At the recent conference of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) in Montreal, I was one of several people asked to give a sort of TED Talk, which we creatively called CHHA Talks.
As I sat down to prepare my speech, the session description made me almost spew my coffee over my laptop. “Professional speakers devoted to spreading revolutionary ideas will share their exciting and cutting-edge experiences in their own hearing loss journey.”
Whoa! My journey is not much different than anybody with hearing loss. Revolutionary ideas? Innovative and motivating discoveries? Perhaps I could make up some stuff. How about the cutting-edge discovery of realizing that the dog would not have chewed my hearing aid to bits if I put it safely in the drying aid at night. (The hearing aid, I mean, not the dog.)
But then – yes! I had made a discovery, in a kind of Oh Duh!/Eureka! moment. The best thing ever to push and drag me through a condition that chews up communication between me and the universe was indeed something revolutionary.
It was ME!
Ever since I left home at age 18, there has been no one running after me reminding me to get my annual hearing test, get my hearing aids cleaned, and be open about my needs. Even the Hearing Husband, my long-suffering spouse, doesn’t have that supreme power to make me succeed. Only Gael Hannan can.
When this moment of discovery occurred, I felt the invisible grip of hearing loss loosen. I was able to shake off the hidden shame of thinking that I was somehow less capable, needy, and imperfect. The kick-starter was meeting other people with hearing loss for the first time – at the same CHHA conference, 24 years ago. I was expecting a baby and I was terrified, envisioning all sorts of ways that a mom with hearing loss could damage her child.
But at the conference, a woman named Cindy Gordon sat down with me, with her latest baby in her arms, and told me that I could do this. I don’t remember Cindy’s exact words, but they calmed me, thrilled me. I looked around and saw all these other people dealing with hearing loss, who weren’t ashamed of their hearing aids or the need to ask for multiple repeats. A huge, bright light bulb went off in my head.
Life had changed. I became passionate about hearing loss issues. Today, I’m an advocate, writer and public speaker and I can talk hearing loss until the cows come home. And, oh man, I’ve learned a lot of stuff along the way, although the technical stuff refuses to stick. I still don’t understand how the decibel scale works. If 80 dB is loud, then twice as loud should be 160 dB! It’s not, but it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand how hearing aids, telecoils, loops, cochlear implants or Bluetooth work (or even how the picture gets on the TV screen), because other people do. But I have learned what I need to know as my hearing changes and technology improves. I know where to go for help.
I am driving this ship, and the operation manual includes a new code of living and acceptance for my hearing loss. My article, A HoH’s Credo, goes into more detail, but here are the important bits:
I believe there is no shame in having hearing loss. The person whose insults and impatience have the most power to hurt me is me. We have the right to be included and participate in life’s conversations. By being open about our hearing loss and our needs, we become better communicators. Technology is my friend, not my enemy, and everyone should be able to afford hearing aids. I need professional help from a hearing health care provider who works with me to find solutions. I am supported by other people with hearing loss. Hearing loss affects us all—me, my family, my friends – and I must celebrate their efforts to make our communication successful.
Not all revolutionary ideas turn the world upside down. They can be deeply personal as well. When I looked in the mirror and said to the person I saw there – “YOU are the power behind a successful life with hearing loss” – that’s when life changed.
If it hasn’t happened already, this might be an exciting discovery for you, too. All you have to do is look in the mirror.