Escaping the silence

Youth Space

A year has almost passed since I got a cochlear implant in October 2012. For the first time in 15 years I am hearing sounds I had long forgotten, such as bird song, and sounds I was never aware of, like potatoes being peeled.

I lost my hearing at the age of nine. The doctors don’t know the cause but said it was likely to be genetic. I learned to play piano at the age of seven and I loved it, so I continued to enjoy music even though I had been diagnosed with a hearing impairment.

My main problem was hearing speech over background noise, so while it didn’t affect my passion for music it did shake my confidence. The worst thing I had to deal with was fear of being teased in school for wearing hearing aids and asking people to repeat themselves, or people seeing me for my disability rather than for who I am as a person. But I learned to accept my hearing loss and I grew in confidence.

When I started university things changed. I struggled to take in information in lectures, and I was exhausted all the time. I told myself I was just finding it harder than other students to adjust to the increased workload. At the end of my first year of college, I went for my annual check-up with the audiologist. My hearing had deteriorated a huge amount leaving me profoundly deaf and I was told I would be put on the waiting list for a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant (CI) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. It consists of two parts; a surgically implanted internal part and an externally worn part called a processor.


This news devastated me but it explained why I hadn’t been coping in first year. I wasn’t unable for the coursework as I had convinced myself. I was determined not to let this change in my hearing affect me.

Over the next three years, I tried my hardest not to be upset about my hearing deteriorating and to focus on what I was still able to do. But every so often I was aware of sounds disappearing such as the ring of the telephone or the doorbell. Social situations made me anxious because I could barely hear speech over background noise, and using the phone was no longer a possibility for me.


Worst of all, I couldn’t hear certain notes on the piano anymore. I couldn’t see how I would ever be able to learn a new song so I stopped playing completely. I realised I was grieving and trying to ‘be ok with it’ was not the way to deal with my loss.

I attended a ‘managing deafness’ workshop run by the Cochlear Implant department in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin last year. The workshop encouraged people, with or without a cochlear implant, to be more assertive about their hearing impairment in social situations. Before, I had been passive; nodding and smiling to people instead of explaining that I had a hearing impairment and informing them of how they could help me understand them better.


The workshop was exactly what I needed and I took what I learned and applied it to situations in the real world. Soon after, I walked the Camino de Santiago, an 800km multicultural pilgrimage through Northern Spain. I decided to walk the Camino because it would help me to be more assertive about my deafness, particularly in a place where I would be meeting people who spoke different languages. It was through talking to fellow pilgrims and finding my faith on the Camino that I was able to find peace and acceptance with my disability.

When I returned from the Camino I found out I would be getting a cochlear implant. I was overjoyed. The CI has worked better than I ever could have dreamed. Sound through a CI is different to natural hearing so it takes time for the brain to process it. I feel I am used to the sound now. I can have a conversation without lip-reading, I’m still learning to use the phone and it’s difficult but I’m getting there.

Most of all, my passion for music has been reignited; I am playing piano again and enjoying listening to music. Whether it is a blackbird singing in the garden, seagulls squawking, the smoke alarm beeping when I’ve forgotten to put the kitchen fan on, or listening to Nigel Kennedy’s rendition of Vaugh Williams’ The Lark Ascendin’.

My life has been filled with all these wonderful sounds over the past year. Losing my hearing was devastating but it was through finding my faith I gained acceptance and that made me stronger. That experience and getting a cochlear implant has made me appreciate the music in simple every day sounds.