The Two Most Painful Words to Hard of Hearing People

My name is Lauren Sherwood.  I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Professional Writing at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.  A few years ago, I participated in a talent contest.  I was inspired by Gael Hannan, whom my parents had seen at a conference, to write a comedic monologue on living with hearing loss – and I won!  This article recently appeared in the Victoria Time-Colonist (reprinted here with permission) and I was thrilled to see how it resonated with many young people with hearing loss.  I’m honored to share it this week on hearinghealthmatters.org.

 

I am one of an estimated 3.5 million hard-of-hearing Canadians.

This doesn’t mean I don’t hear people. Every day, I hear conversations and arguments and lectures and cussing all around me. And of all the words that stream past, the most hurtful aren’t swear words.

Like almost everyone else, I swear. But the two words that I would never say to someone else and which I can’t stand hearing are “Never Mind.”

Of course, I’m going to miss things during a conversation. Sometimes I’ll let it go, but other times I want to be included, so I ask, “Sorry? What was that? Can you repeat yourself?” And when I hear, “Oh, never mind. It wasn’t that important,” it shuts me down.

I was born with a moderate to severe hearing loss in the high- and mid-range frequencies. It wasn’t until I was five that they discovered I was hard of hearing and needed hearing aids. I went through elementary and high school using an FM system — a receiver boot that attaches to the hearing aids and a transmitter mike that the teacher wears. Most of my classmates were curious about my hearing aids and the FM system, and I was always happy to answer questions.  At one point, I may have had a classmate believing I could get radio on the system.

At university, I used the FM system, note-takers and a fantastic program called Typewell. Transcribers would come to my classes and type on their computer what the professor was saying. It would show up on my computer and I would receive a copy of the transcript after class. Typewell brought my learning up to a whole new level, even though sometimes the keyboard shortcuts act up, showing “priests” for “parasites.”

Outside of school, I’ve had jobs ranging from cosmetician at a drugstore in Osoyoos (a town in the interior of British Columbia) to front-desk attendant at a resort in Fairmont Hot Springs. I’ve volunteered for many events and organizations such as Best Buddies, Desert Half Triathlons, and the Society of Geography Students.

In August 2013, I was crowned one of three British Columbia Ambassadors. The program promotes self-esteem, motivation, volunteering and post-secondary education for young adults. Competitors are judged on their public speaking, a B.C. knowledge exam, talent and an interview with the judges. As I don’t have any “extraordinary” talent, I performed a comedy monologue about my hearing loss and the hilarious situations I find myself in sometimes (such as my brother unplugging the vacuum and waiting to see how long it took me to notice).

So why am I telling you my life story? To show that I’m the same as you. I sleep in on weekends, procrastinate on my assignments, and binge on Netflix. The only difference is I’m hard of hearing.

Through all my experiences, I’ve found my hearing loss helps me to stand out, gives me a unique perspective on issues and is a great topic for an icebreaker (I’m never at a loss when the game is “What’s one unique thing about you?”).

My hearing loss is something I was born with and I have no idea what “normal” hearing is like — but I imagine it’s loud!

One of my favorite things to do, after a long day of active listening (when you’re hard of hearing, passive listening doesn’t exist), is take off my hearing aids and let silence descend around me. It’s similar to taking off tight shoes when you get home after being on your feet for a long time.

I work every day to hear what is going on around me and it is only when I’m at home that I can fully relax.

I’m a social person. I like knowing what’s going on around me, being part of what’s going on, and it hurts when someone is unwilling to repeat themselves. It makes me feel as if I’m less than them, or that they can’t be bothered to make that little extra effort.

Being hard of hearing means you live in two worlds. Every day, I balance these two worlds and do my best to catch what everyone is saying and take part in conversations. There will always be times when I just can’t hear what was said and I will ask someone to repeat themselves.

So please, don’t mutter: “Never mind.”

