May 28, 2019

Hearing Our Determined Hearts

“I need help,” I said. I was a mother pleading for her child. The deaf child in me felt isolated and abandoned. I struggled to hear friends or a phone call. Constant vertigo and a roar in my L ear gave me nausea. It was no way to live.

My doctors of many years repeated hearing tests done a few months before. They’d heard my pleas for years by then.

“We can’t get approval for surgery,” they said. “There’s correctable hearing in the right ear and despite distortion and vertigo, you still have some word recognition in the left.”

“Echo,” Alexandre Cabanel, 1874, Metropolitan Museum of Art (public domain)

“I have to be brought to my knees before receiving help with this?” I asked. I was that desperate. We’d tried many things and a cochlear implant was my last hope.

“I’m sorry,” they said. I soldiered on, took medicine to control vertigo, wrote, and spent too much time alone.

In 2018, after winning the Jung in the Heartland writing competition for my essay “Wild Nights: Grief Dreams, Mythology, and the Inner Marriage,” a friend put me in touch with the president of the Jung Association of Central Ohio. I’d longed to give a workshop on grief and mythology for years, but could I do it with severe hearing loss? I plunged ahead despite doubts.

“I’m very deaf,” I told the organizers, “but I’ll set up the workshop with a mix of presentation, individual writing, ritual, and group discussion. I can present ideas without a problem.”

“Demeter Mourning for Persephone,” Evelyn de Morgan, 1906 (public domain)

“Let’s do it,” the Jung Society president emailed. “Our series is about Aging and Loss.”

We set a date, nearly a year away. I planned an event to accommodate worsening deafness. I longed to interact about ideas that matter to me, but could I do it? Determined (or stubborn), I trusted I’d find a way.

The roar in my left ear increased and so did the vertigo. I returned to my audiologists for another hearing test in November 2018.

“I think we can get surgery approved,” my surgeon said. “Your hearing is gone in the left ear.” I already knew my left ear was useless even with a hearing aid plus there was hope surgery would ease vertigo. I wept at the news. There was hope I would hear again.

Child wearing cochlear implant (photo: Matt Ralph, Wikimedia Commons)

I said yes to surgery knowing the workshop was only a few months after it. A week after sound went on in March, I knew hearing would be better than it had been for years, but I hadn’t expected such intense fatigue.

“You have all the tones and volume needed for normal hearing now,” my audiologist said 11 days before the May 17-18 workshop. “You’re doing unusually well and catching on fast.”

“But I’ve never been so exhausted,” I said.

He smiled and nodded. “Hearing with the implant makes the brain works hard to interpret bionic sound. It’s a foreign language and you’re a newborn in the world of hearing. It will get easier and hearing will improve and become less stressful. Give it a year.”

It wouldn’t get easier in time for the workshop, but I didn’t consider canceling. I could deal with exhaustion. Somehow I would. Somehow I did.

“Not a dry eye in the room,” one woman said on Saturday. I set the tone with openness about the grief of hearing loss, my husband’s death, and more. We shared our experiences and poetry. We learned from ancient mythological stories about grieving goddesses and wounded healers. We shared our desire to thrive despite our losses.

I have a summer ahead for bird songs and murmuring streams, whistling dog snores and rustling leaves. I’ll avoid roaring airport fans, PA systems, and jet engines while I garden and rest.

It may take weeks or even months to recover from following my heart’s desire. I’m still glad I dared to say yes.


Have you made a choice to push ahead when your body wasn’t quite up to it? My husband Vic was a champ at teaching despite failing health. I thought of him as I pushed ahead and gave a successful workshop. With gratitude to my hosts in Columbus, Ohio who supported me every step of the way. There was an audio recording of the workshop, so I’ll let you know when that’s available.

For another post about the wisdom of mythology, see Persephone: Finding Myself in Her Story. For a story about a presentation under challenging circumstances, see Three Lessons about Loss from My TEDx Talk.  Everything had to be done from memory with no notes, but I pulled it off despite hearing chaos. After that, anything seemed possible. Even a workshop.



