Let's Remember No One Hears Perfectly
Updated: Jun 19
My cochlear implants have given me the gift of hearing. It’s a miracle and I’m grateful for them every day. But as wonderful as they are, some hearing situations can still be challenging. A dinner party with a group of people all talking at the same time is a good example.
When I’m challenged and cannot hear conversations well, I go right to my toolbox.
I sit where I know I’ll be able to hear better, with my back against the wall. I ask people to look at me when they talk and talk clearly and loudly. I use my assistive listening devices. I whip out my phone and activate my Otter.ai app (it uses artificial intelligence to transcribe voice to text real-time). I may suggest to the person I want to talk to that we go to a quiet place to talk. If these strategies don’t work, I use paper and pencil. Then I’ll be sure to understand what a person wants to say.
But in large gatherings these strategies don’t work as well. That’s when it’s time for my next move.
I dominate the conversation by talking nonstop! That way I know exactly what’s said, because I’m the one saying it! If that doesn’t work, I again monopolize the conversation by asking a consecutive series of questions. I realize it’s obnoxious but who cares—at least I know the topic of the conversation. Knowing the topic makes it easier to figure out the context of the person’s answers. Of course, this can’t go on for the whole party.
Okay, I admit it. My usual tools aren’t working and I’m getting less sure of myself. I wonder if I should mimic people’s facial expressions. Should I laugh when others laugh? Or frown when they frown? Or just sit there expressionless? I’m torn. What should I do?
I can’t help it but the stigma of hearing loss creeps into my psyche. Deaf, dumb, and stupid enters my mind. Is that what people think of me when they see my blank face or if I laugh when laughter isn’t appropriate?
Ugh, I can’t hear!
I hate to admit it, but I start thinking like a victim. Why me? I think. Everyone else can follow the conversation. I feel so stupid. The stigma of hearing loss enters my mind like a rush of wind.
I’m feeling so upset that I can barely stand to sit at the table for another second. I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I sit down, try to relax, and maybe take a few deep breaths. I know there’s a way to get out of this funk. I’ve done it before. My thinking mind kicks in. I remind myself that I have a hearing loss and that’s why I can’t hear as well as people with normal hearing. It has nothing to do with my intelligence.
That makes sense. I repeat this to myself to make sure I take it in: I miss conversations because I have a hearing loss. But does my gut believe this? It sounds logical enough. But my gut shouts... no, no, no, no.
I take some more deep breaths and go back to my thinking mind. No one hears perfectly, right? A typical hearing person also has trouble hearing in noisy environments, but they don’t feel stupid. It’s no big deal for them. They accept it without judgment.
Why can’t all of us with hearing loss accept our hearing challenges without judgment as well? It’s a physical disability that we have no control over. If we can’t hear, it has nothing to do with our intelligence or any of the negative stereotypes of hearing loss. It’s just hearing loss—a physical condition.
Can I accept my hearing challenges as simply a part of my physiology that has nothing to do with the negative stereotypes? My gut is getting ready to accept the truth. I have a hearing loss. It’s a physical condition of which I have no control over.
Now I’m feeling better. I remember the amazing hearing technology that is available today—advanced hearing aids, cochlear implants, and assistive listening devices. Plus, the sophisticated research that Hearing Health Foundation is doing to advance our future. When I come to this realization, I start to feel at ease.
Going back to the dinner party, I feel confident now about going to my hostess and explaining that I need to find a quiet place. What follows is interesting. When other people see me sitting in a quiet place, they join me because it’s too noisy for them too! Interesting. I’m not the only one who has difficulty with all the noise and chatter of a big dinner party.
However we decide to handle uncomfortable hearing situations, the important thing is to understand in our mind and gut that our challenged hearing has nothing to do with the stigma of hearing loss. It’s just our ears not hearing in the typical range.
Trust me. I know it can be hard to take in. It’s taken me years to understand that the stigma of hearing loss is a stereotype that is the result of not understanding what hearing loss is. It wasn’t understood that if we answer a question out of context, or not respond to a question, it is only the result of not being able to hear. As I’ve said before, and will say again and again, it's just because we have a hearing loss.
With this knowledge, I’m able to advocate for myself. The more I advocate for myself, the more confident I feel. Then, I not only advocate for myself in hearing situations but in life in general. I’ve become a more confident person.
Am I grateful for my hearing loss? Well—I wouldn’t go that far, but having gained more confidence has helped me in all areas of my life.
And I’ve met so many wonderful people. Hmm, maybe I am grateful for my hearing loss!
This was published in Hearing Health Foundation April2022 Edition.