Don’t Sweat the Small “Hearing Loss” Stuff!

Gael Hannan
January 17, 2024

Is there such a thing as ‘small stuff’ in hearing loss?

How can we possibly say ‘don’t sweat it’ when the ongoing advice (from people like me) are calls to action? Stand up for your rights! Self-identify! Wear your hearing aids! Explain your needs! Ask for accessibility! Don’t be dismissed because of your hearing loss!

We’re encouraged to use our technology, reach out to other people with hearing loss, and create good relationships with our hearing care professionals. We’re reminded that if we don’t deal with our hearing loss, we may not live as long as those who do, and we have a higher risk of dementia.

But now, it’s hey, don’t sweat the small stuff?!

In everyday life, this means not tying yourself into knots over the frequent irritants which are, unfortunately, a fact of  life. Otherwise the anger and frustration may ruin or taint everything else in your day and it’s not worth it. But with hearing loss, what could possibly be small enough to not get worked up about – situations such as these?

Once again, your partner or colleague talks to you while walking away.

A family member turns off the closed captioning when you’re not in the room, and you must ask for it to be turned back on when you return.

A customer service person at a desk that clearly indicates that the area is looped, does not know how to work it.

You’re asked if you would like sign language interpretation when you clearly are using spoken language to communicate.

A restaurant dims the lights and and amps up the music and you are forced to beg for more light and less noise.

None of this is ‘small stuff’ to us, but does it have to be Big Stuff every time it happens? Sometimes we forget, as typical negative feelings bubble up, that we have options to deal with the situation. We can change how we respond. Or, without suppressing our needs or feelings, we can deal with it at a more appropriate time. We have less stressful options on what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.

The Hearing Husband will often respond on my behalf to someone I haven’t heard, by saying you’ll have to get her attention, she has hearing loss. This always irritates me. I’m embarrassed at the awkwardness of not realizing I was being spoken to, and annoyed that someone has explained my hearing loss, a job I prefer to do. Even so, my husband has learned to use wording that I’m comfortable with. I have learned to ease out of my negative feelings by brightly following up with, hello, you’ve got my attention now!

In an excellent article by psychologist Dr. Patrick Keelan, inspired by the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, he suggests that we can handle the small stuff by keeping things in perspective and resisting the urge to give into our negative feelings. We can even predict and prepare for situations that can spur the negative moments, because they are going to keep happening. We can count on it!

For most of us, any amount of dimmed lighting and noise is going to interfere with a pleasurable dining experience with our friends. Struggling to communicate frustrates us. We have the right to ask for accommodation and we should, but the degree to which experience can be improved may never be adequate for us. Options: pick a better spot in the restaurant or  another restaurant.

For our communication partners who forget to face us while talking, it’s human nature to forget, in the moment, the simple acts necessary to remain connected. As a person with hearing loss, I must stay focused on the person’s face if I want to understand. (‘Hearing’ people can hear without even trying, which is a source of both envy and irritation!) But if we get furious every time a person fails in their communication duty to us, life will be one angry ride. Remember: they are not doing it on purpose to make your life hell. Gentle or humorous reminders help.

But that perennial offer of sign language interpretation? My attitude on that is a work in progress.

The hearing loss journey gets better when we can practice acceptance and forgiveness – of self and others – when the small stuff threatens to become big stuff.

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