  1. May 31, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Lisa Baechtle


    Yeah for you, Elaine! To have faith, to allow to be helped, to be brave! You are an inspiration to me for being all in in life! Blessings, Lisa

    1. June 4, 2019 at 4:04 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Lisa. I miss my physical resilience and hope it returns, but others with cochlear implants tell me it will if I’m patient and rest a lot. Seems I’m being forced to confront my impatience with myself in many ways. That’s a good thing–theoretically.

  2. May 30, 2019 at 8:10 pm



    Kudos to you Elaine for being such a remarkable warrior woman who continues to move onward through the elements of life. I’m so glad you are getting reacquainted with your new world of hearing. 🙂

    1. May 31, 2019 at 10:44 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Debby. The warrior in me has been paying a price for the last few weeks, but my energy seems to be returning slowly. Bird songs are much sweet compared to plane engines.

      1. June 11, 2019 at 8:06 pm



        Blessed be. 🙂

  3. May 29, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    Elaine, you are an inspiration to all of us.

    Day by day I feel my body (and mind) getting weaker, but I push it in order to be independent, and to keep creating art. It’s frustrating not to have the strength I used to have to open a jar of paint, but I knock the top of it a few times with the handle of a screwdriver to loosen the hardened paint, and manage to get it open eventually.

    We are so fortunate to still be able to do the things we love to do.

    1. May 30, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Lynne. Being determined (stubborn) is necessary, but tiring. I’m glad you are creative with jar opening as well as painting. Here’s to doing the task eventually. I’m so aware of the good fortune and beauty of life, plus the gift of hearing in my world. They often say learning a foreign language is good for memory. I wonder what this hearing workout does to my brain besides making it tired. Take good care of your eyes, the most important tools in your colorful work box.

  4. May 29, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Susan Scott


    Many congratulations Elaine on your very successful presentation and i/we much look forward to being able to listen to it when it’s available. Kudos also to the organisers who were with you every step of the way. May this venture give you further confidence in your next adventures. When we say yes! – the universe is there to help and support.

    There have been times when Ive thought ‘I can’t, no more, I simply can’t’ .. but surprisingly i could, even though it meant finding resources I didn’t know I had – for which I’ll be forever grateful.

    Rest well now – enjoy birdsong with our without the implants. And thank you for your lovely post.

    1. May 30, 2019 at 8:11 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Susan. Yes to helpers who make it possible to manifest what scares us and the power of adrenaline to override our “I can’t do this” attitude. Yes, we can, but can’t I approach life in a more gentle and less stressful way? I’m the only one who can answer that. Birdsongs and most nature sounds are now audible and pleasant with the implant. I’m grateful I live in a quiet world with nature all around me.

  5. May 29, 2019 at 11:40 am

    Robin Botie


    So glad for you Elaine. You hung in there and made your project work. And now – onto summertime and all the delicious sounds you,be been missing. Wishing you a beautiful summer. Cheers!

    1. May 30, 2019 at 8:04 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Robin. I hope to keep expectations low and visits to waterfalls high this summer. When hospicare asked me to speak at Illuminations in a few weeks, I said yes. Another, much smaller and more local, practice session in doing the best I can and having that be enough.

  6. May 29, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Jean Raffa


    You, my friend, are a living example of the Inanna myth. Spending so much time in the World Below has strengthened you beyond belief. I can’t imagine trying to conduct a workshop without being able to hear. That’s a truly extraordinary feat, Elaine. I love the image of the lioness too. Like Demeter and Inanna, she represents the fierce, natural power of the protective Queen to me too. Congratulations. Enjoy your summer of listening to your soul. I plan to do the same. Jeanie

    1. May 30, 2019 at 8:02 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Jeanie. You can’t hold Leo energy down and I have lots of Leo lion in my chart. Fortunately, my hearing was decent by the time of the workshop, better than it’s been in a few years. All I had to do was be willing to fail, so that was a good spiritual and psychological exercise in itself–since like most everyone, I hate failing. I’m glad it didn’t go that way. At some point, I let go and went with whatever it would be. I’m waiting for summer here. It stops by for a few days with butterflies and then turns wet and cold again. The birds sing anyway.

  7. May 29, 2019 at 8:43 am



    I am so glad you dared to say yes! Thank you for sharing your deep wisdom and finding many ways to do it despite the learning curve in your ears and brain as well as the fatigue. Deep gratitude!

