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Did Stress Cause My Deafness?

It was my birthday - July 28th 2009 when I woke up not realising I had lost three-quarters of my hearing in my right ear. That might seem strange to you, but when you’re already deaf in your left ear, you’re already behind the curve. By the time I had jumped on my motorbike to go to work, I knew something was amiss, but when I turned it on, the realisation of it struck me immediately.

Tests at the Eye & Ear Hospital confirmed what I felt, but the tests and subsequent scans provided no answers as to the reasons why. A hopeful cocktail of anti-inflammatory medicines and some other miracle allowed my hearing to return within three months. It would take another 3 episodes before I would notice the link between the extreme stress I allowed myself to take on in a busy bid role and my recurring bouts of hearing loss.

Was it really the stress? Despite MRI’s, an ultrasound, a genetic test, and a range of other diagnostics, ENT specialists have been unable to find a cause for the bouts of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) I suffered. When I looked at my life, all roads led back to my work and the way I approached it. I was a workaholic. Imagine my shock horror then, when a Dr. I consulted while studying yoga in the Himalayas in 2015, (who was trained in both western medicines and in Ayurveda), gently told me that my adrenal function had collapsed around the same time I stopped the work that was causing the stress. What...? Why...? Humans weren’t built to fire adrenaline constantly for years and I had been pursuing the wins for more than a decade, enjoying the thrill of the chase and ignoring the downsides. In reflecting back over my career, I also faced the realisation that I’d forgotten how to relax. My work was in the palm of my hands (as a Blackberry) and I was ‘ON’ 24/7.

In the 20 years I worked in bid and proposal management I have seen the impacts of overwork and stress on colleagues from across the stakeholder groups involved in bids, and at all levels of the organisation. We love this work for diverse reasons, and I suspect many of us enjoy the thrill of the chase as much as we love the win.

When I see proud proclamations on social media about the all nighters and the close shaves early in the morning, I wince just a little - there’s a reward loop that keeps us working beyond the time when we should close the laptop and get some sleep. I know it well - it was a life I loved for the best part of two decades.

In our world, we ignore the issue of overwork and stress at our peril; and I believe we have an obligation to call time on the poor practices that perpetuate the issue. A couple of times a year we post on social media - “are you okay?” - when we should be asking more frequently than that, and the question should start with us - “am I ok?”

We owe that much to ourselves.

So what changed for me....?

It took years of traveling around the world talking to healers from different traditions before I heard the words of my own intuition shouting inside of my head that the reason for my hearing loss was because I had ‘stopped listening’. Many more years passed before I truly understood what that meant at a deeper level.

As a left-brained workaholic, I wasn’t prepared to hear that message; and I wasn't used to listening to my body when it was telling me to rest. I just pushed on through; surviving on 4-6 hours of sleep, keeping a grueling transcontinental travel schedule, and ’working the time zones’ to get bids submitted and support my team. I didn’t slow down to enjoy the journey, I wanted to move as fast as possible and win.

In my work I looked after my team in ways I didn’t look after myself; and I put my job above my own wellbeing because I was afraid each day that I would fail and that I might lose that job if I didn’t keep going. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to stop, breathe, and take stock.

When I started to set boundaries, no one objected; and when I took the time I needed the world didn’t come crashing down either. I remained passionate about my work, but I set limits for myself l, and that in turn helped me support my team to gain more perspective and set better limits for themselves too.

In the end, I also listened more deeply, and I started pursuing more of the work I love in personal professional development. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that the SSHL stopped at least 5 years ago. And against all logic and conventional wisdom, my deaf ear hearing loss has actually improved in the last 5 years by 10-20%.

Although this increase hasn't materially changed my ability to hear, it is miraculous because there was no change for more than 30 years. Read that again...

It means that more is possible. More miraculous than this is how feelings returned to my left ear and the left side of my head. For most of my life, I could chew on that side and tap that side of my head and feel it in a very suppressed way, but not actually 'hear' it. Now I can hear internal sounds on my left side equally with my right side.

What really changed for me though, was taking respons-ability for my own emotions and connecting more deeply to my feelings; and this has become the journey. The loss of hearing was merely the catalyst to get me on the way.

Right now we are facing unprecedented shifts in our work and our lives. We will all be experiencing our own unique stressors. No matter the challenges you’re facing right now; remember that you aren’t alone; there’s only so much you can do; and don‘t compromise your health and wellbeing for the sake of your work. You may well find out that it’s not worth the cost in the end.

If you find its becoming too much - pause, breathe deeply for 10 minutes and give yourself some space to listen to your body.

You are the most important person you’re ever going to meet - isn’t it time to put you first for a while?

I help people shift themselves from victims of circumstance to creators of their future. I do this through coaching, breathwork/pranayama and healing. If you'd like to learn how I can help you, book a time.

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