“Does your hearing loss hurt?” a curious friend once asked. I loved this question, because it showed that she cared, but also because the answer is complicated. While I don’t usually feel physical pain from my hearing loss, there are many examples of psychological and emotional suffering.
Sometimes this pain comes from external catalysts like when I feel dismissed or scorned if the accommodations I need to communicate are not available. Or when my request for a repeat is waved away with a “Never mind.”
Other times, I bring bad feelings on myself. Like when I allow myself to feel embarrassed or inferior because I can’t participate fully at a cocktail party or a noisy meeting. Or when I choose isolation instead of making the effort to engage.
So, yes, my hearing loss does hurt. Just not in the way my friend expected.
It’s Ok to Mourn, But Not Forever
A diagnosis of hearing loss comes with many emotions—not usually good ones. You may feel shocked or scared. How will my hearing loss impact my relationships? Will I be able to stay connected to the activities I enjoy? Can I remain a productive participant on projects important to me?
It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. Take the time to feel all your feelings—your loved ones may have some feelings of their own to process too—but know that you are not alone and that skillful living is possible.
You are Not Alone with Your Hearing Loss
According to the World Health Organization, 430 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, including almost 50 million Americans. You are certainly not alone.
But it may feel like you are.
When I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid-20s, I didn’t know anyone else with hearing loss—except for my father who was battling too much hearing loss stigma to discuss it. Or maybe I did know other people with hearing loss, but I didn’t realize it. Many people don’t disclose their hearing loss in fear that others will think less of them. It took many years before I came out of my hearing loss closet.
Finding peers helped me feel less alone with the emotional pain of my hearing loss. Finally there were others who understood my frustrations and who could suggest workarounds for situations where I struggled. Seeing them succeed in life and with relationships gave me hope that I could too.
Skillful Living with Hearing Loss is Possible
Hearing loss does not come with an operating manual. That is why fellow hearing loss advocate Gael Hannan and I decided to write one in Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss. We believe living well with hearing loss is possible, no matter the degree, the age of onset, or how long you have been living with it.
It’s not always easy.
Skillful living has highs and lows. It includes emotional pain and frustration. But it also embraces resilience, fosters self-advocacy and builds confidence because you understand how to create communication success in almost every situation.
Does hearing loss hurt? It certainly does sometimes, but with the right attitude and the use of both technological and behavioral tools, relief is on the way.
Readers, does your hearing loss hurt?