    1. May 29, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes! And now I have to balance it with that other magic word: No!
      I have to say no to my ever-eager, project-creating self and convince her that the best way forward is through deep rest and digesting the experience of the workshop. There’s much to digest and I haven’t done that yet. Fortunately, it was recorded, so I can review all of it that way and know better what worked and resonated.

  8. May 29, 2019 at 7:33 am

    Mark Liebenow


    I am so thankful that you are receiving your hearing back. What a relief, and what a gift!

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:58 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      It’s an amazing gift, Mark. I’m incubating a post about Rilke’s poetry about hearing because he got the mystical aspect of sound. I’m a long way from enjoying music, but bird song is amazingly sacred without accompaniment.

  9. May 29, 2019 at 5:35 am



    Incredible Elaine!
    Bravo Lady Listener!
    The imagine of fragility of a butterfly but transforming into a lioness to protect the child comes to mind.
    Thank you for reaffirming our feminine strength and beauty.
    Congrats too, a job well done!

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:56 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Janice. One of the workshop participants brought me an enlargement of photo he’d taken of a Blue Morpho Butterfly. What a beautiful and generous gift! I have it on my altar. Here’s to the magical function of listening–as unlikely as a tiny Monarch butterfly migrating all the way to Mexico. Thanks for cheering me on and for sharing the image of the lioness protector. I’ll remember her.

  10. May 28, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    Jan Maltzan


    I’ve never posted a reply to your essays/blog although I thoroughly enjoy them. But I just had to respond to say how delighted I am that you have a renewed future ahead of you with restored hearing. What a grand gift!
    I’ve only worked with very young children (Early Intervention) who were Deaf I’ve been involved (somewhat indirectly) in many discussions with parents revolving around the choices and decisions they have to make about regarding hearing implant surgery and how controversial it is within the deaf community.
    I am so thrilled for you that you could say yes! to it. And yes, self care for yourself and your adjusting brain is so important right now.

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:51 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Jan. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed by blog and I appreciate your support in the past and for this new adventure. I’ve read about how controversial implants are in the deaf community and also know that many deaf kids get implants as infants now and it works well for them. Apparently the adjustment is much easier for kids since they’re adjusting to so much that’s new. My doctors and I agreed that I would never be considered part of the deaf community because I have always functioned with spoken English. And I don’t have one friend who is proficient at ASL and I love my community. I’m glad to be given a new chance in the hearing world. It’s challenging, but so many good things are challenging. Every adult I’m in contact who has a cochlear implant assures me that it gets easier and easier and the sound becomes more natural. May it be so!

  11. May 28, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    Myra Berkowitz


    Dear Elaine,
    Thank you so much, once again, for weaving together your experience, beautiful imagery (sometimes your photography, this time the paintings), and symbolic thought in a way that is so meaningful and moving. Congratulations on your successful workshop in Ohio! But, when you mentioned loud noises to avoid, I had to wonder many things, including: Can you turn the sound off? What if it’s unbearable? Can you drive or how do you travel? I hope you don’t mind my curiosity in this format!
    Anyway, I wish you lovely days in the gardens, fields, and woods that you cherish. It seems like beauty is upon us, for which we are all surely grateful.
    With love,

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:44 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Myra. Yes, I can turn sound off. All equipment is off at night or in the shower, but the best way to acclimate is to wear the audio receiver every waking minute at a decent volume so the brain gets used to the new reality.. On the way home from Ohio, I made my way to the gate in Detroit where I had a long layover and removed all sound equipment. It wasn’t a restful environment because there were thunderstorms and I had to stick close to the gate because I couldn’t hear announcements, but I stopped letting in the dissonant sound for a while. This is the first time I’d traveled by plane. Going through screening was a trip because they couldn’t figure out what all the electronics were, so on the way home I removed everything from my head, took out batteries, packed everything in my backpack, and went through screening without a blink. Learning through experience on my maiden voyage. I can always turn down volume which I do in noisy places, but the problem is also distortion. It’s truly a brain workout as it unpacks unknown and odd bionic signals and turns them into hearing. It’s amazing that it works so well and give me a year. In the beginning, I would not have recognized your voice or even my own. Now I can make many distinctions. It was a beautiful weekend and now we’re back into rain and cool weather–and such is life in the Finger Lakes.

