Can Hearing Loss Be Mistaken For Being Unfriendly?

I recently attended a four-week Yoga Teacher Training in Fiji! It was an exhilarating experience, filled with several amazing firsts and a handful of challenges. I developed many new skills, a deeper appreciation of my yoga practice, increased confidence in my ability to learn and assimilate new information, and of course, some new insights into how to manage my hearing loss journey. And that was just the first week!

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

Touching down in Fiji, I was amazed at the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people. The yoga group was primarily a younger crowd, most of which had recently graduated from college or graduate school. I was a bit of an outlier, but we all had yoga in common, so I hoped that would bridge the gap.

The first week was a whirlwind of activity — adjusting to the 16-hour time difference, learning the rigorous schedule, and experimenting with the best places to sit in the teaching space for optimal hearing. At the outset, I let the group know about my hearing issues, and luckily everyone was understanding — switching seats when I asked and repeating homework assignments if I missed them, but group social interactions were difficult, especially later in the day, as listening fatigue cascaded upon me.

The teachers were incredibly helpful, checking in to make sure I could hear during the meditations and asana practices. On the first day, they saved me a spot next to them for class, which was very thoughtful, but I moved a few spots away in the circle, explaining that I needed to see them also in order to hear well. This reinforced what I already knew — hearing loss is not well understood so we must always provide specific instructions for how to help us, even to the best intentioned.

The schedule was demanding. We started at 6:30 a.m. with meditation, followed by breakfast at 7 o’clock. Morning class ran from 8:15 a.m. until about noon. Lectures resumed at 3:30 p.m. and ran until dinner. Our afternoon break could be used for walking into town, relaxing, or cooling off in the pool or ocean, but often work was assigned in preparation for the afternoon session. Dinner was followed by study time, with lights out suggested for 10:00pm. I don’t think I even made it until 10:00pm the first few nights!

All classes took place in a beautiful yoga space on a hill overlooking the ocean. The sunsets were amazing, and the bugs plentiful. There were no tables and chairs, so we sat in a circle on yoga mats or cushions to go through our lessons. I am lucky that there were only 10 of us in the class so the circle was fairly small, making it possible for me to hear the vast majority of the time. Everyday I became more familiar with the new voices, so understanding them got easier, but it took a lot of concentration.

Meals were taken together at a communal table, which built camaraderie, but were also quite loud. Breakfast was usually lovely, as I was fresh off a rejuvenating meditation and many hours of silence. I could hear well and enjoy the conversation with those sitting near me. Lunch was often the same way, but dinner was a different story. After a full day of listening and in the dimmer evening light, it was hard to participate. I often chose a seat near the end of the table to take the pressure off, but I was also isolating myself.

During the afternoon breaks and after dinner, I would often retreat to my room or to the porch of the beautiful beach house I shared with some of the students. Most others congregated around the pool or studied together in communal spaces. I needed this downtime to regain my energy and regroup for another round of listening later, but I worried this made me appear aloof.

I could see the rest of the group drawing closer together with me on the outside. This probably was partially due to the age difference, but I knew it was going to be a tough four weeks if I did not nip this trend in the bud. The perfect opportunity arose at the end of the first week. The teachers led a reflection circle where we each shared how we were feeling about the training thus far.

“My primary feeling so far is one of relief.” I told the group. “Coming here I didn’t know if I would be able to hear the teachers at all, let alone absorb the information that was being presented. So far, it is far from perfect, but much better than I had hoped.” I thanked everyone for their contribution to this result.

Then I addressed the issue of my alone time. “You may have noticed that I spend many of the breaks on my own,” I continued. “I don’t want you to think that I am standoffish or that I don’t like you, because I do, but the constant listening in class can be so exhausting for me that I need this downtime to simply rest and recuperate for the next round.”

I felt the difference right away. Rather than it being awkward when I would retreat, it was more accepted because everyone understood why. Being open about my struggles helped them to see my behavior as self-care rather than rejection.

This is an important lesson. Sharing our experiences with others breeds empathy, understanding, and acceptance. From here, we can build better communication patterns and deeper personal relationships with others. More reflections from the training to come in future posts.

Readers, do you ever worry that your hearing loss can make you appear unfriendly?

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45 thoughts on “Can Hearing Loss Be Mistaken For Being Unfriendly?

