man with hearing aid in ear

John Cotter was in his thirties when he started to experience intermittent deafness. And not only that—he suffered from a loud roar in his ears. He also suffered from such severe vertigo that there were stretches of days and even months when he could scarcely get out of bed, as the room spun around him.

His symptoms came and went; some days he could listen to music and have a normal conversation with someone, while other days he felt isolated from the world, trapped within his symptoms.

Losing Music is an excellent discourse on the realities of having a chronic health condition. The ups and downs of Cotter’s thinking and mood, as he lives through years of sometimes improving, sometimes worsening symptoms, parallel my own experience with post-concussion syndrome.

In the early years of his troubles, he doesn’t think the symptoms will last—that seems impossible. He writes:

“The roaring in my ears has grown so persistent and so loud in the last years that I’ve become credulous, ready to believe that anything might help because it’s too hard to imagine nothing can. I’ve tried fad diets and meditation. . . .”

When a person first falls ill, it’s hard not to imagine that this is a temporary phase, and that deliverance to “ordinary” life is right around the corner. But as years pass, things change:

“Now I get through days by understanding that, when the worst happens, if it happens, when sound disappears for good, or when the dizziness progresses, such a thing will be another life. Not a posthumous life, but something that changes me into a person I can’t see from here. I know how I react to loss, but I don’t know how he will.”

I find this such a perceptive statement about how life changes a person. Although he is living one life, it feels as if he lived a life in the before-the-illness times, and now he is living a new life in the during-the-illness times, and if his condition worsens, perhaps he will live yet another life. Even if you can’t relate to this because your life has been blessed by health, we all lived through the pandemic and experienced such “before” and “after” feelings.

It’s heartening to remember that humans are adaptable. New realities are not necessarily bad realities, even if the new reality means you have to work harder to achieve less. It’s heartening to remember that it’s okay to be here, now, despite problems. Because no one’s life is perfect.

Have you lived multiple lives within your one life?