  12. May 28, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Deborah Gregory


    After following your wonderful blog these past four years Elaine, it seems to me you’ve always tried to follow your heart’s desire. What a great muse you are with your courage, creativity and willingness to share your stories, heart and wisdom. Gifting others that much needed hope, especially in the wake of life’s often deeply, transformative losses.

    What an incredible journey you’ve been on and how important I sense it has become to share your family stories with others. So that others too may grow in hope, courage and acceptance when having to live through their own tough times. I can’t help but remember that the poet Rumi wrote, it is only then (on our knees!) that we’re in “the perfect position” to pray.

    I hope your overwhelming exhaustion eases up over the coming days and weeks and that you soon have more of a spring in your step. Huge congratulations on your recent workshop, it sounds as though it was amazing to lead and attend. I’m so proud of you! Love & light, Deborah.

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:33 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I follow my heart’s desire, Deborah, but it has an edge of tyrannical slave driving I could do without. We can call that courage with a touch of obsession, but I was reminded yesterday of Marion Woodman saying, “If we can’t give an hour a day to our soul, what kind of life are we living?” I need to rest and focus on hearing. I need to sit on the back porch and say mantra while watching the birds.

      Rumi is a steady blessing! He always says the right thing. We read lots of Rumi at the workshop and there was a wonderful man there in charge of recording and microphones and all that equipment. I had no idea he would have all sorts of wonderful and appropriate poems stored in memory to share with everyone. It was wonderful talking with a group that loves mythology and poetry. I do that in writing, but I loved doing it in person. I have a mid June talk scheduled at a Hospice memorial in June and plan to read lots of poetry. Speaking of poetry, it will soon be time for your June offering. I can’t wait. Thanks for your constant support and for reminding me that on my knees is a perfect position for prayer.

  13. May 28, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Marian Beaman


    There’s no better pairing than Cabanel’s Echo for this post. Not being able to hear yet perceiving a roar in your ear has to be SO disconcerting, and you describe it well, bringing in references from psychology and mythology. I like the photo of the Bionic Little Girl; now I can picture your apparatus.

    And I’m not surprised there was no dry eye in the room at your workshop. You surely project authenticity in your writing and presenting, and you have a rich storehouse of experiences to share.

    Challenges, both physical and emotional, provide fertile ground for creativity. As you were adjusting to your new “ear,” another writer friend, who already has two very serious chronic health problems, fell and broke her pelvis in several places. But she, like you, has goals: publishing her second memoir this year.

    You mention exhaustion as your brain re-learns how to hear differently. And you ask, Have you made a choice to push ahead when your body wasn’t quite up to it? After the marathon of writing my memoir, I am looking at the next chapter: promotion/marketing. I am very tired. YES, I am exhausted. But why quit now. NO!

    1. May 29, 2019 at 10:24 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Marian, the horrified image of Echo is how hearing has felt to me for many years and still sometimes feels. My receivers or outer apparatus aren’t visible because they’re hidden by hair, but they look just like that and sometimes peek out from under my hair. I think I know the writer who has been through a hard, hard time and doesn’t give up. She’s doing it! I wonder what I’ll cook up when I get rested? For now, my project is to stop the project-making obsession and give the playful girl in me a rest.

      About your book, I remember being grateful for the pause between finding a publisher and publishing which was 6-8 months and then seeing how quickly that time was filled with learning about promotion and marketing and planning events. You’ve done so much I hadn’t done such as having an ongoing blog with a devoted readership and knowing your way around social media. And then the job of doing the work and letting go of expectations. I can’t wait to read your book.

      1. May 29, 2019 at 11:33 am

        Marian Beaman


        Here’s to the playful girl beginning to emerge! 🙂

        Thanks for the tip of letting go of expectations – or changing them – or hoping for serendipity!

        1. May 30, 2019 at 8:03 am

          Elaine Mansfield


          Those expectations make life harder for me than it needs to be. You will soon have a beautiful and fascinating book.

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