  1. I worry about appearing rude – my hearing loss is mild but rudeness is one of my real bug bears in life so I would hate for anyone to think I was rude simply because I hadn’t heard them. I have been quite upfront about my hearing aids at work so my colleagues are generally quite good at getting my attention before trying to talk to me, but difficult with strangers!

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  2. Yes. I lost a job because a lady did not understand- honking / calling out to me does not work unless I am facing her-after she let me know she did this- I explained my hearing bit or lack thereof . She say bull.., and turned away
    I. Am curious how this has occurred in my life without me bing aware

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    • I’ve had experiences like this. I know mostly it is written about the positive things that come out of these interactions. The people that do understand. Rarely does anyone – write about the ones that do not help out or understand. The people that still walk away, think it is our issue and not theirs. I’d say that even when I speak out about my hearing issue, more often than not, I get negative results. Even from educated people. Even from people that are outwardly expressing acceptance in the world. It happens a lot without me being aware. I’ve come to know that really all we can do is speak our truth in a non-violent way and ask for what we need. We just can’t expect that people will respond in the way we hope they will. I’m really sorry your employer was so nasty.

      What really has to happen in this country ( not sure about other countries) is that we need to not only speak up in a way such as in this article but to also speak up when it doesn’t happen in a kind supportive way. Change will not happen by being passive. I thank people when they add subtitles to their videos. I also ask people about having subtitles when they don’t have them. I also have filed complaints. Being too kind isn’t the way to create change and opportunities for the hearing impaired and deaf. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Shari, I don’t worry about appearing unfriendly anymore. It’s all part of educating the rest of the world. I’ll share a personal experience. I belong to a health club and go often. The morning crew is mostly retired people. Most all know about my hearing loss. I just took a shower and came back to my locker. There was another person that was near my locker. He said something to me but since my aids were out, I didn’t hear a word. Anyway, after he said something, he then made the comment “that’s okay if you don’t want to be friendly”. Another guy overheard and told him that I do not hear with my aids out. Once I put in my aids, I could tell that there was conversation about me. The guy that made the comment apologized. Bottom line, another person educated on hearing loss. It’s an ongoing “work in process” to educate. It’s so important to disclose a hearing loss!

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  4. Oh boy!

    Can I ever relate!

    I worked in a school. The population was all special needs kids…most, Autistic.

    You would think that the staff would be empathetic…right?

    Wrong..they often made snarky comments, despite the fact that I shared my story with them.

    They often thought that I did not pick up the “vibes”. But, I often did.

    There were tubes when I would retreat to my office and silently sob.

    Finding friends like me, at HLAA local chapter, changed my life.
    I no longer felt like a rainbow zebra.

    I grew a spine. I stood tall.

    I wore my hearing loss button.

    I found ways of letting people know, that passive aggressive remarks were not ok…that, in fact, they were actually breaking a federal (ADA) law.

    Passive aggression morphed into respect.

    I’ve never looked back.

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  5. I am about to depart on a long-distance group tour, w/ lectures and constant interaction. I’m concerned about the dynamics. This gives me some great perspectives. Thanks, Shari!

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  6. Sometimes it DOES make me unfriendly. I shut down…I put up a wall ..so if someone tries to interact I am brief…why? because it can be exhausting going into the constant explanation and trying to get them to understand. I have the type of loss where I can get sounds, but voices are garbled, yes even with my aids. and any background noise..well…forget it. we went out to hear some music.. I have no idea how much I truly get but it’s something I enjoy being part of. and I had to make a choice…focus on the sounds or try to explain the confusion of “if you can get the music why can’t you get me?” So I shut down. I smile but turn away. because sometimes no matter how you explain the loss, it doesn’t help. and sometimes you get brave and let people know..and then they take away your independence..they answer for you, they treat you as lacking any intelligence, they follow around behind you and point to their ear if someone talks to you…they rob you of what independence you might have left. Sometimes I just want to be me!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I shut down, for so many years.
      But, joining HLAA and finding HOH friends, just like me, helped me to stand up for myself.
      Yes, it can be exhausting, explaining what you need and why you can’t hear all speech sounds.
      Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay quiet. ..I get it.
      But, in the long run, if you become a self-advocate, people who really care about you, will accommodate your needs.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have recently tried the free app called Live Transcribe or transcription and it is wonderful for my hearing loss. It is from Goggle so does not work on Apple but I bought the cheapest phone in Best Buy for $59.99 and did not activate the phone but can use the free app wherever there is wi-fi. It is truly a tremendous help.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Shari. Perfect post.
    I am a Wagon Master for an RV caravan company. We just finished a 58 day trip to Alaska – all RVing Women. The group was great about getting my attention and repeating things for me when I asked. It would have made a difference, I think, had I mentioned hearing fatigue. I found the same things, I had to have silent time by the end of each day. Now, we go to meet another group – this one mixed gender – and I’m going to start right off by adding hearing fatigue vs. unfriendliness to my usual disclosure about hearing loss.
    I also practice yoga. With my aids, I use a lanyard mic when in settings with one speaker. It always surprises me when a yoga instructor is snarky or reluctant to use the mic. I guess being a yogi doesn’t make folks any more compassionate or cooperative, lol.
    I very much enjoy your posts, thank you,
    Lizzy

