This week I am taking a departure from my regular topics related to dizziness, vertigo and vestibular function. In addition to being an audiologist, I am also a member of the hearing impaired public. My three years spent working in a very loud campus pub during college cost me some permanent high frequency hearing loss. Here is my experience:
Hearing loss doesn’t come on over night. It is typically a slow, insidious process that gets just a little worse each month, then each year. It usually starts with accusing others of mumbling, but then you start to notice more and more people seem to mumble. You ask people to repeat when you don’t understand, and that works for awhile. They don’t mind speaking up or repeating to include you in the conversation, but they forget because everyone else can understand them at comfortable conversational levels. When they forget, you ask again, but after a few times, you feel like they will be annoyed at you if you ask one more time. So, you just give up and isolate yourself from the conversation.
Sometimes you are determined you are not going to be left out. So you use your eyes and your brain, and concentrate on the speaker to understand what is being said. But, this takes a lot of effort and is exhausting after a while. When the conversation turns to something less interesting, you give yourself a break and stop paying attention. It then becomes very difficult to get back in the conversation and you are done for the night.
Eventually, you start to recognize that certain settings, maybe this restaurant or that church gathering, are stressful when they are supposed to be fun. The thought of being in a situation where everyone else is talking and laughing, and you are feeling alone while with a group of people, produces anxiety and frustration. You feel like you may as well just stay home.
If this sounds familiar, join the club. This has been my personal experience over the past several years. It started when I noticed I could not stay with a group conversation in a large hotel lobby in Chicago. I knew I had some hearing loss from my days working in a loud setting while in college, but I didn’t think it was bad enough to consider hearing aids. For years, I had told people with similar hearing loss that they were not ready for hearing aids.
Finally, I decided to try hearing aids, thinking I would only use them in rare situations. That was about five years ago. I now use them in many situations, simply because they make those situations more enjoyable for me, but more so for those with me. I know the look from my wife that means “Are you kidding me?” when I tell her I forgot to put on my hearing aids on the way to dinner somewhere. It is awfully nice to be able to sit back and relax, and be part of the conversation. I didn’t realize it then, but I had spent years leaning in, trying to understand. Now, the back of my chair gets a lot more use.