Growing through Meniere’s
I was a college student at the University of Georgia when the beast arrived in the mid 1970s. While walking across campus on a typical day, I was struck down with a crazy world-spinning episode that left me face down and surrounded by dozens of students rushing to call an ambulance. My only warning had been a “stopped up” ear that began “ringing” a few weeks earlier.
It took several more years with more attacks to finally find my way to Emory University Clinic in Atlanta where I was diagnosed with unilateral Meniere’s. The attacks were severe, frequent, and always left me grabbing the carpet or concrete, trying not to fall off what felt like the ceiling. After failing other medical therapy, the decision was made to do a labyrinthectomy in my left ear. The entire inner ear was removed. After a week or two the dizziness subsided as my other ear compensated to provide my only balance function. Life was different being deaf in one ear, but it was a good tradeoff and things returned to normal.
In the ensuing years, I was able to complete my education and begin a fulfilling career in banking. But in 1985, Meniere’s struck again in the other ear. Gradual hearing loss with vertigo episodes marched forward, but I coped well with good support from home and a hearing aid. In 2002, I lost all of the residual hearing in my one remaining ear and my vertigo attacks continued.
My business and civic responsibilities had grown enormously during those 25+ years since my first attack. I had become a regional president for a large financial institution, president of Rotary Club, Sunday school teacher, and frequently did public speaking. But now my world had stopped. Emory University continued to provide good care and cutting-edge therapy, but since there is no cure I was also left to cope on my own.
During the first year I almost went nuts. I now understand depression. I wish I could tell you that the heavens opened and one day I was lifted out of my emotional misery, but there is no miracle to report. What happened is better. I simply have learned to love and embrace my situation. When the world falls silent all you can do is look at your heart. I discovered a new plane of reality that I think can only be found in the silence of a monastery or the isolation on a desert island. I learned that peace comes from within, not from anything outside of me.
I can now be with a group and tune into the “group field,” the feeling that hangs in the center of the room that I never noticed before. I am more confident than ever and not afraid to announce to strangers that I am deaf. It’s wonderful to see how they open up to communicate! When I am with someone, I am not distracted by the clutter of the world. I belong fully to them even if only together for a moment. I now can see deep into eyes until hearts are exposed … ahhh, the place of true relationship and communication! I ask open-ended questions and know more about my friends than ever.
At Thanksgiving I announce at the table that I cannot read lips while people eat, nor can I follow more than one conversation at a time, so I will not try to do either. I will just eat and enjoy my food. After the meal I will try to visit one-on-one with everyone and learn something new about each one.
If you allow it to be true, it’s beautiful being deaf. I lost my hearing but I found me. I am thankful every day for my new enlightenment. I have lost as many pounds off my corporate gut as years I have gained on my life. My family is healthy. I exercise and eat three balanced meals a day. Right now I am drinking a cold Belgium Ale … how great can it get??!! Fifty percent of the world lives on less than $2 a day. How can my situation ever compare to those who really suffer? What a gift to be able to understand all of this now … only made possible by the revelation of silence and being humbled by the touch of intractable vertigo.
I hope some day to get a cochlear implant in my one remaining inner ear. If that happens, I may again enjoy some of the sounds and voices that, I do confess, I miss. But rest assured, regardless of restored physical hearing or not … going forward I will listen to the heart, and seek the place of truth only revealed in the quietness of the moment.
If you suffer from Meniere’s, feel free to contact me for encouragement or information. I would love to get to know you and do all I can to help you move in a positive direction! Feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will be in touch.