I feel like I really learned something recently. I’ve had hearing “loss” all of my life. This term was always funny to me since I was born with the same hearing ability (or lack thereof) that I have now, more or less. Although I never “lost” anything, I was told that I was different and that I didn’t not understand others‘ speech or hear certain sounds due to this affliction of sorts and needed to be “aided” through machinery (in my case, a hearing aid). As I wore it I did understand more words and sounds, but remained different from others with “typical” hearing abilities. I went on to adapt to the world via additional means such as lipreading, signing, focusing more on visual cues, treasuring the written word, etc. So, here I am with the label, yet not feeling very “disabled”. Nothing was taken from me, nothing about my ears or deafness causes me pain. The only aspect of this that ever really hurt was the world’s lack of understanding in how I accessed it. But I can’t imagine the world differently. It’s the only one I know.
By contrast, my eyesight has always been “typical” – sharp save for an astigmatism in one eye for which eyeglasses for reading allowed my eyes to “relax” (If this sounds technically off, it probably is. I’m deaf too, so..). If I was under stress or doing a lot of reading (cramming, for example) I’d get a headache, so I wore them occasionally for the most part. After the birth of my daughter in 2010, I noticed I had trouble reading small print on medicine bottles and such. I chalked it up to being sleep deprived, and only subconsciously noticed that I COULD read it when I put my glasses on. I started bringing the glasses with me to work when I went back. After the birth of my son 2 1/2 years later, my vision loss was more pronounced (you see where I’m going in my pattern of blame here), and I started keeping extra pairs of glasses around the house in different rooms, I wore them up on my head like sunglasses (because a mom with babies can’t wear them on a string or my shirt collar), then I’d flip them down to read anything. Nowadays, if I don’t have my glasses with me, I have to hold my phone out at arms’ length just to make out a simple text message. Sometimes, I can’t.
I’m 43 and I can’t read without my glasses on. And I finally get how people who are losing their hearing feel.
It feels pretty crappy, to be honest. What’s next? Contacts? What kinds are there? Could I swim with them? Should I get new glasses? What about sunglasses? Do I always need a pair with me? Do I get lasik eventually? How bad will this get? What will my insurance cover? How much will this cost me? Well, maybe my glasses are fine for now. I’ll just make sure to keep them with me all the time and check out the next “level” of drugstore glasses for backup. Maybe I’ll just wait until they get broken.
Am I in denial? Depends on how you look at it. Is there a clear cut answer here? It doesn’t seem so.
It’s the same thing with people who are losing their hearing. As a kid, since I was the ardent hearing-aid-wearer I was the one who was recruited by family to talk to Grandpa about wearing his hearing aids, and what it was like to wear them (since he wasn’t and they wanted him to). They knew I wouldn’t say anything bad because heck I wore the thing everyday and didn’t know any different. So we’d have a conversation about it, and he’d tell me the mold was hard to get used to, and things sounded so different he didn’t think they actually helped, etc. Maybe he just didn’t like dealing with them any more than I like dealing with glasses. I remember him telling me he missed hearing the birds sing, and it made him sad.
It’s a conversation I’ve found myself having over the years with many others who are losing (or have already lost much of) their hearing. Not just about hearing aids, but a lot of other aspects of hearing loss, because it spills into so many areas of life. Particularly into relationships. People tell me their hearing loss affects their marriage, that they have lost friends. Lost jobs. That people think they are being dramatic when they try to explain they can hear them talking but can’t understand what’s being said. It’s rough. People want to know how they are going to do anything. How are they going to live like this?
And I usually explain the way I live and the options we have. I stop short of telling anyone what they MUST do. People need to feel empowered in this decision as they would anything else in their life in order to own it. Get a cochlear implant? Wear a hearing aid? Get surgery? Learn sign language? Their call. Really, it’s none of my beeswax.
I tell them about my world with joy and smile on my face because I love my world. But I’ve never traveled their journey. I’m just standing on the other end of the tunnel when they emerge. I was born there. So maybe I didn’t fully comprehend how treacherous the roads can be on the way in.
So this situation has put me on a train with a window seat. Destination is somewhere new and unknown. Empathy is in the distance and I see it clearly.
A much needed trip.