When Fear Holds You Back

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is something that I remind myself of every now and then.  Fear is often the emotion behind the reason we hold back.  “What if…”

One of the hardest things for me to do with my boys was to let them play football.  It wasn’t that I detested the sport (slamming others to the ground, ugh!), it was the idea that they could lose more hearing by butting their heads into someone else’s.  We have a family history of people losing their hearing from knocking around our heads:

For many years, my family was unique when it came to stories about hearing loss. Everyone in my family, for five generations, was born with hearing in the normal range. My Mom started losing her hearing as a teen. She became deaf at the age of 27.

“I was at a family BBQ and all of a sudden, I realized I couldn’t hear anything,” Mom shared. “I could see that lips were moving, but no sound was coming out.” Just like that, my Mom became deaf. Her five siblings also were deaf or hard of hearing.

I have four older siblings. My sister, Linda, was almost three years old when she fell off of a chair and hit her head on the corner of a baseboard. Later that week, my Mom noticed that she wasn’t responding to people. She began to stop talking. She was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss. My brother, Dennis, grew up with normal hearing and at the age of 36, he was hit on the head by a wooden beam at work and woke up in the hospital with severe hearing loss. My sister, Jeanie, grew up with a unilateral hearing loss and around the same age as my mom, began losing more hearing. In her mid-forties, she slipped on a rug and became profoundly deaf. My brother, Kenny, developed a moderate hearing loss in his late 30’s.

I became very sick with a high fever as a child and my parents believe it was that illness which triggered my hearing loss when I was in elementary school. My first hearing aid was given to me when I was nine– but I only wore when at school. I found that it caused headaches and tinnitus and I often took it off after school and never touched it during the summer. When I was 19, I was water skiing on my bare feet at a high speed and fell sideways into the water. For weeks, I thought I just couldn’t get the water out of my ear. I had become profoundly deaf. From that point on, hearing aids were a constant thing in my life. Years later, my brother Kenny also lost some hearing from barefooting.

Whenever I would share my family’s story about how we all became deaf and hard of hearing, people would be incredulous at the events that lead to hearing loss. “Y’all need to stop banging your heads,” one person remarked.

Joe and I had long, deep discussions about whether or not to let the boys play football.   We both agreed that we didn’t want this gene to hold our family back– after all, my Mom went deaf in the middle of a conversation–she had done nothing to provoke the hearing loss.   My sister did not agree with our decision, she felt we were taking too much of a risk in allowing the boys to play a contact sport.  The kids have always known they could lose more hearing at any time, but I didn’t want them tiptoeing through life.

Last week, I found myself facing a little bit of fear that surprised the heck out of me.  I was up in Wisconsin spending three days barefooting with Joann O’Connor. We were kicking back after a great day of footin and had just finished dinner.  Joann casually suggested that I try some wake crossing the next day.  All of a sudden, I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.  “I don’t know about that,” I said.  “After all, that’s how I ended up falling and going deaf.”

Like I said, it surprised the heck out of me.  I had long ago accepted the transition from hard of hearing to deaf and was quite comfortable with my life.  There was a little tiny piece inside of me that wanted to hang on to the little bit of hearing that I had left with hearing aids.  I already knew what it was like to be stone deaf once the hearing aids hit the nightstand.  Was I ok with being stone deaf if I whacked my head again and all of it went poof?

Joann and I discussed it and I told her if I lost the bit of hearing that was left, I’d be ok with it.  I still wasn’t sure if I was going to tackle any wake crossing though.  Heck, I spent the entire summer trying to conquer a deep water start and I just wanted to learn to get back up on the water.  I had spent the afternoon trying one deep water start after another with no success.

It was 6:30 a.m. when Joann and I reached for the wetsuits and headed for the boat.  “Here, try the shoe skis,” Joann suggested.   No sooner did I stand up on the shoe skis then my feet went off in two different directions and I face planted.

“Hey, you stood up too fast!” Joann explained.  I gritted my teeth and leaned back in the water for a second try.  This time, I patiently planted my feet and got up slowly.  I could see Joann grinning from the boat.

I looked at the wake and all of a sudden I said to myself, “What the heck!”  I went for it.  I crossed over once, crossed over twice and by the third time… I was grinning back at Joann.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Good ole Eleanor was right.

11 replies
  1. Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog
    Dan Schwartz, Editor, The Hearing Blog says:

    The Valle Gene rears it’s ugly head again. You can’t plan on when & where the next blow to the head will happen: It could be while playing football, it could be while barefoot skiing… Or it could be in a auto accident, getting your slammed by an air bag deployment.

    Fortunately, even if you lose your remaining hearing, you still have the choice of getting cochlear implants to restore functionality. And if you don’t like them, just pop off the magnets and you’ve lost nothing.

    It was fun meeting you at HLAA; but sorry I missed you at NAD 🙁

  2. Leah Lefler
    Leah Lefler says:

    You must do the thing you think you cannot do- I love that quote! I’m glad you did it! You are definitely an inspiration- grab life by the horns and live it.

  3. DeafMom
    DeafMom says:


    I’ve embraced that gene, after all, it will likely bring me some deaf and hard of hearing grandkids some day and that’s perfectly ok. 🙂

  4. DeafMom
    DeafMom says:

    Leah, glad you like that quote. I hope you’re grabbing life by the horns too! Enjoy! I haven’t been to your blog in ages– moseying over there now!

  5. J. Parrish Lewis
    J. Parrish Lewis says:

    You all need to stop banging your heads.


    Excellent topic and excellent post.

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” says Eleanor’s husband.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t achieved letting go of fear yet. Now that I’m in the process of adopting, I’ve got more fear than ever, because I want to protect her from the sharp-edged world. Hopefully I can find a balance…

  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I agree that fear can be the one thing holding someone back. Whether it’s football, barefootin or any other dream imaginable.

    I like that we can be cautious, but sometimes we confuse being careful with being fearful.

  7. Karen Putz
    Karen Putz says:

    J. — that’s another good quote from the Roosevelts!

    Sometimes the only way to handle fear is to plow right through it, sometimes by baby steps. Congrats on bringing a new one into your family! I have no doubt you can find a balance. 🙂

  8. Ann_C
    Ann_C says:

    As a kid, I’ve water-skiied and slalomed on water to the point I could do a quick turn-’round and jump the wakes, also slalom with eight other ppl on ski’s, weaving in and out under and over the ropes. The latter stunt required a boat with a lotta horsepower. Also powder skiied on slopes for several years. I’ve had my share of flat-facing both on water and snow, heh.

    Gotta ask ya, how does one start at a barefoot, off a dock or pulling outta the water literally? Hey, pulling outta water on slalom ain’t easy, takes a lot of balance and knowing if the boat has got enough horsepower. If one were to go from skiing to barefooting, how’d one start?

    Right, fear.


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