Hearing loss is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Once you have it, your hearing loss presents itself to you, every day, in different ways. You never know what you’ll be treated to – an uncaptioned TV show, a sales clerk whose lips point to her computer, a conversation with friends that spins out of control into incomprehension.
Regardless of when hearing loss occurs, experiencing one of its truths for the first time can be shocking in its unexpectedness, its permanence, and its raw repercussions. We are bewildered at how such a thing could happen to us.
Becoming comfortable in the skin of hearing loss can take time, and through the years I’ve had some shocking moments. I’ve long since accepted them, but at some point all of these ‘truths’ have hit me in the face, hard. And some of them keep coming at you, as if you were a punching bag, over and over again. These may not seem startling to you, but if you are hard of hearing or deaf, you may have had your own moments: “WHY did no one tell me about this? Can living with hearing loss get any worse? Could I pick a different disability, please God?”
(A note to ‘hearing people’: many of us with communication challenges have a tendency to be somewhat dramatic. That’s life, and we need to vent once in a while.)
These were some – just some – of my shocking revelations:
Your hearing loss will never go away. You will always have it. Always, forever and ever, amen. And if you don’t like it, that’s too bad, because it’s yours to keep and you can’t re-gift it. I was small when I first learned this, but it didn’t really hit me until I was a teenager, trying to communicate with mumbling, hormonal boys. Then I realized, “This hard of hearing thing is not going to be easy.”
Hearing aids do not last forever. Just when you become used to them, attached to them, or even adoring of them, they die. At 20, I was thrilled, over the moon, to get my first hearing aid. It cost $475 and was my first adult purchase. Some people buy cars or furniture – I invested in a hearing aid, the first of many. It lived for perhaps six or seven years, which I now know is an incredibly long time, but I was expecting much longer, 10 or 20 years maybe? I felt betrayed when I had to replace it – because the new one cost a lot more than $500. It’s like your teeth; did your parents tell you that around age 50 or so, your childhood cavity fillings would start falling out and you’d have to replace them on your own dime? Once should be enough.
Hearing aids and dental work are both outrageously expensive. Just saying.
Learning to live well with hearing loss can take a long time. The aural rehabilitation process seems to be on a continual loop, like a movie played over and over. You wonder if the communication success touted by your hearing care professional is just an illusion, because just when you think you’ve nailed it, a bad hearing day knocks you flat on your butt. It’s like golf – hit a brilliant shot in one game, lose 10 balls in the next. But there’s good news: in my experience, the bad hearing days become fewer – and easier to recover from – when we learn how to kick down those communication barriers.
Every time you get a new hearing aid, it’s like the first time. And I don’t mean the sweet and wonderful stuff, like falling in love; I mean the extremely loud and annoying stuff. You can hear yourself breathing – you can hear people on the other side of the world breathing, for heaven’s sakes! I had a shock with my most recent set of hearing aids – I heard my own tummy rumbling! OMG, you mean other people have been hearing me do that, all these years? Having never heard anyone else’s tummy growling, I didn’t realize it was so loud!
And then, after a few weeks of breaking in the hearing aids (when sometimes you want to break it in pieces) you realize the sounds are no longer as loud or grating. That’s when you panic, convinced that you’ve become deafer, thanks to those damn-loud hearing aids! This happens, they say, because our brain has become used to the signals it receives but….you know….part of me is not 100% convinced.
Your loved ones forget or ignore the new rules of communication. And often. When your spouse-child-mom-dad-sister-best friend-boss-from-hell takes the introductory (and emotionally-delivered) course on “How to Communicate with a Person Who Has Hearing Loss”, he or she may still not remember to communicate in an inclusive way. And here’s the real shocker – neither will you. Let’s admit it – who among us hasn’t called their partner from another room – who then has the outrageous gall to answer you from the other side of the wall!
Hearing loss can turn you into a self-pitying whiner who looks under rocks for evidence of discrimination and bad behavior. I’ve been there and done that, at some point. The trick is being able to turn self-pity into acceptance, whining into advocacy and realizing that, while discrimination most definitely exists, what’s usually under those rocks is simply the barrier of ignorance about hearing loss, which is when we put our self-advocacy into play.
Absorbing the shocks of hearing loss takes time and supports – from our hearing care professional, family, other people with hearing loss and consumer organizations. We just have to reach out for them. Life with hearing loss will be better when we do.