Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. This week, she looks both back and forward.
New Year = fresh start. So in 2016 we have a brand spanking new 365-page book or blank canvas waiting to be painted. And just like all great creators, our technique gets cultivated over time and we can, to some extent, control our destiny. Or that’s the plan!
I only have to glance at photos gracing the mantels or those stuck on my refrigerator to remember that 2015 has been a good one for me. Jam-packed with overwhelming moments that took my breath away; the kind when cheeks are filled with fire but happy tears prick at my eyes as I fondly remember Glastonbury and climbing the summit of Ben Nevis.
The memorable book launch party as my memoir Breaking the Silence was published – friends, family and other across the north-east revelling in the delight with me. Sitting at the oval table on ITV’s Loose Women and the familiar Good Morning Britain sofa as the nation listened to my story.
There aren’t many drastic changes or hardcore New Year resolutions to be made this year. I’ve learned a lot from past years, and one of the biggest lessons is to focus on the small to get to the big. So, instead I’ll give myself reminders rather than a goal – just the simple hope of feeling good and enjoying life.
I reckon we have to trust in ‘something’, whether it’s gut instinct, faith, karma, whatever, because this approach has never ever let me down. To be grateful for the ups and downs, the feeling of being loved but understanding the harsh feeling of bitter loneliness; to be happy with my health, even as my eyesight wavers; to know what comfortable feels like, but also the unnerving feeling of anxiety and stress.
So, what does 2016 have in store?
To find that I’m to co-present a Learning to Listen series on BBC Radio 4 in late spring, was confirmation if ever I needed it of how much life has changed for the ‘deaf girl’ since my miraculous cochlear implants were fitted.
The programmes will consist of fascinating interviews with those trained to interpret the sounds they hear. For instance, an emergency services worker who locates rescue victims buried under rubble or a cardiac surgeon listening for abnormal sounds of the human heart using a stethoscope.
Similarly, a sound recordist using a device to eavesdrop on the natural world, capturing animal behaviour, on land or in the ocean. I was fortunate to experience this device as I listened to the dawn chorus, as shown on BBC Springwatch last year, for the very first time.
Also in 2016, a popular festival is to be held in my name at one of the UK’s most beautiful parks, in my hometown. Local musicians and bands will group together to support a mission of raising funds to bring ‘Music to the Ears’ of deaf children through purchasing musical instruments, encouraging signed songs and sponsoring music tutorials.
“This year, it’s not about what I haven’t done yet, it’s about what I have already experienced… the life I’m lucky to live. My face may be decorated with more wrinkles, but it’s because I’ve expressed half a lifetime’s worth of emotion.”
As I continue to travel the world throughout 2016, my sun-kissed freckles may turn into darker sun spots, but only because I’m going to be living a life outside, exploring all continents. I will make memories, visual ones and those that will be topics of conversation in the years to come.
This year, it’s not about what I haven’t done yet, it’s about what I have already experienced… the life I’m lucky to live. My face may be decorated with more wrinkles, but it’s because I’ve expressed half a lifetime’s worth of emotion. I’ve learned to say no and downsize my commitments to simplify life and in turn fill time with my top priorities: health, family and friendships. I’m still finding my way in a completely alien world, but I’m not afraid of living with Usher Syndrome anymore.
For that, I am celebrating with a grateful heart and hopefully pouring out hope by campaigning to encourage the addition of BSL to the curriculum in mainstream schools; by taking risks, by living and making mistakes. I always want to learn from the past, revel in the present, and delight in the future.
Many of us who support the amazing work of Hearing Fund UK will be challenging ourselves to trek Mount Snowdon in Wales in the summer. Some want to get fit, some want to lose weight, some want to prove age or ability should never be a barrier.
I’m also planning a trip to Bangladesh and look forward to witnessing the sheer joy that the hearing aids, which allowed me some insight as a child, will bring to thousands of deaf and deafblind children in the surrounding villages of Dhaka.
Meanwhile the prospect of the paperback edition of my book – as well as some foreign language editions – still offers a find-it-hard-to-believe moment, as does an upcoming theatre production of my life story.
Carefully packing some hearing aids into boxes, the emphatic bass and aggressive vocals of Motörhead – at full volume – assault my senses in the best way. I notice a picture showing a leather-clad frontman Lemmy aboard his bike, one of the great losses of 2015.
So as 2016 gets underway, I am vowing to continue my incredible discovery of sound; tunes and melodies, the distinctive voices of musicians I’m beginning to recognise; the voices of my loved ones and more dance routines I’m yet to discover. All that with more intense emotion than ever before.1699 Views
Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10