Recently, I’ve been having a bit of a brain-training holiday. I felt like I just wanted to spend some time enjoying life with my new implant; doing things I’ve not been able to do for some time, enjoying new sounds and going to noisy places.
It’s interesting talking to other people with implants about their experiences. A man I met recently had had his for four years. Listening to music had been very important for him before his hearing deteriorated so he had spent lots of time post-implant on music-listening practice. As a result, he said he really enjoyed it – most types, from classical to more popular stuff. He’d practiced hard and was enjoying the results. On the other hand, he still struggled to hear in noisy situations, whereas I’m already very happy with my brain’s ability to filter speech from noise.
I think this is because it’s what I’ve concentrated on. As I explained last time, I’ve done almost no music practice but I’ve spent hours and hours listening to the radio over the background noise of the car. I’ve gleefully gone out to all the noisy situations I’d been really struggling in before; cafes and other eating places, yes, but also noisy gatherings of friends and acquaintances. It matters a lot to me to regain the ability to chat easily with friends after a talk or lecture, for example; it’s not always feasible to drag someone into a quiet corner. A few weeks ago I went to a history day school with over a hundred other people, listened to five hours of lectures (no problem….) and then (even better….) found that I could talk to the people I knew in the very noisy coffee and lunch breaks and even confidently start up conversations with people I didn’t know at all. Wonders!
So when I admitted to the Speech and Language Therapist at my last appointment that I’d taken a bit of a break from formal practice she wasn’t too worried, and pointed out that all my “just enjoying living my life” activities WERE brain training, just brain training in a different way. That said, recently I’ve felt like it was time to push myself a bit again and first on the agenda was watching the television without subtitles.
Given that I can now hear many programmes on the car radio quite easily you would think that the TV would be a pushover, but it has proved to be far harder. I’m not sure why that would be but here are three theories. (A) People say the sound quality of modern TVs is very poor compared to a good radio. (B) I really love TV subtitles and they are a deeply-ingrained habit; I think Brain panics if they are not there. (C) Nigel and I watch so little TV that using it for “practice” is hard. If I’m watching something I really want to watch it. Unlike the car radio I can’t “just have it on” whilst I do something else.
But I DO want to do without the subtitles, if I can. This is partly so that Nigel can read the bits of text on the screen (who the speaker is, extra snippets of information) that subtitles ALWAYS seem to cover up and which he has been uncomplainingly missing out on for so long. It is partly so that maybe (maybe) I might one day be able to enjoy going to the theatre again; and also so that one day I might be able to go to lectures and not have to ask the speaker to keep the lights on. Essentially, I want to hear in as many situations as I can without having to lip read.
How to begin, though? I decided I was just going to have to grasp the nettle. The first thing I tried was the London Marathon. The subtitles on live TV programmes (especially sport) are usually dire, in my opinion, so I told myself I wasn’t missing much by switching them off. Also, I’d be able to see Mo Farah actually running instead of having inaccurate/annoying subtitles covering him up. So I went subtitle-less. I followed enough to know what was happening, indeed, if I really concentrated I could follow quite a lot, which was gratifying if not relaxing. Certainly, I got as much sense out of my implant as I would have got from the captions.
Buoyed up by that success, when Nigel and I sat down a few days later to watch a programme about the Hundred Years War (a series of wars between England and France in medieval times) I decided to try and drop the subtitles again. I made sure I had the remote near me, in case the experience was a disaster. (In recent years Nigel has normally been controller-of-the-remote so he can adjust the volume to his taste; it being irrelevant to me). The programme started. It was a good mix of a presenter (Janina Ramirez) speaking to camera (when I could lip read) and the same presenter talking over film sequences. Ramirez’ voice is very clear and I heard her quite easily. Sometimes, when she was off camera, I felt myself concentrating to decipher, rather than just “hear”, but not so much that it spoilt my enjoyment of the programme. There was one sequence where I got lost and had to ask Nigel to explain later but, hey, there I was, watching the TV without subtitles. Good old brain. It can do it, if I trust it to.
Since then I’ve watched several more hours of similar programmes, quite satisfactorily. The plan is to build up my confidence with this type of thing before trying anything more taxing. I like programmes about the natural world, for example, but they often seem to involve very loud background music, so maybe that’s one to leave for another day.
I DID try the football, just out of interest. Nigel has been enjoying the recent Champions League games so one evening I thought I’d join him in the living room to see what I could make of the commentary. Answer: not much. Once I’d grasped the names of some of the major players I could sometimes pick those out but everything else was a meaningless roar. I wasn’t bothered, because I’m not bothered about football, really. What matters to me is regaining enjoyment of the stuff I WANT to enjoy. Although part of me sometimes thinks I should be pushing myself to do EVERYTHING I think you have to prioritise.
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