Why Being Hard of Hearing is the Best and Worst Thing that Happened to Me
According to the world health organization, "360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss". But this doesn't only touch old people, it's also for teenagers like me. You won't meet a lot of people like that, and I feel like I should share the details of my everyday life, about what I love about it, and what makes it harder for me. So this is a little insight on a part of my life that I have to deal with like a lot of people.
I'm 18 years old, and 10 years ago I told my parents something was wrong with my ears. Turns out I was born with about 40% of hearing loss in each ear. I know now that my parents felt guilty about not noticing that I was struggling more than other kids. They told me they started making sense of my behaviour, and understood why I didn't always answered when they called me from another room, why I was making a lot of noise all the time, and why I was very quiet in a loud restaurant, for example.
My parents took me directly to a doctor when I told them that, and the doctor sent us to an audiologist to discuss hearing aids and whether I wanted to have them or not. I said yes because I wanted to hear the world and it made no sense to me at the time to refuse to hear properly. I'm not sure who and where I would be now if I had made a different decision. So a few weeks later I got my hearing aids and never left them since.
For about a year, every sound seemed deafening. I hated doors being slammed, motorcycles on the streets and dogs barking. I kept the volume of the tv very low, which annoyed my family, and started noticing how much noise I was making when walking or setting the table, for instance. Everything was too loud and painful, but I was thankful for the clear sound of my parents' voice and the relief it brought me to not have to worry about not hearing what people were telling me and missing an important information, especially at school.
At the same time, I was discovering new noises. For the first time, I heard a cat purring and the twittering of the birds passing by above my house in the spring. I wasn't born again, but I was definitely starting a new part of my life, the part that I would be able to hear.
Accepting the change and being different
I remember the day before I got by hearing aids, I was worried about what people would say about them, about being different and adaptating to them. My dad talked to me and told me it was the same as wearing big glasses, that people would sometimes make fun of me and treat me differently, but that we all had something that made us different and vulnerable. He taught me we all have a burden, and that it was my job to make sure my hearing loss wouldn't stop me from living my life as I wanted.
I was always different in a way, but this time it was more obvious, and every kid at school, every person I met since knew I was different at first glance. But not all of them knew what to do with that information. At school particularly, kids would make fun of me, ask a lot of question or scream in my ears. I've heard "what's in your ear?" a thousand times, or comments like "my grandmother has the same hearing aids!" from tactless or just mean people (mostly kids, though). I can't expect people to understand how to talk to me or how to behave around me, so I've decided from the beginning to answer to any person asking me about being hard of hearing. I always try to laugh about it instead of getting upset. I believe people should know what it means to be like me, especially teenagers who aren't careful with their ears.
Being different from people hearing normally is one thing, but people like me don't belong to the deaf community either. We exist, but we don't belong to a particular word or community, even if meeting someone that has the same problem as you always creates a bond. Sometimes people make us feel like we're a less good version of a human being, and sometimes we believe it. But when people started wearing glasses decades ago, it was considered an isolated and shameful thing. With the increase of hard of hearing people (especially teenagers), having hearing aids will eventually become a "normal" thing.
Taking the situation with humour
Facing the future
About 6 years after finding out I was hard of hearing, I started actually thinking about it. I used to consider it as a part of me, something I couldn't change, and I was okay with it. But as I grew up I noticed how hard it had been on me to have a different childhood. I started realizing my life had changed for ever, that I would never be "normal".
Hearing loss is a real thing, it has consequences. It can lead to financial issues when it comes to buying this very expensive technology (my hearing aids cost 3500€). It makes me fear for the future, about money and going to college and finding a job. It's a lot of stress, and it makes it harder to communicate with people in certain conditions. My hearing aids make my hearing better, but they also make the background noises louder, which makes it more difficult to make out the words I hear. Listening to people in a rather loud background feels like reading a text with missing words. You try to replace the missing words as best as you can, but it doesn't work every time, and sometimes you'll answer a question wrong and appear slow and clumsy to someone who isn't used to dealing with hard of hearing people.
I think the person who worried the most about me was my parents. They admitted feeling guilty about not noticing how I struggled to hear every day. But I didn't have any speaking problem and made it 8 years without any help from technology. I was exhausted, and it's still hard work to do something as simple as listening to people, but otherwise it had no consequences on my development. My past makes me more relaxed about the future.
Hearing the world
Being hard of hearing made me see the world differently. Hearing the world better after 8 years in a sort of silent environment, I probably thought a lot more about sounds and voices than other people. I enjoy hearing the rain on the roof and the pop-corn pop, but I also notice annoying or painful noises more than normal people. Hearing can become painful in a world that is too loud and oblivious to this problem. Cars and building sites are everywhere and make us forget the sound of nature, the sound of the voices of the people we love, and particularly the sound of silence.
Also, wearing my first hearing aids could be sometimes painful, as they were heavier and more noticeable, attracting more looks than I sometimes wanted. Focusing on hearing is still exhausting, and as I get older I become aware of the danger : being able to shut myself off from the world is a gift and a curse, as when I don't wear them for a long time I risk to lose my bond with people and never feel the need to communicate with them anymore. I need to make an effort more than most people, and some days it's more difficult than others to put on my hearing aids.
More than that, I sometimes feel left out, not being able to go to parties with loud music or taking part in some social events. I started feeling like it might be a sign that I can't connect with the world, feeling like I did something wrong to deserve that.
Some statistics about the deaf and hard of hearing
- Over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children)
- Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.
Hearing loss may be inherited, caused by complications at birth, certain infectious diseases such as meningitis, chronic ear infections, use of ototoxic drugs, exposure to excessive noise and ageing.
Half of all cases of hearing loss are avoidable through primary prevention. 50% of hearing loss is preventable through public health actions.
The current production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of global need.
Approximately one-third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss.
There is hope for us
When I think about my story, I think : what is life without a few obstacles? I try to always keep a positive attitude and I consider myself lucky. After all, it could've been worse, I'm healthy, my hearing is stable, I can wear hearing aids everyday and it's not stopping me from living a wonderful life.
I've never been ashamed of being hard of hearing, but a few times I've wondered if I would say yes to hearing normally, to being "normal". Of course my situation isn't ideal, but going through all this made me stronger and smarter. Hearing normally would be nice and relaxing, but I like being different, it made me ponder on normality. What is normal? Normal is people struggling with their own burden and dealing with day to day problems and still fighting to be happy. But I'm not alone, and nobody is. Being hard of hearing doesn't mean I don't get to live happily, it's not the end for anybody with my "problem".