hearing loss stress

What (Still) Makes Me Nervous about Hearing Loss

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.


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.


  1. Hi Gael ! I had a dual hearing loss for many years. Not great when you’re a singer! I heard about the Esteem in a newspaper ad & called them right away. I met the wonderful Dr. Shohet in Southern California & after testing, I qualified for the Envoy Esteem implant. Fast forward to now & I have dual Esteem implants & tell anyone I meet that wears hearing aids all about them. Some have looked into it & now have them also. I love the company & will do anything they ask to promote the implants.! My husband & I are local professional singers, so having my hearing back is fantastic!
    Would love to meet you if you are in Southern California at any time. This September we will be visiting the Envoy plant in St.Paul & meeting up with Amy, so I’m very excited about that!
    Let me know if I can be of any help .
    Yours truly, Marcia Weiss

  2. Yes, a noisy large group in the room is instantly intimidating and VERY stressful. If I meet someone with whom I would really like to have a conversation, it is nearly impossible to get us to a quiet place. They don’t want a quiet place — it’s not normal. Fish out of water, etc. They hear perfectly fine, why can’t you with that high-tech hearing instrument? Making a friend in those circumstances, and getting names right, is a challenge

  3. Thanks for your comments – your comment about the airplane exit door made me laugh out loud. I agree that accepting that not all will go perfectly is a key. While most of the time I buy into the belief that a positive attitude-willingness and trust that you can communicate effectively- is essential, there are times I just need a break from all the effort. Thanks again!

  4. Oh my Gael, you nailed it. I’ve experienced all of those, (not so much the customs booth, since I haven’t traveled as much as you) and also have had a hearing loss all my life. One more thing that makes me nervous is in disasters like earthquakes or floods, or any kind of event when emergency personnel are driving around in a car using a bullhorn to tell people what they need to know. Did he say “stay in your house”? or did he say “get out of there NOW!”? I lived in California for over 30 years so actually became a CERT volunteer (Community Emergency Response Team member) but even then, telephones and radios were the norm for communications. On the other hand as a lipreader (and supposedly a very good one according to some) I can SEE instructions that others cannot hear, so I can get an assessment of what’s going on even if I or others cannot hear the speaker. (Don’t you love doing that when you are watching something on TV to see what the people in the background are saying!)
    I still stress out about being in a car with more than two people, and use my rather elaborate listening device to help me there, and the stress melts away. I use a pocket talker with a neckloop and a boundary mic sitting on the middle console of the front seat and that works well for me.
    I’ve burned up so many teakettles, I broke down and bought an electric teakettle which has an automatic shutoff.
    Thanks for the sharing!

  5. Good read Gael, I have read your book when it came out, about the same age as you, do the best I can in this hearing world, that is full of noise.

  6. Another fabulous article that says it all. You are amazing. Thank ypu again, for letting me know I am not alone in my fears.

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