Ever had a bad hair day? A phrase that once meant you and your hair were living on different planets now refers to an overall cruddy day when nothing seems to go right.
People with hearing loss have days like that, but we call them bad hearing days. A day when communication is a struggle from sunrise to sunset. We say the wrong things, replying to what we thought we heard. We stumble into comprehension halfway through someone’s sentence. People seem irritated with us. And, of course, our technology lets us down – hearing aids sputter, captioning is illegible and CI batteries conk out at the wrong time (but really, what is a right time?). We become tired, frustrated and feel downright alienated from everyone. We give in and go to bed, hugging a pillow around our ears.
That, my friends, is a really bad hair day.
But the great thing about any day – is that it ends! And we get another kick at the can tomorrow, which just might turn out to be a fabulous hearing day. So, before life with hearing loss takes another kick at us, let’s take a Pollyanna moment to focus on some positive aspects of hearing loss.
First, let’s assume we’ve done some research on how to live well with our hearing challenges – because effective coping strategies aren’t a naturally occurring phenomenon. Goslings immediately start paddling when they hit the water for the first time; they don’t need a lecture on swimming techniques from Mother Goose. Alas, people aren’t so lucky; hearing loss doesn’t come with a genetically programmed set of operating instructions.
Since we aren’t geese, we have to learn how to cope by doing our research and receiving training and support, from hearing professionals and consumer support groups such as HLAA, ALDA and CHHA. And then, hopefully, with a little attitude correction thrown in, we’ll not only be savvier but also more positive about our hearing loss. We may even admit that there are some benefits:
Hearing loss teaches you to look people in the eye.
Being locked eyeball to eyeball creates an instant connection. Sales trainers stress the value of eye contact in establishing a sense of honesty and directness. Many people, as hard of hearing folk quickly learn when trying to engage them in conversation, are not comfortable with direct eye contact, due to lack of confidence, cultural customs, or individual communication style. But for us, it’s crucial to effective communication, a non-verbal tool that can tell us more than words do. (And if your eyes and words seem to be saying different things, we’ll call you on it!) But, if you were shifty-eyed as a hearing person, you may become a better communicator in this new life.
Hearing loss may improve family relationships.
It’s well-documented that hearing loss has a powerful impact on family dynamics; it can take frustration to unprecedented heights. But family communication may not have been good to start with, such as calling from other rooms, grunted responses, shouting, etc. But our need for clear speech may improve the situation because family members must focus on how they converse and articulate.
Not all family members can rise to this challenge. Changing how we communicate is not easy. Soft-spoken people find it difficult to speak more loudly. Minimal lip-movers find it torturous to stop mumbling. And some people simply don’t see why they should have to change to accommodate another person’s issue.
But when the reality of hearing loss is clearly explained and the will to communicate exists, it can bring partners, parents and children closer together as they deal with an issue affecting them all.
You will become more assertive in getting what you want.
And when you have hearing loss, what you really want is to stay connected – which is a constant challenge. Your family will forget to face you. Your co-workers will forget to speak up. Your friends may have difficulty adjusting their communication style because, gee, you don’t look any different. Your boss may balk at your requests for accommodation. So when you accept that there’s no shame in hearing loss and learn how to follow through with having your needs met, you may become better at achieving other life goals as well. It starts with saying, “This is what I need so that we can communicate better, together. Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.”
You will learn that you are not invincible.
Bad stuff doesn’t happen just to other people; stuff like hearing loss happens to us, too. That’s a hard lesson to accept – you might ask, why would this happen to me, I’m still so young (kind of)? But we are organic creatures whose various parts are prone to breaking down. Many health issues are beyond our control, such as the, oh, about a million things that can cause hearing loss. We can’t do anything about the last 999,999 causes, but the leading cause is self-inflicted noise damage. (If you already have hearing loss from another cause, don’t think you’re immune to damage from bad listening choices.) Having a hearing loss can help us realize that we need to take better care of, and make the most of, what we’ve got.
You will say a daily prayer of thanks for technology.
If you’ve resisted the insidious creep of technology into every area of modern life, having a hearing loss may change your mind and give you an appetite for anything that improves communication. Assistive technology has moved us from ear-horns to undreamed-of scenarios. For example, your partner can sleep beside you while TV audio comes directly into your hearing aids. Is that awesome, or what? Who knows what else technology can do?
OK, that’s five ways hearing loss can possibly enhance your life. On your next bad hearing-hair day – and there will be one, as surely as the sun also rises – try to think of one more reason, however small, to be thankful for having hearing loss – because a grateful heart makes life easier.