Big birthdays breed reflection and so it was a few months ago that I realized I have had hearing loss for almost half my life — probably longer since it often takes time for someone to notice their own hearing problems. I’ve been using hearing aids for less time — it took me a while to come out of my hearing loss closet — but I now wear them with pride. I am grateful daily for the help they provide, even if they are far from perfect.
While my hearing loss presents constant challenges, looking back, I realized it has also taught me so much. I share those lessons with you below. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
1. You hear with your brain, not with your ears.
This means that auditory fatigue is a critical factor in how well we hear. It also explains why people with hearing loss may have trouble remembering information that is presented orally or learning new words. People with hearing loss are expending significant brain processing power simply to listen, meaning there is less brain capacity available for other activities.
2. There is no need to suffer alone.
Hearing loss is difficult to understand until you have lived it yourself. Find other people with hearing loss with whom you can commiserate, share tips and find solace. Hearing loss friends provide wonderful support, especially on a particularly difficult hearing day. Over time, my hearing loss friends and I discovered that we have much more in common than our unsatisfactory ears. I am inspired by all they achieve, despite their challenges.
3. Self-advocacy is the key to success.
Don’t be shy! If you don’t ask for the assistance you need, it is unlikely to be forthcoming. Hearing loss is an invisible disability so you must self-identify. Get comfortable with declaring your hearing loss publicly and asking for the help that you want. The more specific you can be in your requests, the better the results are likely to be. You can practice on strangers first if you feel more comfortable. Once you find the right words, advocating for yourself will become part of your everyday routine.
4. Hearing aids alone are rarely enough.
Unfortunately, hearing aids are not like glasses, meaning they will not restore your hearing to normal. While hearing aids amplify sounds, they do not make them sharper or clearer. In fact, in settings with a lot of background noise, hearing aids sometimes do the opposite. Explore assistive listening devices, hearing loops and captioning alternatives to help you navigate these challenging situations. With the advent of OTC hearing aids, our choices will only widen. Stay current on advancements to glean the most benefit.
5. Hearing loss is exhausting.
When you have hearing loss, listening requires effort which can take a toll on your energy level as the day progresses. Once you know this, you can factor in listening breaks as needed and schedule important conversations for the morning, when your brain is fresher. Even with proper pacing, by the end of a long day of listening, I often crave only peace and quiet. Don’t beat yourself up for it — it is part of the experience.
6. Squash stigma right away.
My father had hearing loss but rarely disclosed it because of the stigma. He eventually distanced himself from his friends and family for fear of discovery. When I first noticed my hearing loss I was devastated, because I had learned that it was shameful and something to hide. What a waste of time! Once I got over the stigma, I felt free. The expectations I had set for myself to hear everything perfectly fell away, and with that, a lot of stress.
7. Those closest to you might disappoint you.
It hurts when your friends and family forget to use communication best practices, especially after you have reminded them for what feels like the umpteenth time. It is frustrating when they neglect to get your attention before speaking to you or talk to you with their hands covering their mouths, but we have to learn to forgive. Because our friends and family are with us the most, there are more opportunities for them to get it wrong. Try to focus on what they are doing right, but accept the fact that you will need to remind them over and over again.
8. You can lead a full life with hearing loss.
You may need to use workarounds, but hearing loss should not hold you back from achieving your goals or enjoying your life. Despite my hearing loss, I practice yoga, enjoy outings to the movies and the theater, converse with friends and family, raise my children and engage in meaningful work. You can too.
Readers, what have you learned from your hearing loss?