Hear today, gone tomorrow
Imagine if you will, sitting in a Tim Horton’s restaurant at the height of the lunch hour. There’s a buzz of conversation in the air, and you’re sitting there across from your friend as you try to hear what it is they’re saying to you above the chatter. You think that if you turn up your hearing aid, you will be able to hear better, so that’s what you do. But what you don’t realize is that when you turn up your hearing aid, it not only increases the volume of the person across from you, it also increases the noise level in the surrounding area, and you’re back where you started. You still can’t hear what your friend is trying to tell you.
I didn’t always have a hearing loss. I could hear perfectly well until about the age of 15. That’s when I got the mumps of the left side of my neck that damaged the nerve endings in my ear. It wasn’t until I went to see an audiologist years later that I discovered that my hearing had indeed been damaged. Initially I didn’t need to wear a hearing aid. In fact, it surprised me to discover that I’d been reading people lips without even being aware of it. But over time, it became necessary. That was hard for me. I don’t like failing tests. And I failed the hearing test with flying colours. I tried a number of hearing aids, but none seemed to work for me. They felt like someone had stuck cotton batting in my ears which made it even more difficult for me to hear. But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.
I’m a Better Listener: It seems strange to think that a person with a hearing loss is a better listener, but it’s true. At least for me. When I’m talking to someone, I need to be fully present with them. I can’t afford to be looking around the room or texting while I’m listening to someone, or I’ll miss something important. This can be tiring, and sometimes I just need some peace and quiet so I don’t have to work so hard at listening so closely all the time. Obviously I do better in a quiet environment, but even then, if someone is showing me something I have to read their lips first and then have them show me what they’re doing.
Other Faculties are Stronger: (ie. sight, senses)
Being able to read lips doesn’t help when I go to the movies, however. But I still manage to understand what’s going on. Having a hearing loss forces me to notice other things. Like what’s the significance of the location of a movie? How the subtle gestures of the actor has meaning. And the tone of voice a person uses. All of these things are beneficial when you’re a writer, like me. If you’ve ever seen a silent movie, you’ll have a good idea of how well an actor can tell a story without speaking.
Ask for What you Need:
When I first had to deal with my hearing loss, I was afraid to tell people because I thought it would make me seem less in their eyes. But what was worse was when someone would say something to me that I didn’t fully understand, and I would answer incorrectly because I was afraid to admit that I had a hearing loss. Then my boss at the time said, “Why don’t you just tell people you have a hearing loss?” This seemed too easy. But I felt like she’d given me permission to just be who I was: A woman with a hearing loss. I needed to own it. Ever since then I’ve told people that I have a hearing loss and have learned to ask for what I need. And surprisingly enough, people are more than happy to accommodate my need.
Sometimes someone will approach me and say, “You know, if you had a hearing aid, you’d have a better quality of life.” Well maybe I would, and maybe I wouldn’t. As I’ve illustrated, just because you have a hearing aid doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hear better. I can hear well enough in the mid voice ranges, but I have a difficult time in the higher ranges. And there’s the difficulty with letters that sound the same: Ds, Ps, Cs, and Ts that makes it difficult sometimes. I have sung in a choir with a hearing loss. I’ve taken piano lessons with a hearing loss. I’ve even taken university courses with a hearing loss. And now, here I am in Toastmasters, where a large part of what we do is listen. Does that sound like the quality of my life has been diminished? I don’t think so. In fact, I think that, in some ways, the quality of my life has been enhanced. I’ve done the best I can with what I’ve been given, and you can too.