The Learning Curve of My Own Hearing Loss

Gael Hannan
August 15, 2011

The more I understand about hearing loss – its causes and how it affects communication – the easier it is to face my personal hearing challenges, and the better I communicate.    Sounds simple, but it has taken a lifetime to learn this.

If I’m asked when I first become aware of my hearing loss, I answer, when my mommy told me.  I was born hard of hearing and don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about it.  It was mild as a child, and is now severe-to-profound.   But living with hearing loss every day doesn’t necessarily mean we’re good at it.  On the contrary, most of us suck at being hard of hearing or deaf!   What we do excel at, however,  is ignoring our own needs, devising ways to hide our condition and, worst of all, meekly putting up with inaccessible conditions, simply because we don’t know how to make it otherwise.   To move forward, we have to start by looking in the mirror for a little self-chat:  Ok, this is your life now.  What are you going to do about it?   I was on the brink of my fifth decade before I had that conversation with myself.

For my first twenty years, I wasn’t allowed a hearing aid (don’t get me started; I’ll save it for another post), but even as a child I could tell you the basics:  I had a “senso-nurral” hearing loss in both ears and could I please sit at the front of the class so I can understand the teacher.   (This lesson came hard.  The one time I decided to sit at the back of the class – I wanted desperately to be with my friends and be cool – it was a humiliating experience that haunts me still.  The teacher called on me and I hadn’t heard clearly.  I didn’t want to say pardon in front of everyone, so I stood up and said, “Sorry, sir, I wasn’t listening.”  Jaws dropped, the class went silent.   The teacher said, “Well, thanks for sharing, Gael, but I was calling on Dale, not you.”  Next class, I was back at the front, having learned a basic hearing loss rule:  sit where you can see the lips.)

At 20, I switched ENT’s and had a hearing aid within a month – and for a while I learned that life was really, wonderfully LOUD!  Over for the next two decades, I coasted along, learning a lot of useful stuff.  Such as when to bluff – for example, when you’re in a business meeting with mumblers around a long boardroom table.  Or when not to bluff, such as when you are being proposed to.  I learned how to hide my hearing aid under my hair, because it was ugly and if I let it show, people would stare at it or shout at it.  I learned that if I asked someone to speak up or repeat themselves because I was hard of hearing, the customary answers were, oh I’m sorry (please, don’t be), or but you don’t look like it (really, what do I look like?). 

Then, hallelujah,  I hit 40.  I was pregnant and I didn’t know how to be a hard-of-hearing-mom.  So I took the most monumental step of  my life:  I called the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association for help and I have never looked back.  Over time, I threw out my negative attitudes and started to soak up information about hearing loss, mine, anybody’s and everybody’s.  I learned that I was not alone and that for every communication challenge, there are solutions.  But all of them involved me taking ownership of my hearing loss, while at the same time connecting with other consumers and hearing health professionals – to make them all partners in my better communication.

 The more I learn – the better I communicate.  Hopefully will give you some information that’s new, exciting or even life-changing.

  1. Great column, Ms. Hannan

    This is as good a description of what it’s like to grow up with and to have a hearing loss as I have ever read–and I’ve read a lot. Your beautifully written piece will resonate with others who share your experience. It also lets those of us who have normal hearing (so far) feel what it’s like not to.

    I look forward to reading your column every week.

  2. You brought tears to my eyes because you hit a nerve and, yes too, you did a wonderful job of describing my experience of being hard of hearing all of my life. I was in my twenties though when I sought out the Council for Disabled Persons for information on hard of hearing issues (not deaf) – because I couldn’t hear on the phone! Like you, I never looked back (thank goodness).

  3. So nice to see a familiar face here on “The Better Hearing Consumer”. You will surely be a great addition by sharing your experiences with others. Keep up the good work it’s appreciated.

  4. Gael: Welcome aboard. Excellent intro article and I look forward to more.

  5. Hi Gael!

    Thank you for sharing the link to your blog. I always learn so much from you and your first article ‘The Learning Curve of My Own Hearing Loss’ was no exception. Therefore, I too can say, “The more I learn – the better I communicate”.

    All the best and I shall visit you here often!


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