Most people, upon getting the news that they have hearing loss, don’t receive the diagnosis as if it were nothing. “Oh, I’ve got hearing loss? Alrighty then, thanks a lot for telling me.” Maybe some people take the news calmly, both inwardly and outwardly, but if we could read the thoughts of most people, we’d see something more along the lines of:
“OMG! Tell me this is a MISTAKE! I’m too young! OMG! People are going to look at me funny; they’ll think I’m old, disabled, a wash-up, incompetent. OMG! No way! I am NOT doing this hearing loss thing! Are you sure it’s not wax? Hearing aids look like crap! “
This might go on for weeks and months, with few external clues that the person is going through hearing loss hell. Maybe he or she doesn’t always wear their hearing aids. They become quieter, with a perpetual frown plastered on their face. They may not join in conversations or activities as much as they used to.
It can be difficult to express the emotions of hearing loss, even for people like me who’ve had it for a long time. Whether it’s speaking up about a challenging listening environment or sitting down with our partners and letting it all gush – it’s just not easy, even if we are normally open about other issues.
Why is that?
There are a number of reasons, according to psychologist John M. Grohol, Psy.D., in his online article 10 Reasons You Can’t Say How You Feel. Although the article doesn’t refer to any specific disability, I have experienced all of these barriers as a person with hearing loss. Dr. Grosol mentions fear of conflict, wanting to be seen as capable of handling problems, our desire not to be seen as less than perfect (i.e., not disabled), trying to punish others with the silent treatment, fear of rejection, low self-esteem, and expecting the people who love us to be mindreaders, to know what we’re going through and what we need. Dr. Grohol goes on to say that learning why we have trouble in telling others how we feel, is a big step towards changing our behavior.
From experience, I know that when people first enter the world of hearing loss, it can be a scary place, a whole new world that doesn’t come with a manual. Information on hearing loss is not easy to digest when emotions are raging. People who have always heard well may not have the words to describe what they are now feeling. Change takes time. Time to learn and adapt to new rules, especially in the way we receive and understand the spoken word. And what many people don’t realize, is that we still have the same right to participate and be involved.
By learning as much as we can about our particular type of hearing loss and the ways it will affect different aspects of our life, we can explain our needs to other people. But if the emotions of hearing loss are too overwhelming for you to articulate (and you would not be alone in that), try using someone else’s words, those of the people who have faced this challenge before you. The internet is full of forums and sites where people share their hearing loss thoughts, their rage, their frustration, and their joy in finding some answers. Copy them – use their words and their ideas. There are many books about dealing with hearing loss, including my own, The Way I Hear It and those by my friend Katherine Boulton. We’ve been there and done that; we would be honored if you considered trying what worked for us.
Even better, try writing down the feelings to which you can’t put a voice. Just let ‘er rip – and write down all the rage and grief and anger that you feel. You don’t have to show it to anyone, but you may realize that someone in your life does need to read it, you can decide whether to show them the raw draft or a cleaned-up version.
I care about how hearing loss affects your life, because other people cared about me whenever I’ve suffered hearing-related emotional pain. However you find your way through – whether it’s reading, writing, or speaking with others about your feelings – by setting free those inner, corrosive emotions, you will start dealing better with your hearing loss life.