This week I took a good, old-fashioned hearing test.

Over the past several months, I’ve been saying, “What?” a lot to my husband after he says something. I would hear him talk, but would have no idea what he had said. It would often sound like he was speaking underwater. He has a deep voice; perhaps that was the problem. But my not hearing what he said was annoying both of us. I started to wonder if I had some hearing loss. Every time I missed something he said I would think with increasing dread that my hearing just wasn’t right.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a soft-spoken girlfriend in a noisy restaurant. I had a difficult time catching everything she said. I found myself staring at her lips with a quizzical look, much like I’ve seen people with hearing aids do to me in loud restaurants. This was not good.

It seems that people with hearing problems are usually the last to know. I didn’t want to be that person. I’m 46 years old, which is probably old enough to have some hearing loss. I decided to take the bull by the horns and figure out what was going on. I called a nearby audiology clinic and made a hearing test appointment.

I May Have Caused this Problem

I started to wonder what could have been the source of my probable hearing loss. My unacknowledged stress-management program in my 20s was distance running. I’d run far and long, almost every day. On some days, weather would force me to run inside. I’d hop on a treadmill with my Walkman blaring rock music and pound away. It was fun.

I knew that loud music could lead to hearing loss, but that would happen when I was older.  In some illogical way, I thought this hazard was not applicable to me, like one can only do in her teens and early 20s.

Unfortunately, I thought my years of occasionally listening to loud music had caught up with me. Well, a hearing aid wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. They are small and inconspicuous these days. And maybe I could grow my hair out a little around my ears to cover it up.

My Hearing Test

I went to my appointment the day after Labor Day at 1 p.m. The friendly audiologist took me back to the hearing exam room. She was wearing navy-blue Birkenstocks, same style as mine, different color. She asked me questions about my hearing loss symptoms. She asked if I had ever gone hunting (heavens, no!) or been exposed to other loud noises. I told her about my running-with-loud-rock-music habit 25 years ago. I felt sheepish that I had probably created this problem for myself.

She put small ear buds into my ears, shut the door to the small, elevated room in which I was sitting and went to the other side of a glass window. I would hear tones, at varying pitches and was instructed to push a button every time I heard them. The sounds started out softly and got quieter. I thought there would have been a few obvious, no-brainer sounds right away. Give me some freebies, at least at the beginning! Gradually, the sounds became as quiet as a fly whispering. I continued to push the button.

After testing both ears, the audiologist came to get me. She had good news – my hearing was normal. I was surprised, skeptical and relieved. How could this be? Does this mean I don’t need a hearing aid?  I had practically already picked out the one I wanted.

She suggested that I may not be having problems hearing, but instead I may not be paying attention when my husband is talking. I then say, “What?” which I have interpreted as my having a hearing problem. But that’s not really the case. Instead, it’s been an attention issue.

Hearing and Listening Are Not the Same

I have been distracted lately. I started to put two and two together – my “hearing” problems developed this year, after the losses of my dear mom and my sweet dog. I am often lost in thought and therefore don’t hear what’s being said. I’ve never been spacey or a daydreamer. In fact, paying attention has been one of my strengths. So it never occurred to me that perhaps my distraction could be causing my problems. I just haven’t been listening.

The expert gave me some communication tips. She suggested that my husband start talking to me by using my name. I can also make a concerted effort to pay attention when he’s speaking and stop whatever else I may be doing.

Ever since learning that my “hearing problem” was a listening issue, my hearing has been just fine. I feel like I may now know a teeny bit what it’s like to have ADHD – to be lost in thought and miss key information.

It was an easy problem to solve. It was also kind of funny. Old married couples stop listening to each other. Or husbands are supposed to be the ones not listening to their wives, not the other way around! But I was not missing what Joe was saying because I was disinterested in him. I’ve just been preoccupied.

I think many of us are distracted, much of the time. We are probably missing out on a lot. My inattention will pass. It is passing, in fact.

I have a renewed determination to pay attention, to be in the present. I know how to do this. Go to yoga. Meditate. Notice my surroundings. Savor my food.  Turn off the radio in my car. Listen to my dear husband when he talks.

I don’t want to miss out on my life. I’m willing to give this a try!