Most people don’t know that I have hearing loss. Most people don’t know that I rely on lip-reading during conversations. Most people don’t know that I carry anxiety every day due to hearing loss. Most people don’t know that hearing loss challenges me as a parent. Most people don’t know that I sometimes leave conversations in tears.
Most people don’t know.
To be fair, I didn’t fully understand my hearing loss until I was an adult. That was only after a failed hearing test in high school lead me to an audiologist who told me I had “small ear canals.” Unfortunately, my experience struggling with hearing wasn’t validated at that time and I continued living in silence unknowing. I went through the remainder of my high school career, as well as college, asking friends to repeat themselves, miss-hearing teachers, and altogether not understanding what people were saying, without any support to the real issue I was facing.
Post-college and a few years into the working world, I started taking further notice of my hearing loss and how it was impacting me daily. I had a hard time hearing people over everyday office noises, as well as conversations in group meetings. I was running to catch-up and compute during every interaction.
So, at the age of 28, I finally decided to be seen again by an audiologist in Indianapolis. She candidly laughed at the small ear canals bit and assured me that while my hearing loss was unique, it was real. Many either experience a complete loss of hearing or show a relatively straight line on the scale of sounds – not being able to hear as well on one end or the other where those sounds slowly decline. However, my hearing loss is a “U” shape – dropping out in the middle. This makes hearing the subtle differences between letters, muffled or interrupted sounds, and conversations over technology very difficult.
Most people don’t know.
But I need you to know.
Hearing Loss in School
Hearing loss in children and young adults can often be misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD) when teachers and adults assume a child is simply not listening or distracted when they’re honestly just not hearing. Consider the noise in a classroom environment. Loud air conditioning and heating systems, pencil sharpeners (are these still a thing?), sounds taking place in the hallway or outside – oh yeah, and the kids themselves! While e-learning might seem like a better fit, it provides its own set of challenges relaying sounds through computer microphones and into earphones/computer speakers, not to mention hearing fatigue when so much has been shifted to auditory-style learning.
When I was young, attention deficit would’ve been a teacher or adult’s label of choice for me. In fact, I started taking medicine to treat ADD in high school. Again, it wasn’t until I was an adult and I had a therapist explain to me that anxiety, too, can often be misdiagnosed as attention deficit. So, if hearing loss can look like ADD and anxiety can look like ADD – what happens when you have anxiety due to hearing loss? Consider the differentness children experience when they have hearing loss and the people who know all the answers (adults), don’t understand, and are misdiagnosing them (even their audiologists!). Not being able to hear, not being understood, not being accepted is stressful. I hope that we can start properly supporting education systems and equipping individuals so that these false diagnoses and labels can be discarded.
Hearing Loss in the Workplace
Offices can be surprisingly noisy places, even when they’re “quiet”. Typing, ringing, phone conversations, printers, papers shuffling, side conversation, etc. Adding the office noise to the background of a coworker trying to respectful ask a question at a low volume as to not disrupt others and you’ve got yourself a classic workplace issue for those with hearing loss. Calls, speakerphone conversations, and conference meetings can be a particular nightmare because sound must be relayed over devices that can cause them to become fragmented. I’ve sat straight-faced in my boss’s office through a call on speakerphone, just to have to ask her to repeat the entire conversation that I missed while in the very room.
Hearing Loss in Social Settings
If classrooms and offices are loud, then bars, restaurants, and social venues are particularly so. Between music, chatter, and laughter, someone just across the table can feel like they’re across the room. The anxiety I carry due to my hearing loss is felt most heavily when I’m in a social situation. It’s why I will often shy-away altogether from certain functions, experiences and opportunities. I don’t want to feel lost in a sea of noise without being able to compute the conversations happening in front of me. Even when things are going well, it can sometimes take just one variance for things to go from well to “what?” Sounds can so easily be disrupted between point A and point B.
Hearing Loss at Home
As a mom, I am terrified of the possibility of not hearing my child when I absolutely need to hear them. Think about that. There have been times when my husband will ask, “Can you hear that?” as one of our children cries from their bedroom. No. The answer is almost always, “No.” And while it is often not an issue, the slight potential for my hearing loss to lead to some kind of loss much greater than my hearing is very real to me. The kitchen timer goes off – nothing. The laundry dings – nothing. A gentle knock at the door – nothing. And it’s the silence when I know there shouldn’t be any, that scares me.
Hearing Loss in the World
The world is a noisy place. Even as someone with hearing loss, I know this. In our current pandemic world, living with hearing loss has created a further burden. I don’t think I quite realized how much I had been relying on lip-reading until the crutch was suddenly removed when mask mandates went into place. And I don’t think I realized the impact of six feet until I found myself needing every inch.
But more than being a noisy place, the world can be a place of misunderstanding and ignorance even for those who can hear. Because they can’t see my hearing loss. People assume I’m not listening. People assume I’m not focused. People act as if I’m stupid and their impatience screams out, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you understand?”
But I need you to understand.
I need you to know.
I need you to know that just because I am not deaf and I don’t rely on signing, I’m still struggling to hear you. I need you to know that when I ask you to repeat yourself for the second-plus time, I need to you repeat yourself louder and more thoroughly. I need you to know that I’m listening, even if I can’t hear everything you say. I need you to let me know that it’s okay – that a conversation takes two people. I need you to know that I want to hear you.
I want to hear.
In case you’re wondering: After another hearing test with a separate Indianapolis audiologist that verified the same conclusion of my unique hearing loss, it was recommended that I get hearing aids. While hearing aids might seem like a fix, there’s more to it. Hearing aids don’t simply magnify the areas of speech and sound that you specifically need, they magnify all sound. This is why it can take a handful of hearing aid adjustments, cleaning, resetting, more adjustments, and follow-ups to get it right. And even then – it’s not hearing.