Most days I feel like I’ve got this hearing loss thing licked. After all, I’ve had it for six decades, I write about it regularly and I talk about it all the time. I share tips I’ve learned from other people and I make up my own.
I OWN my hearing loss. My mission for these past few years has been to take control of it rather than the other way around. I try to keep it as only part of my selfie-vision. I’m not: Hi, I’m Gael Hannan, a person with hearing loss. Or, Glad to meet you – hey guess what, I have hearing loss! (There are better moments to self-identify.) So, in spite of all this nauseating positivity, why does my hearing loss still hold some negative powers over me?
The best answer I can come up with is that I’m human.
In spite of all my hard-earned coping strategies, some situations still make me nervous and/or intimidated because of my inability to hear well. Because I’m only human.
Some people with hearing loss find large groups to be so noisy that it stresses them out. For me, loud or not, a room full of people who are mostly strangers can be shy-making. I know I’m going to need some coping skills to deal with speech patterns in people I don’t know well enough to pester for repeats. And I know I’m going to bluff through some of their names – you’d think that if people are going to pronounce anything clearly, it would be their own names. All this, even though I know all I need to do is self-identify with my hearing loss.
I can get a bit anxious when dependent on spoken instructions in a time-sensitive situation. For example, this week we were docking a boat and the captain (aka the Hearing Husband) was calling for me to do something – quickly! I seldom hear and process something that quickly. Or when I’ve been seated in the exit row of a plane – where I should not be – answering yes to the flight attendant asking if we’re all able to follow spoken instructions in the event of an emergency. In reality, should that emergency happen (which is usually known as the plane is going down), I would become instantly deaf amidst all the screaming, including my own. I don’t want to be that person who couldn’t get the door open!
Many of us with hearing loss are a bit anxious around small children, especially the ones with high or soft voices and whose words are semi-uttered because they’re just learning how to say them. As I struggle to understand what they’re saying, either they give up on this dummy big person, or I end up doing all the talking. “How are you today sweetie? Fine? That’s great! What’s the name of your dolly? Oh, that’s a nice name!” All little sweetie had to do was make sounds.
Nobody likes going through Customs at the border – any border. We always feel guilty even though we’re not smuggling or lying about anything. And it’s worse for many peeps with hearing loss; when we’re nervous, our hearing goes through the floor. These people in dark uniforms and lots of leather straps look for nervous people like us! I find my best bet is to arrive at the booth, look them straight in the eye, and say loudly, “Hi, I have profound hearing loss and I read lips so could you face me, please.” That usually gets me through pretty fast.
No matter how comfortable we are with our hearing loss, it helps to accept that there will be communication glitches or situations which may cause an emotional reaction: frustration, guilt, anger, hurt feelings. We just have to use our strategies and hope for the best.
So I don’t avoid little children just because I don’t hear them well. I love them, so I just ask for help (what did sweetie say?). I still travel by myself and self-identify whenever I might need it. I don’t book myself into the exit row. But, darn, I still work a room and come out with a jumbled pile of names.