A few years ago, I wrote The Shocking Truths About Hearing Loss. I decided to revisit it and to see if these ‘truths’ still have the power to shock – even me, a lifelong bearer of hearing loss.
They do. But they also bring gifts.
Hearing loss is one of those ‘forever things’. It reveals itself to you every day, in different ways. You never know when it will intrude into the normal course of your day: your partner talking to you while walking away, a documentary has no captions, strangers don’t understand your requests to change, however briefly, the way they speak, and a conversation with friends spins out of control beyond comprehension.
Regardless of when hearing loss occurs, experiencing one of its truths for the first time can be shocking in its unexpectedness: whoa, he knows I can’t understand him when he’s in another room.
In its permanence: I get to keep this because there’s no medical ‘cure’, at least not yet.
And in its raw repercussions: This changes how I carry out my job, how I ‘play’, and my relationships
We’re ticked off that such a thing could happen to us. Becoming comfortable in the skin of hearing loss can take time, but it does happen. I’ve long since accepted and even embraced it, but sometimes hearing loss moments can still deliver a punch. And it’s like: “Why me?Can living with hearing loss get any worse? Could I pick a different disability, please God?” These are some outrageous realities:
Your hearing loss will never go away. The large majority of people who have it, will always have it. You can’t regift it. I first understand its permanence as a teenager trying to communicate with mumbling, hormonal boys: This hard of hearing thing is not going to be easy.
The Gift: Growing out of teenager-hood, I learned that I’m more than just my hearing loss.
Hearing aids do not last forever. Just when you become used to them, attached to them, or even adoring of them, hearing aids pass into techno-heaven. My first hearing aid cost $475 and it lived for perhaps six or seven years, which I now know is an incredibly long time, but I was expecting much longer. I didn’t realize you had to keep getting new ones. (I expect a much longer life from my cochlear implant!)
The Gift: when it comes time to replace your aid(s), the new ones will be so much better, because technology improves. Every. Single. Day.
Every time you get a new hearing aid, it’s like the first time. And I don’t mean the sweet stuff like falling in love; I mean the extremely loud and annoying stuff. You can hear yourself breathing – you can hear people on the other side of the world breathing, for heaven’s sakes!
The Gift: the noise settles down after your brain has acclimatized and then, you just carry on with the business of hearing better.
Your loved ones forget or ignore the new rules of communication. Often. Even after your spouse-child-mom-dad-sister-best friend-boss-from-hell takes the introductory course (emotionally delivered by you) on “How to Communicate with a Person Who Has Hearing Loss”, he or she may still not remember to communicate in an inclusive way. And here’s the real shocker – neither will you. We people with hearing loss are often guilty of accessible communication crimes.
The Gift: Relationships can improve when better communication is adopted. You know – face me, look me in the eye, touch me to get my attention. The good stuff.
Hearing loss can turn you into a whiner who looks under rocks for evidence of discrimination. Been there and done that. The trick to the gifts is being able to turn self-pity into acceptance, whining into advocacy and realizing that, while discrimination most definitely exists, what’s often found under those rocks is the barrier of ignorance about hearing loss. That’s when we put our self-advocacy into play. These are all gifts.
Absorbing the outrageous realities of hearing loss takes time and support – from our hearing care professional, family, other people with hearing loss and consumer organizations. We just have to reach out for them. Life with hearing loss will be better when we do.