack for Loneliness 101.
I grew up with hearing loss, having lost all the hearing in my right ear by the time I was 8 years old. Growing up deaf in one ear wasn’t easy, but I never thought much of it until I turned 21, when I woke up one day and couldn’t hear anything. I have what’s called progressive sensorineural hearing loss, a fancy phrase for, ‘I keep losing my hearing and no one knows why.’ It’s very possible I will lose all of my hearing soon. At this point, I have lost all the hearing in my right ear and over half of the hearing in my left ear. I also have tinnitus, a high-pitched ringing in my ear.
Over the years, I randomly wake up to realize I have lost another large portion of my hearing. When that happens, it takes time for my brain to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of trying to hear and comprehend with less information. It got to be so bad that while recording my new album, ‘How Does It Feel,’ I couldn’t hear anything for a month. That’s when I decided to take a year off from music to have cochlear implant surgery.
I am fortunate to live in a city with wonderful doctors. My ENT helped me see the benefits of a cochlear implant in my right ear, which hasn’t processed sound since before I was 8 years old. The hope was it would help me hear well enough to be functional when my left ear (with partial hearing) is having a temper tantrum. I am so thankful for his recommendation and expertise. After spending a year recovering from the surgery and literally learning to hear again with the help of a cochlear implant, I released my record, ‘How Does It Feel,’ this year!
‘How Does It Feel’ asks the questions, ‘How does it feel to lose your hearing, to lose a friend, to make the best out of the worst, to believe in yourself, to rewind and take it all back? How does it feel to be alone?’ From Zoom calls to mask-wearing, communication isn’t easy for any of us right now. For me, lip-reading has gone out the window because of the mask mandate. Having meetings via phone or Zoom isn’t nearly as easy as being in person. In a way, not being able to hear people well because of a mask, or just feeling isolated in general, is giving everyone a little taste of what hearing loss is like.
Most people who meet me don’t realize I’ve lost the majority of my hearing. Even people who know me well don’t fully understand the severity of my hearing loss. I can usually piece together bits of a conversation (or fake my way through it). Since I’m a singer-songwriter, most people are fairly surprised I have hearing loss. When I try to explain to people I’m hearing impaired, I’m often met with disbelief, and sometimes even laughs. People think I’m joking. It wasn’t until recently when I got my hearing aid and cochlear implant, I finally had something physical to show and prove to people I really am deaf. Too bad I didn’t have that option in college when a guy I knew tried to get my attention from across the room. Naturally I ‘ignored’ him, which led to a string of text messages where I had to explain myself and help him save face in front of his friends.
A cochlear implant, or CI for short, is a device surgically implanted into the ear, allowing a completely deaf person to ‘hear’ again. It looks like a large hearing aid that connects to my head and over my ear. It’s not a magic fix, though—the sounds I hear with the CI are very robotic and imperfect. It takes a long time for the brain to adjust to the CI. I wear a cochlear implant in my right ear and a hearing aid in my left ear.
When I got my cochlear implant surgery, it wasn’t easy. The surgery was rough, but learning how to hear out of it was the real doozie. When you first get your CI, it sounds like a bunch of static on a television, muffled noises, and painfully loud headache-inducing pitches. Understanding what someone is saying is not possible at first. I lost friends and missed out on a lot because it was literally too exhausting and painful to spend time going out to a restaurant, seeing a show, or even meeting someone for coffee. That kind of stress can build on itself, a lot like what we’re all experiencing this year being locked down due to COVID-19.
Being a musician with hearing loss is never dull, though! I wear headphones on stage so I can hear myself and my guitar. Some days are easy, others I can barely hear my guitar pressed up to my ear. That’s when my training kicks in. I started studying classical music in high school, mainly singing opera. In college, I majored in classical voice for 3 years before switching to a songwriting and music business major. A big part of singing is trusting what it feels like to sing, rather than what it sounds like. My classical training taught me how to trust what I’m feeling rather than what I’m hearing (or not hearing).
Although my path is different than others, it still comes down to hard work and diligence. I also recognize nothing great in life happens in a vacuum, there’s always someone who has supported or inspired you along the way. For me, that’s my family. They’re always by my side, supporting me in my music career, my surgeries, and my hearing loss struggles. That being said, they’re also the first to make a joke or call me a ‘dumb blonde’ when I don’t hear something right. They’re never ones to coddle me because I can’t hear—instead, they’ve always strived to make me tough and not let whatever the world might say get under my skin. Although they love me, more than once I’ve been left at home because I didn’t hear my parents yell out, ‘We’re leaving, get in the car!’ Being a family of six, no one realized I wasn’t in the car… and I had no idea I was home alone! I’ve always been one to make jokes about my hearing loss because I grew up learning life is too short to get flustered over things like that.
People often ask me, ‘Are you scared to lose all of your hearing?’ It’s a scary thought as a musician to lose your hearing, or even just as a person who has grown up in the hearing world. I hope I never lose all my hearing, but there’s a good chance I will in the not-so-distant future. I’m not fearful, though. I don’t have time for that! If/when I do lose all my hearing, I’ll thankfully have my cochlear implant (and hopefully a second one) to lean on. It won’t be easy, I don’t know sign language, and the CI is not a perfect fix, but I’ve never let my hearing loss get in my way before. Never once have I questioned whether to stop pursuing music. Never once did it cross my mind as an option. I was made to be a songwriter and an artist, whether I can hear or not is irrelevant.
Hearing loss is an invisible disability. It’s not something you can see or even something people will remember you have. I don’t have any friends in town who wear a hearing aid or cochlear implant like me, who have tinnitus like me or understand how I feel when it comes to trying to be my chatty, bubbly self while dealing with my hearing loss fears. I find it interesting even though we’re more separated than ever, I feel the camaraderie and a connection like never before. I wish I could take away this horrible virus, but I’m glad beneath the weight of it all, we can find some commonplace in our struggles and fight to connect with each other despite it all.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zoë Nutt of Nashville, Tennessee. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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