What Kind of Person with Hearing Loss Are You?

We’re not all the same, you know.

You can’t assume that if you know one person with hearing loss (PWHL) well, then you understand how all of us operate. Even if our audiograms (the graph/picture of a person’s hearing loss) look the same on paper, how we actually live with, handle or consider our individual hearing losses is as individual as how we look. Our hearing loss attitudes are shaped by our upbringing, our degree of hearing loss, our emotional landscape, the attitudes of the people closest to us, and many more factors.

Individual comfort with hearing loss is usually a changeable thing, like the weather. While some people have total, constant comfort with their hearing loss, the rest of us have good days and bad days, rough listening situations that might upset us, and other moments when we absolutely nail this communication thing. So, when I say there are different types of hearing loss people, their profiles aren’t set in stone; they are fluid and open to change. But here are some ‘types’ of PWHL – you might identify with one or more of them.

PWHL #1: This person rejects any suggestion of a problem with their hearing. They hear very well, thank you very much – or at least as well as they want to hear. They prefer silence to the poorly-articulated mumblings of other people and besides, they can’t possibly have hearing loss because they are only (pick a number) years old!

PWHL #2: OK, yes, maybe there’s a little bit of hearing loss going on, says this person. But it’s definitely not bad enough that they need hearing aids which, they’ve heard from, like, everybody, that they don’t help much. And they’re expensive. Also, noticeable.

PWHL #3: Alright, alright! This person finally concedes that maybe hearing aids are worth a go. The first meeting with the hearing professional goes as smoothly as a tug of war over a mud pit, but eventually the hearing aids are ordered, fitted and being worn – although not in public. Or at family dinners where everyone in the family seems to have developed voices like foghorns, and the eating habits of pigs at the trough. The person struggles with the fact that they need to use their hearing aids – but also the emotional punch of having hearing loss.

PWHL #4: This person with severe hearing loss is struggling. As hard as they try, even with good hearing technology, they have trouble following conversations. People – even their own family members – don’t seem to understand what they’re going through. Being open and articulate about their needs is just not part of their personality makeup, and bitterness sets in when the world seems to ignore their challenges. 

PWHL #5: This person may be the butterfly that emerges from all of the others. This PWHL  is confident, feels no shame about their hearing loss – and actually takes pride in how successful they have become in understanding their needs and then having those needs met. This butterfly self-identifies with ease (and puts other people at ease) and has an overflowing toolbox of tricks that helps them get the most out of any listening situation. There are still bad days and embarrassing moments, but they recover quickly because they know how to make communication better.

Which one of these PWHL best describes me? I can only say that at different points of my life I have been…#1-2-3-4-5. Depending on the day or the situation, we can be any of these people, or bits of them. Some days, perhaps when we are tired or stressed about something, our usual, dependable coping skills desert us. Other days, we are rocking this hearing loss thing.

This is all normal. We are all normal. But communication is the glue that connects us as people, and hearing loss can dissolve that glue in any given moment. We need to develop the knowledge and confidence that even if this, now, isn’t our best hearing moment, there will be better communication, and even moments of magic, just around the next conversation bend.

Is that the type of PWHL you are?

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.

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