My name is Shari Eberts and I have a hearing loss. This is a simple statement, but one that is 20 years in the making. It has taken me some time to accept my hearing loss, and to stop hiding it. I have now come full circle and consider myself a hearing health advocate! I even write a blog to share my experiences with and tips for living with hearing loss and tinnitus, which has been extremely therapeutic. Here is my story. I hope it helps you to live more peacefully with your own hearing loss.
I have a genetic hearing loss, as did my father, and his mother. It seems to hit once a generation. My sister has ‘normal’ hearing as does my father’s sister, so I, of course, worry every day that one of my two children will be impacted. Since my loss was adult onset, we won’t know for another 15 years or so. Hopefully by then, treatments and technology would make things easier.
Even though I grew up the child of a parent with hearing loss, I never really knew it since my father spent a lot of time hiding it. He wore his hair long over his ears and never discussed his loss with anyone. Like the cliché, only his hairdresser knew! In social situations, he would often find a spot in the corner and only converse with those who sought him out. I never understood why, but once my hearing loss began, I did.
I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s when I was in business school. Students were participating in class, and I would sometimes miss their comments, particularly the funny ones that were made almost as an aside. Given my genetics, I decided to get tested. It turns out that I had a mild hearing loss in both ears. I went on to have a successful career on Wall Street, but as I moved into management, my hearing loss began to take a toll. When you are a manager, people come into your office and tell you secrets – “I am pregnant”, or “my mother is sick” and it is hard to ask them to repeat these types of things louder so you can hear them!
When my hearing loss started, I followed in my father’s footsteps, hiding it and refusing to discuss it. I didn’t wear my hearing aids, or if I did, I never mentioned them as they were easy enough to hide under my long hair. But eventually I had to face reality, particularly as my children got older and became more aware of my behavior. In retrospect, keeping things hidden did not serve my father well, and I did not want to make the same mistake. I also didn’t want my children to feel that they had to hide their hearing loss if either of them is struck with it in adulthood.
So I chose a different path, and when I left my job on Wall Street, I got involved with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF). I found my way onto the board and soon became the chairman. Being immersed in its work has made it a lot easier for me to talk about my hearing loss, particularly since people regularly ask me why I am involved. Almost always, whoever asks me, even if in a totally unrelated context, also has a hearing issue or has a family member or close friend with a hearing problem. This shouldn’t be surprising given how widespread hearing loss is!
My story continues to develop, as I grow bolder about discussing my loss. I now actively advocate for myself, whether it is asking for a quiet spot in a restaurant, using caption readers at the movies or rearranging the seating at a family dinner so I can hear better. My children are also much more aware and protective of their own hearing than I ever was. They wear earplugs at loud school events and offer earplugs to their friends. We shall see if this continues in the teen years, but I think it will. They see me struggle with my hearing loss and I believe it makes them appreciate their own hearing and want to protect it. My biggest hope is that they will be able to enjoy the hearing they have now for the rest of their lives.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer and speaker. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.wordpress.com and serves as the Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation, a non-profit organization funding research into biological treatments and cures for hearing loss and tinnitus.