How acquired hearing loss changed my life
Updated: May 7
This week (4th-10th May) is Deaf Awareness Week. This year the focus is on acquired hearing loss - when you lose your hearing rather than are born deaf.
That's exactly what happened to me. This is my story.
In 2005 I lost my hearing overnight on one side. I was one of those unlucky people who was sent away several times by my GP and told my hearing loss was caused by catarrh. That meant I didn't receive the steroid treatment that could have restored my hearing.
Instead it was 3 months after losing my hearing that I finally saw a consultant (and only because I paid to go private). He confirmed there was nothing I could do to restore my hearing, and that my only help might be a bone anchored hearing aid. That was the start of my relationship with the lovely people in audiology at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
I received my Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) in 2007 and went through several different versions of them as my needs changed. In 2018 I switched to a CROS aid, which I absolutely love. I wear my hearing aids from the moment I get up to the moment I fall asleep.
At the start of my hearing loss I grieved for a lot of things that changed overnight. I can no longer sing in a choir as I can't tune everyone else out in order to hear my part. I can't hear music in stereo, and cried the first time I went to listen to the Sixteen - my favourite choir - and found the music has lost its sparkle. I wouldn't play my clarinet in public as I struggled to tell whether it was in tune (thankfully I discovered a machine that could tell me that!).
I struggled a lot with friends and family who couldn't remember that I was deaf on one side. When we walked anywhere I kept having to move so that my companion was on my hearing side. And people insisted on talking to me from the other room, or with their head in the fridge!
I dreaded social occasions. We use both our ears to distinguish sounds, and so single-sided deafness makes it hard to pick out the voice you want to hear over the general hubbub of a party, or a restaurant or a networking occasion. I ended up asking people to repeat themselves a lot, or wore the "deaf smile" and nodded my head a lot, hoping I wasn't being told some bad news.
When my husband was with me I made him sit on my deaf side so it spared anyone else from having a "deafie" to talk to. But he couldn't always come to my rescue! So I became even more of an introvert than I already was and started refusing to go to big gatherings.
So what changed? How did I get the confidence to not only cope with my hearing loss, but help others cope too? It was a combination of speech reading classes and some fantastic Phonak technology acquired through Access to Work that made the difference.
Speech reading classes taught me how so much more than how to read lips. I learnt how to read body language, and use context and pre-planning to anticipate what people are saying. Teaming that knowledge with assistive technology that brings people's voices right into my one working ear means I can function pretty well. Phone calls are always a challenge - but these days there are so many other ways of communicating that I don't miss them. And I still can't hear well in very busy environments, so I've had to get used to that and use hearing tactics to compensate.
Of course I would love to have two working ears again. But losing your hearing is far from a catastrophe. I'm deeply grateful that we live in the 21st Century and that there is technology that can help us compensate for our hearing challenges. It's never as good as natural hearing. But it's so much better than managing without.
If you're struggling with acquired hearing loss I'd strongly recommend you look at ATLA (the Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults) for speech reading classes near you. if you're working then the UK government's Access to Work scheme can provide resources and equipment that can make employment or business ownership much easier. And, of course, if you want help and support from someone who knows and understands exactly what it's like to have hearing loss you can contact me.