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Hearing Impaired Musician

Question:

I am a musician, born that way, now in my late 50’s. Somewhere back in the early 90’s, I suffered a late onset inherited hearing loss. Over about a year’s span, I went from normal to severe loss hearing. performing and recording became harder, and work became scarcer, and I fell on hard times. I bought a set of hearing aids, but they were useless- bad sound and they hurt what hearing I had. Counselors told me that I should give up music and learn ASL, that I would never be able to be a musician again. I got into a cycle of drugs and lost my wife. Meanwhile, a much better type of hearing aid came out,and i was able to play again. And now, with the new aids, I had more opportunities for a day job, so I went into computers. I rebuilt my music skills and started finding work as a musician while also learning computer graphics on my own. But after five years of trying, with a failed company and a lot of dead end leads, I am at bottom. It seemed that everything I did fell apart, as much as I tried. My hearing loss worsened, to add to it. My jazz skills are better than ever, but work is difficult to find and competition from younger players is fierce. And my efforts to find work in computer graphics is about the same. I have always been a self starter, willing to help others at my own expense, disciplined, a bit of a loner, but I have no confidence any more- I guess losing my hearing was the first hard kick, then the loss of two marriages. And I am out of money and prospects. Efforts to seek local help have produced laughable results: one therapist had not one clue about the stresses that late onset HOH people have to deal with- she thought that hearing aids restored normal hearing. She advised I should give up music, but to me, that’s like quitting breathing. A state hearing loss counselor was totally geared towards the deaf, and was a bit disdainful of me, since I had some hearing left. And when the last “counselor” wanted to pray, that was the end of that attempt. And the local self help for hearing group was more concerned with fund raising that help. I know I am depressed, probably inches now from dangerous depression, and have been for years. I have tried to shake it but with my situation, it won’t go away long enough for me to get traction. I hate socializing, for I miss conversation, and I am just tired of “What” being the major part of my vocabulary. I just don’t even bother to ask when I don’t hear something. When I perform, I keep social contact to a minimum and just focus on playing. I need new, more powerful aids, but I can’t afford health insurance, much less expensive hearing aids. Like they say, if I had a break, maybe it wouldn’t be as bad, but now, I just sit alone without wearing my aids, for I don’t think I could endure another failed relationship or enterprise, and group encounters are stressful. I feel like I am just waiting for the boat to go under. My only solace is my music and I am pretty good at what I do. So, after all of this verbiage, how can I get out of this spiral before it is too late?

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Answer:

Your life has been stressful over the last 15 years, no question about it. Your specific disability is particularly difficult for you to cope with given your identity as a musician, and you’ve had your share and more of failed intimate relationships, and businesses. I also hear you when you say that your ‘halfway-disabled’ status makes you an odd duck for counselors to deal with. The majority of disability aide institutions are set up for helping people who are completely disabled, and I think there are fewer resources for someone such as yourself, and fewer people who have heard of your condition or really understand it. I think it is easy to understand how you’ve become depressed under the circumstances.

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p> Recognizing the vast amount of things in the world that are completely out of your ability to control (including such as whether disability occurs, whether a relationship lives or dies, and how the economy does), one of the few things you do have a shot at controlling is your own reaction. It may be that your depression is stronger than you are in the long run, but that remains to be seen.

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p> People’s reaction to stress is controlled in large part by how they compare themselves to expectations. I imagine that you have expected life to be easier than it has been and that you are quite disappointed with how things have come out. I also imagine that you feel frustrated and perhaps blame yourself (or something) for your misfortune. Maybe you are even envious of the success of others. All these sorts of things tend to drive us towards depression. In fact, any time you compare yourself to a fantasy of how things ought to be, you tend to end up seeing your present circumstance in a negative light and get a little depressed. It is only when you realize that your expectations about life were never more than simply fantasies, wishes and hopes that you have a chance of becoming free of them, and it is only when you are not expecting your expectations to be true that you can stop comparing your experience against them and just let things be without judgment.

<

p> I think part of what is happening here is that you’re judging yourself pretty harshly; have been sitting on the proverbial pity pot, and would benefit from a renewed perspective on your life. I don’t know what it will take to help you gain the detachment you appear to need, but here is at least my perspective for what good it might do you. You paint yourself as a sad broken down old man who can’t get a break. However, I can use the same raw information you’ve provided to paint quite a different picture of you; a picture of a survivor, who has managed to keep going and to work to reinvent himself multiple times despite real adversity. Let us put things in perspective, please.

<

p> You aren’t the only person out there suffering from divorce – there are literally millions of lives which have been shattered, at least temporarily in the aftermath of divorce.

<

p> Nor are you the only person who has tried to start a business and failed. In fact most people who try and start up a business fail. Running a business is a very difficult and dynamic balancing act. If you had any success at all for any period of time, you are in some important way ahead of the game. And I will mention only in passing that for every person who has the balls and initiative to start up a business, there are twenty others who are too afraid to try.

<

p> It does truly suck that you’ve experienced a form of disability that has significantly impaired your ability to pursue your vocation as a professional musician. However, understand that you were never entitled to a life without impairment or disease, and you were certainly not entitled to employment in a field that you prefer to work in. It sounds like you worked at your vocation, music, for decades before you ran into this difficulty of yours. That is decades longer that you were able to work at your vocation than most people. Most people seem to work at jobs they don’t particularly like their whole lives. That you were able to make a living doing what you love for so many years would be a thing of envy to many folks, I think. You should understand that you have approached your work as a vocation and not as a job. The vast majority of people out there who have had whole careers in jobs they don’t like would probably envy you the years you were able to make a living doing things you liked to do. If you do, out of economic necessity, have to find some other para-musical line, or non-musical line of work, oh well. You tried, and you got further than many.

<

p> All of this is to say that you have not been singled out for punishment and that you should consider whether your attitude is overly entitled, self-pitying and ultimately self-defeating. The way I see it, your experience, while pretty sucky, is ultimately not exceptionally sucky, but rather mostly just normal life crap that most people have to deal with in one form or another. I’m honestly sympathetic to your plight. It’s just that I don’t think your self-pity is helpful to you and I think there is a good case to be made for working to overcome it.

<

p> Part of the problem is that you’re interpreting your situation pessimistically rather than optimistically. Perhaps reading about emotional resilience might help. This article talks about how to train yourself to cultivate optimism rather than despair.

<

p> I can appreciate that socializing is painful for you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to find a way to socialize. One outlet I hope you will explore would be Internet music communities and groups. There are communities for most every topic you can imagine, and when you become a regular in some of them, a sort of group membership gets extended to you which can be helpful to a lonely person. Friendships do develop out of these things. Another advantage of such communities is that you can type rather than speak.

<

p> I don’t recommend that you substitute the Internet for the real world. It is important that you push yourself to date. The Internet has revolutionized the dating process, making it easier than ever to meet people. There are all sorts of women out there who won’t care about your condition so long as you are respectful and decent to them. Be up front about your deficits and your strengths and don’t apologize for them. You really have nothing here to be ashamed about.

<

p> On a final note, try therapy again if you can, either one one one or in a group format. You don’t have to talk about being hearing impaired, because that is not ultimately the big problem. Your problem is that you down on yourself, and being kinda rigid about how life needs to unfold. And in this problem you are not alone. It might help if the therapist you pick is knowledgeable about your impairment, but it might not be strictly necessary.

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