If you’ve read my About page you will know that I was born hearing but gradually started losing my hearing from my early twenties. It’s been a bitter pill to swallow, going from perfect hearing, through annoying tinnitus and now being severely hearing impaired. I know my disability is minor compared to other disabilities and believe my when I say that I am truly grateful for the abilities that I do have. However, my whole lifestyle has had to change and as an average one in nine people in the UK will suffer some form of hearing loss in their life (according to the RNID*), I want to share my experiences with other people.
Here’s the top 5 things I hate about being hearing impaired in no particular order of importance.
- INABILITY TO USE A PHONE: I’ve always loved to have a good natter on the phone with my friends and family. As I’m able to distinguish my voice, many people were the subject of my frequent prank calls. Up until around five years ago, although with difficulty, I was able to use a phone. Now it’s like listening to a badly tuned radio station, especially with my tinnitus. Phones are so essential in people’s everyday lives that simple little things like making a doctors appointment, ordering a pizza or calling a repair man I took for granted during my better hearing days (see 4-Loss Of Independence). I also miss calling my grandmother, who lives out of town the most. I don’t get to see her very often and as she is 90 (she’d slap my ass if she knew I was broadcasting her age) and lives on her own it’s extremely upsetting that I can’t check on how she is as often as I’d like too. Thank God we do have the technology that we have nowadays so text/Instant Messaging and emails are my main form of communicating with people now.
- MUSIC: I’m an avid music fan with an eclectic taste. Music was my escapism, my comforter it made me happy and it also made me deaf. As there is no medical explanation for my hearing loss, audiologists believe that it could have stemmed from my damaging my inner ears through loud music, mostly through headphones. Any and everyone that truly knows me will say how I was always in record shops checking out new releases, pumping my stereo out to the max when the neighbours were on holiday, creating my own songs with lyrics and melodies. It was my dream to be a songwriter, to get in the music world and become a part of it. Now I can only listen to songs I’m familiar with from my hearing days. Hearing aids can help sometimes, if I position myself or my speakers in the right place (I’m like a human TV/radio aerial) but it doesn’t sound the same and I’m hearing the beats and the bass with little and very distorted vocals. It’s unbearable listening to my peers talk about some artists new album. I used to be the one telling them about new tunes. My two daughters also, like me, have a great fondness in music but I’m unable to share that passion with them. Click here to read a new blog I’ve started dedicated to my music collection and songs that have inspired me or hold a special memory to me throughout my hearing years. I’ve only just started it and it’s a lot more painful and harder to compile than I thought it would be so please bear with me.
- PEOPLE’S IGNORANCE AND PREJUDICE: I was talking to a friend of mine who is totally deaf in one ear the other day and we both agreed on how isolating it is and how unsympathetic people can be towards a hearing disability than they would be to someone who is visually disabled. If your blind, people will guide you, move obstacles out of your way for the sake of safety. If your in a wheelchair, people will show compassion, be sensitive towards your needs but when your deaf some people will just blatantly ignore you, cast you aside as if your worth nothing just because you struggle to hear what they say. I’ve suffered ignorance through college and university where fellow students stared through me or talked around me, some even questioned why I was studying. “What can you do [employment wise] if you can’t hear?”. Whilst in hospital for a fortnight last year I was disgusted at the manner of a few doctors and nurses who continued to not face me when talking to me despite me repeatedly requesting that I need to lip-read and failing to spot that my disability was clearly written in my notes. Then you get people who shout which just makes communication worse. Some people think hearing aids are magic and think that if you “turn them up” you’ll hear them clearer. Hearing aids are just that. Aids. They only strengthen the sound you have, what is lost is lost. For example, I have a high frequency loss so I will never hear an emergency siren (police, ambulance) with or without hearing aids (I do feel the soundwaves though which is an eerie and uncomfortable experience). Friends and family are no better when it comes to ignorance. Some act embarrassed by my presence whilst some ridicule me when I’m struggling to follow or misread what they say to me. I often ask myself, If I was born deaf would the friends I have still be my friend? I’m still Donna, I still like a laugh and a joke, I still have a voice, an opinion so why are you treating me as though I’m dumb or not worthy of your friendship? Being deaf can be so coldly lonely, even when your in the company of many. I rely heavily on lip reading so if I can’t follow the conversation I get mixed up and misinterpretate conversations only to be sniggered at and excluded by the people I’m supposed to love and trust. The isolation has left me quite anti-social, I can’t bear the ridiculing, so I avoid giving others the chance to do so.
- LOSS OF INDEPENDENCE: From my teen years I’ve been heavily independent and as a single mother of two daughters I’ve had to become used to ‘handling my shit’ – excuse the pun! Now I can’t even make an emergency call should I be in moderate or immediate danger. Thankfully, I have some fantastic neighbours that are supportive should I need an SOS call made but imagine how self destructing it is that if my neighbours are not home and there’s a fault with my gas (as I experienced recently) I have to beg a stranger in the street to make that call for me. My daughter has to accompany me when I have certain appointments (I read her lips clearly) or go shopping. I’m unable to go places I’m unfamiliar with on my own, I have to look triple times the amount of a hearing person when crossing between parked cars. I can’t even order myself a takeaway meal or a cab if I’m on my own. This lifestyle is not me. I know I’ve got to deal with it and how much fortunate I am than many others but I hate depending on others, having to share my personal details with strangers so they can represent me or take a message for me. I will always need somebody around me and I’ve seen how it affects my children, especially my youngest who never benefited my hearing years. I don’t want to be a burden to them or hold them back from what’s out there in the big wide world because they’re worrying about my safety.
- LIVING WITH TINNITUS: Hearing loss is a pain in the arse, tinnitus is a bitch. Not only is tinnitus annoying and often frightening, it’s also greatly depressing. Imagine trying to get to sleep with a buzzing or ringing noise in your head that you’re unable to switch off. Or worse still, you’re trying to focus on something and a whistling wind is continually fighting your concentration. Right now as I’m writing this article my left ear is ringing whilst my right ear has a monotone buzz that breaks every so often only to come back more louder. Aaaargh! That’s what I want to do to make it go away but as it’s way past midnight I doubt if my neighbours would be sympathetic to my cause. Hearing aids make my tinnitus worse, especially in noisy or crowded surroundings so I tend to use them only if I have to. My audiologist has referred me to have a cochlear implant but one of the many side effects is that it can make tinnitus worse. Ironically, listening to my mp3 player, via headphones, often helps. I’m concentrating on the music so subconsciously I’m ignoring the tinnitus. At its worse, tinnitus makes me fiercely frustrated and not wanting to communicate with anyone. My poor daughters usually bear the brunt of my frustration. Tinnitus has a way drowning you in a dark sea and as you have no control over it, the depression seeps in.
So please, all you hearing folks, spread a little love, not exclusion if you meet someone who’s hearing impaired. Talk to us, clear and loud but don’t shout (shouting can be painful if someone’s wearing a hearing aid). We’re human beings, just like you, we have dramas, we have sex, we have lives to lead, things to take care of, and we like a natter and a gossip now and again too. So talk to us, be patient with us, include us… you won’t catch it.
* RNID Royal National Institute for the Deaf