Uh-oh, the holiday season is on us! Halloween was yesterday, and Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s and a few others are still ahead.
At this point in the calendar, most people are, like, yay-hooray! But others, the ones who have hearing loss, have a little dread and nervousness mixed in with the excitement.
It’s not that we don’t love the decorations, faith-based festivities, food, parties and party clothes, and the time off work. What we don’t love is how our hearing loss can suck the joy out of celebrations – because it sidelines us! We don’t have (or no longer have) the hearing superpowers that can include, not exclude us from the action. This is not whinging; this is the reality for people who need a lot of clues to make sense of sound.
We need helping powers to understand speech and follow the conversation in a crowded room, at large family dinners and in random holiday interactions with strangers whose speech patterns we are not yet used to. If we had these natural communication gifts, we wouldn’t need to be in your face so much about what we need you to do. Our major contribution to the conversation wouldn’t be pardon?!
Kids love Halloween because they get to dress up as a pint-sized Spiderman and Frozen princesses, eat candy for days, and be crazy in the neighbourhood in the dark. Parents love it because the kids just look so darn cute. People with hearing loss are challenged because they can’t understand what’s being said in the dark and behind the masks.
But Halloween isn’t the only challenging holiday event. Any celebration that involves lots of people crammed around the dining table, all eating food and talking at the same time, increasingly loudly, is not always that fun or easy for the person with hearing challenges.
We can’t follow the conversation fast enough. All the voices combine into noise soup. Kale stuck on the teeth and pie crumbs hanging off a lip make speechreading disgusting and tough. To make it worse, our feelings get hurt because here you are, the people we love and who we expect to understand our needs, leaving us behind at another chaotic, hilarious family meal.
As a noisy social situation, New Year’s Eve isn’t too bad, because we already know all the words; when the countdown reaches “3-2-1-0, Happy-New Year!”, you kiss the person nearest you (hopefully the one that brung ya) and sing Auld Lang Syne or its modern equivalent. And if you’re celebrating NYE in front of the TV set, the closed captioning fills in the noisy blanks nicely for you.
Taking the scary out of these events means showing up and knowing how to get our communication needs met. It means being proactive on creating better communication environments; think more light, less noise, fewer people and using technology. It means learning to let it go in the moments when you’ve done your best, yet things aren’t perfect. They seldom are, so take some breaths and soak up the visuals, smells and the feel of the holidays.
Over the coming weeks, you’ll be reading a number of good articles on hearing loss websites about surviving the holidays with hearing loss. I hope this one sets you off to a good start.