It was the annual celebration dinner for a community group where I volunteer. People wore their finest attire and mingled in the beautiful space, chatting ahead of the awards dinner. The sound was deafening, but I did my best to hear and partake in a variety of conversations using my surviving a cocktail party with hearing loss tips.
Finding my spot at my assigned table, I introduced myself to my seat mates. Luckily the majority had strong voices in the right decibel range for me to hear; and they were easy to lipread. The conversation flowed, bouncing from topic to topic, before my hearing loss and related advocacy work came up. Yes, I try to slip it into every conversation — that is what advocates do.
Their response: “But, you seem to hear just fine.” Part of me was happy that I was conversing so successfully — those lipreading skills do come in handy — but part of me felt almost slighted. Truth be told, this duck was paddling furiously under the water.
This was the second time someone had said those words to me recently, so maybe it was the double whammy that struck a chord in me. The first time was at a week-long yoga workshop held at my local studio.
Before I signed up, I contacted the organizer and asked if I could speak to the trainers to make sure I could hear their voices well. I did not want to commit to 40-hours of only partially absorbing the material. After a couple of emails back and forth explaining why this was important, they were able to oblige and the teacher’s voices tested fine. I arrived early to make sure I had a good spot in the room and all went well.
At the end of the training, I thanked the studio owner once again for her flexibility with the voice test and she replied with a slightly skeptical look on her face, “Well, you certainly seemed to hear just fine.” “Yes,” I replied, “that’s because I did the work upfront to make sure that that would be the case.”
Why did I take these comments so personally? Did I feel like I was being accused of faking my hearing loss? Did I feel unappreciated for the enormous effort I had put forth to hear? Did it feel like she was making light of the challenges people with hearing loss face? I wondered if I should struggle more next time to advance the cause. Or was I just being cranky after a long bout of listening effort? It is hard to know.
In any case, it once again reinforced the notion that hearing loss is almost impossible to understand unless you have experienced it yourself. Why do we hear well in some situations, but not in others? Why are one person’s hearing challenges different from someone else’s difficulties? Why are some people easier for us to lipread than others? I can see why it is confusing for the uninitiated.
As people with hearing loss, we must continue to educate, and explain, and advocate for what we need in very specific terms. And when someone tells us that we seem to hear just fine, maybe we simply reply “Thank you.”
Readers, do you ever “seem to hear just fine?”