I mind.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

20 Comments

  1. I am 95. I have experienced progressive hearing loss, especially in the last four or five years,, and I have come to understand how frustrating this is for others, and for myself. I am sure that this is a problem for millions as they age and for those around them. In my case It runs in my family. I am fully or at least relatively sentient, as I hope this message will demonstrate. I hear some people and not others. Those I do hear seem more often to be people who enunciate clearly, but who take care to distinguish among consonants, especially at the beginning of a sentence, since that often enables me to predict more of the conversation. Predictable content is always much easier for me to follow. I just have to maintain an alert imagination. Talking louder does not always or necessarily help much in that regard at all, as long as voice is well-modulated and distinct.

    I have tried hearing aids but they amplify background noise, and that has always been a problem for me, even before hearing loss. Also, I have rather intense tinnitus.

    I believe that there are relatively simple ways in which a person can speak to hearing impaired people without unnecessary effort and frustration, but I know little about it and so far I have found no information online that addresses this. One thing that seems clear that is helpful to me and probably to others is for the person speaking to try to imagine how their attempts to communicate are perceived by the person with the hearing loss. It helps if they try to begin by stating in some way what the context of their communication is going to be, especially if switching to a new topic. Then also if they try to be especially aware of their voice level, clarity of enunciating, and if they try to be in as close proximity as they can to the other person, without discomfiture.

    This is especially all the case if one is attempting to communicate in a room with poor acoustics, a high vaulted ceiling or echo or hollow or muffling effects or an impeding background noise level. I am originally from Minnesota, where people for some reason normally speak as if they were talking to someone with exactly my problems – very slowly and clearly (remember the film “Fargo”?). It’s particularly the case in my experience with Scandinavians, but it’s true of other mid-westerners as well. I have lived in California for many years and I have discovered that the manner of speaking here, if I may generalize, seems relatively indifferent to clarity of enunciation, kind of a “you know what I mean” or “you know what I’m saying’,” offhanded way of exchanging information. I do not blame people for that, nor do I blame people for not knowing how better to make themselves heard to the hearing impaired. I think is there were more attention paid in our culture to this and other problems experienced by those with sensory and other challenges, a whole lot less pain and frustration would occur.

    I would be interested in others’ experiences, and I’d be relieved to hear more suggestions along the lines of what I’m getting at here.

  2. I have hearing loss and I’m going to become a senior in High school. I learned that it became really hard for me to initiate in conversations. It’s as if when people are speaking to me, their words fly past my ears, i could hear them, but i cant understand what they’re saying and it became a sad reality I have to live in. I really wish there was a hearing loss cure as soon as possible. I feel like It will complete my happiness if I had clearer hearing.

  3. Hi
    Thank you for sharing your story, I have really appreciated reading it.
    I am myself struggling to adapt to my progressive hearing loss. I am 30 now and have been loosing hearing on the low frequency range (so, most frequencies in human voice…), especially for the last 6-7 years. But high frequency noises seem to be increasingly louder, which is often desperating. That means I used to have nearly normal hearing, planned my whole life according to that, and now I can’t quite see my prospect into the future anymore. Sometimes I hear too much (painfully), sometimes I just don’t hear enough, to follow a conversation with a group of friends, for instance. This is already having a huge impact on my current job and leading to growing isolation. I have only been told the cause is probably genetic, that only around 5% people with hearing loss are in the same situation, and that there’s nothing that I can do to prevent, etc. The only possibility is trying to see if a hearing aid helps, if a can afford one some day in the future… there’s no public health support for this in my country and the quotes I have up until now are around 8 mil euros… at least I’m glad this didn’t happen when I was a child and in school, it would have been terrible. I can imagine what you have suffered, school children can be really mean to anyone “different”.

  4. i understand completely, I similar hearing loss to you. Mt family often says never mind, or it’s not important. they cut me out of the conversation; it may not be important to them but it is to me.

