Q: At the start of every holiday season, what’s more common than cookie recipes and decorating ideas?
A: Articles on how to survive the holiday season!
They fall like snowflakes on social media, these survival-blogs that offer advice on coping with the annual issues of season – loneliness, depression, finances, family dysfunction, grief—and hearing loss.
The last one is my particular specialty: I’m a HoH (hard of hearing). Along with other hearing loss writers, I create yearly Brace yourself, HoHs, here come the holidays!” pieces, including A Hearing Loss Letter to Santa, It’s Me Again, Santa – The Lady with Hearing Loss, Happy Holidays for HoHs, and last year’s popular Cheat Sheet for Better Holiday Hearing.
Why do people with hearing loss need help with the holiday season?
Simple: the powerful emotions of the season can turn painful when we struggle to understand things that used to give us joy. Holiday dinners are a nightmare trying to figure out who’s saying what, parties are noisy and people talk with their mouth full, and our family and friends often forget about/ignore our needs in the heat of their own holiday merriment. For some people, it’s stressful just thinking about what lies ahead in the holidays. We grieve for the music that we no longer hear, or in quite the same way. It’s lonely in the midst of a large party with jumbled words swirling around you like a winter storm. And family dysfunction happens real fast when the people you love, who are supposed to know better, chat away easily, including you out.
Basic advice to survive the hearing holidays: turn down the music and background noise, turn up the lights, make sure people face you when they talk and, most importantly, speak up for yourself when communication gets difficult. How hard can that be? OK, admittedly when the liquid spirits have been flowing, it is challenging to speechread slurry lips – or perhaps blurry lips if you’re the one who’s been inhaling the chardonnay.
It also helps to anticipate difficult situations. Rather than large dinner parties, I limit the number of guests to eight; I need to be able to see everyone’s lips from the best spot at the table, which I claim for myself. (I always claim the best spot, even if I’m not the host and especially when we’re at a restaurant.) But for larger clan-gatherings, my conversations are short sound bites; I leave the meaningful stuff for another time. Finding a quiet(er) corner is good for chatting, but not for hiding behind a potted plant. If the party is that painfully loud or incomprehensible, grab “the one that brung ya” and leave. Or don’t go in the first place; find another way to celebrate.
And speaking of asking for what you need, this year put useful HoH gifts on your list: a supply of hearing aid batteries (in the right size, please), a home looping system that takes TV sounds direct into your ears, or a simple neck loop to plug into your computer and that works with a switch of your aids’ telecoils. Ask for books on hearing loss; there are now many helpful, enjoyable ones available, including…ahem…mine.
Don’t let hearing loss suck the joy out of your season. This is a spiritual time of year celebrated by many faiths and a cultural season of music and color and friends. Even if you have hearing loss, tinnitus, Meniere’s, hyperacusis or any other lovely-sounding hearing problem, soak up the beauty and pass along the joy.
And if you’re feeling a bit blue, do what I did. Print up some tags, pin one it to your Santa hat or hand them out. You’ll make lots of new friends.