Sunday, 8 March 2020

Hearing Regained.

Sophie Wooley
Regaining my hearing after a decade of deafness gave me imposter syndrome.

Sophie regained her hearing at 39. I started losing my hearing from the age of 18. I did not expect to go deaf, even though it runs in the family. Bits of my hearing identity kept falling off as I lost another frequency. I was in denial for years until I began using interpreters and stenographers (a person who transcribes speech). I made a success of my life, developed a tough skin and numbed myself. By my thirties I was almost totally deaf, with hearing aids no longer allowing me to follow speech. 

I avoided focussing on what I’d ‘lost’, but I often felt exhausted and excluded. I worried about my future. There was an option to regain my hearing through a cochlear implant, but like many in my situation I put it off. It involves having surgery to implant a high tech hearing device. The internal electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve directly, using digital signals generated by the implant. The brain registers the signals as sound. I was scared of skull surgery and I didn’t see the point, thinking it wouldn’t work any better than hearing aids, lip-reading and sign language. A cochlear implant user who’d gone deaf like me persuaded me to go for it when he said ‘All of my problems are gone’. I’d never heard anyone talk like this about implants and I thought he must be exaggerating. I was wrong. 

Soon after my Advanced Bionics implant was ‘switched on’ in 2013, at the age of 39, I was able to have easy conversations with people for the first time since my 20s. It was like the surgeon and audiologist had rewound time. I felt 21 again. I never thought this would happen to me. I went from hearing almost nothing, to being able to follow speech, with some added ‘cyborg’ perks that make my hearing friends green with envy. My younger sister implanted soon after me, and we can chat on the phone or walk and talk without looking at each other With the implant, I can bluetooth music direct to my processor. I can also switch to ultrazoom, which helps me hear the person in front of me in noisy places. 

And I can switch off sound whenever I want. In the first few weeks after I was activated, I felt constantly euphoric. It was a bit like falling in love, crossed with time travelling. The sound was also heightened and hallucinatory at first. The sonic weirdness was intensely beautiful, profound and often intensely funny – all at the same time.