Things I've Learned from Hearing Loss

Handsome young man can't hear, putting hand around his ear. Indoors shot inside a house
Handsome young man can't hear, putting hand around his ear. Indoors shot inside a house

Over the past few years, I've developed significant bilateral hearing loss, hyperacrusis (sensitivity to loud noises), and tinnitus (hearing ringing sounds that don't exist). Three doctors and many many hearing tests later, we're still not sure why or if it's going to get worse. But during this transition to understanding everyone around me to struggling to piece together context clues and pathetic attempts at lip reading, I have learned a few things.

1. People do not like to repeat themselves. I've never felt more disparaged than when people complain about having to repeat themselves, as if I'm just not trying hard enough to listen. It doesn't have to be a verbal complaint, although my boss did at one point complain to me that having to repeat herself is her biggest pet peeve. It's when people roll their eyes or exasperatedly sigh, or worse, say never mind and move on with their lives. I'm not sorry that I have hearing loss. I am sorry that you're so inconsiderate that you won't make a three second accommodation so I can understand you.

2. People always want to fix me. "I can't wait until you get hearing aids so you'll enjoy movies more." "I can't wait until you get hearing aids so I can stop shouting at you." The list goes on and on. I get it. My hearing loss makes things harder for you. And if I'm being honest, it makes things harder for me too. But it's not like I'm actually broken. Yes, if my doctors and I determine that hearing aids will help and are the best option for me, there's a pretty decent chance I will make the decision to wear them or at the very least try them out. But that's my decision to make for my life, and if I do get hearing aids in the future or some other assistive devices it will be because I decide that it's the best decision for me, not because you're tired of having to face me when you speak.

But it's not all bad. I have a lot of complaints and this experience has shown me that some people really suck, but there are perks.

3. I started taking ASL classes and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. After consistently failing at French (partially due to the fact that I couldn't even tell what the professor was saying in English, partially due to my own inability to grasp the language) and after realizing my hearing was only going to get worse, I signed up for American Sign Language I in college. Until then, I'd never even had a conversation with a Deaf person, signing or speaking. And now I get to fall in love with this amazing language in a room where I don't have to struggle to follow a conversation because I can't hear it.

4. The Deaf community. I've barely dipped my big toe into the waters of the Deaf community for a few reasons. I don't know if/where I fit in there considering I'm new at this, I don't sign well yet, and I'm hard of hearing instead of profoundly deaf. But in the limited experience I've had, I'm so grateful this community exists. In my city and online, I've been able to find people who exemplify not just surviving with hearing loss, but thriving. When I first had trouble hearing, I was upset. I was angry at the world and constantly complaining and a lot of times just nodding along and not even trying to grasp conversations because I'd get lost and just give up. I felt sorry for myself because I felt like now I had a handicap and my life was going to be so much harder forever and it was going to suck a lot. But when I see all of these amazing people and I learn about the history of Deaf communities I'm proud that I have something even just kind of in common with them.

This is whole thing has definitely been a new experience. And sometimes the entire world sucks and sometimes I'm really excited for what it's opened up for me, even if I have no idea what's next.