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  9. All the time!! I’m m completely deaf in my left ear with significant loss in my right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a social situation and turned to notice that there was someone talking to me that I was unaware of! Most of the time I can rectify the situation by apologizing and asking them to repeat themselves but there have been times where I missed the opportunity and the person has walked away thinking that I chose to ignore them. Like you, I try to get ahead of that, especially in new situations but it’s exhausting reminding my love ones that they are in the wrong ear!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have considered myself, jokingly, to be a grumpy old man, now that I live with hearing loss. With CIs I am now deaf, when I am not wearing them – sleeping, shower, etc. All other time I wear the processors 16jrs a day. So I agree with hearing fatigue – I guess that would make me grumpy.

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  11. This is definitely a good subject to bring up. I’ve had this happen many times. There is not always an opportunity to share with everyone beforehand about our hearing loss. Especially in large groups situations. I have become much more comfortable explaining to others my hearing loss though when I have the opportunity. I used to be embarrassed by it. But when we open up and share, people are more understanding and accepting. ❤️

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  12. I can totally relate to being exhausted from paying attention and lip reading and trying to fit in with hearing people . While it’s great to be social and meet new people, it’s alot of work . As I’m getting older , I tend to lean towards enjoying things that don’t involve paying too much attention or having to lip read . And that can sometimes mean being isolated.

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    • I understand your desire to isolate, but it is important for your health to stay engaged with friends and family. Sometimes I have to force myself, but it is usually worth it (not always!) Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  13. I am profoundly deaf,and without my hearing aids, a bomb could go off near me and i would probably react to the air movement rather than the noise. My pet hate……when I miss something and ask for it to be repeated…….And told “It doesn’t matter!” Well it must have, or there was no need to say anything. And then you get the other extreme whereby the missed conversation is suddenly thrust upon you from a distance of 10mm directly at your ear, at a volume that would drown out a foghorn! Yes, I lipread to an extent,and try so hard to make sense of the jumble of sound, for that is what it is. It may as well be in Latin for all I know, and then I can pick out one word in ten…or even twenty, and try to make a sentence out of that. And then the battery goes, or it is chucking it down with rain, or I am sweating profusely. Aids cannot be worn in these instances. All I can ever do is apologise, and ask the folks to speak clearly, and AT me rather than mumble to the wall. Unfortunately, some of these requests fall on “deaf ears”.

    And they call us stupid!

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    • This is an excellent statement, John. Many of us experience like situations to a greater or lesser degree. Finding a companion with similar problems is very helpful, but a challenge. I have one or two, unfortunately not in my town!, with whom I exchange written stories of our experiences, frustrating and otherwise, and it helps, but is no solution.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I really relate to this theme of being perceived as non-social. CI in my left ear that rarely has words, mostly “sounds”. Hearing aid in my right ear that is good and helpful, most of the time. Take off one or both and I’m afloat in sounds of some sort but not real words. Doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, and walking the dogs especially in the rain are a challenge. Ii is mportant, however, to hear any and everything in order to make good choices and decisions. Since an accident 3 years ago, my balance has been compromised. I used to depend on my hearing to have good balance but my hearing loss has made that not the case now. I have to be hyperaware of my surroundings and get as much information as possible to maintain my balance. I’m exhausted by the end of the day.

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