  5. Great article. I have a 3 year old daughter with similar hearing loss to your’s by what you’re describing, moderate to severe. She was born with it and was fitted with hearing aids very young and is absolutely flying now. (which pleases her mum and I no end!) She is not short of confidence though so I envisage that if someone is ever guilty of using those “2 words” on her, then she will reply in a way that will make sure they don’t do it again.!

  6. I am also hard of hearing and I’ve always hated never mind. When people say never mind I tell them that isn’t fair to do. And that what they said matters to me. May it be a punch line to a joke or a random comment that I missed. I deserve the chance to hear something that was said again. Everyone does hard of hearing or not.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. I have a severe hearing loss and was born this way. I grew up in the hearing society. I have two different degrees, Graphic Design and Costuming. I have taken 5 years of Spanish many years ago, both in high school and into college. I had taken a year of French last year. I have been a graphic designer for over 15 years. I can speak very well, but not so much with hearing. I have accomplished much like this author. “Never mind” is too common for me. Whenever I come across a person saying this, I felt alienated and isolated. I tried so hard to include myself in the hearing world, but after so many years, it can get tiring. But I am a very positive person, so I always strive for tomorrow. There are another two words that were very common growing up. “Pay attention”. I know I was paying attention, but I just couldn’t understand what was being said. That’s just so annoying when hearing people say that. Thanks for sharing your story, I’m sharing it to help others understand how we truly feel in a hearing society.

  8. We don’t get ‘never mind’ here in New Zealand. We get ‘Doesn’t Matter!’

    Same thing though and drives me nuts!

    1. just been reading a few articals here what gets me is the words its not important forget about it makes want to run away and cry
      and by the way i am 54
      some people just dont understan

  9. Thanks for your article. I’m not sure I’ve come across the words “never mind” just yet but my deaf since birth daughter, who’s 4 and wears Cochlear implants, is sometimes laughed off as being away with the fairies (or ignorant almost) if she doesn’t alert to a greeting or comment. I have had to advocate for her all of her life, and it’s about educating against ignorance. I expose her Cochlears so that while she is little and learning, her hearing loss is an obvious visual disability, because it’s hard enough to cope with the workload of active listening, without being judged for her inability to attend to every specific sound around her. Wherever you can, inform others. Again, great to read your experience.

  10. My daughter is hearing impaired and only recently got hearing aids… I’m so guilty of doing this to her.. She is so intelligent and speaks so well despite her life long hearing loss I genuinely forget she really can’t hear me.. Thanks for putting a rocket under me… You give a great insight .. Xx

  11. When someone says “never mind”, I like the comment “stop talking” because whatever you are saying is not worth mentioning since you refuse to repeat when requested. It brings attention to the speaker and that is what we need to do. People are not aware of the invisible disability of hearing loss but would never insult someone with a visible disability.

    1. I love this.
      I have always felt so belittled and just left out when told, “never mind”…and everyone just continues. I have just quietly left the room and cried before. (I have been deaf for 3 years, it is a big adjustment). Becoming empowered by saying, “Stop Talking”, is wonderful. I can take control and make people understand what they are doing to me. I’m not the only one left out…suddenly everyone is. thank you.

  12. I tell my students in Speech Reading if someone says “never mind” to say if it was important to say once then you can repeat it! However, I found something else that was very painful, I am taking Pilates and could not hear the instructor due to the fans being very loud. He said that “maybe I should go somewhere else!” I cannot believe how hurt I felt about that comment. I contacted CHHA and they are sending out a letter about working with those with hearing loss! We need to stand up for ourselves, no one else will.

  13. This is an incredible text! And so true.

    As I often say to people saying “never mind” or “laisse faire” in french, “this is the worst insult for a hard of hearing and I don’t accept it. If you says something you don’t dare to repeat to me, so stop talking for nothing… or repeat it! I’m struggle 18 hours a day to follow conversations. You can make this effort”.

    (Yes, I can be that bad! ;-P )

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