What I would tell my younger hearing loss self

By Gael Hannan

As my relationship with my hearing loss has improved over the years, I’ve often wished that the resources and confidence I now enjoy had been available to my 21-year-old self. Life on the hearing loss journey would have been immeasurably different.

I decided to have a conversation with my younger self of 47 years ago, to tell her what I wish I knew then. Let’s call Gael in the present “Me” and Gael in 1975 “She.”

Me: Hey you!

She: Hey yourself. So, this is weird.

Me: But cool. Tell me, how do you feel about your hearing loss?

She: Fine, thank you.

Me: You don’t, but we’ll get back to that. So, you just got your first hearing aid!

She: Yeah, and I hate it. I thought I wanted one, even though I was told that it wouldn’t help me, but now that I have it, I hate it. People look at it, and I know they feel sorry for me. It’s big, loud. And ugly.

Me: Also, in a drawer. It’s beautiful, apart from being beige, and it wants out.

She: I’ll try again soon.

Me: Maybe today?

She: Gimme a break. It’s been hard, you know? Until I left home, I didn’t realize how much I don’t hear. No parents to remind me to tell people that I’m hard of hearing…

Me: Yes, you haven’t been the best self-advocate.

She: Self-advocate? Is that what they’re calling it now?

Me: Yep. It’s important. You’ve got to take charge of your hearing loss success – at the end of the day, it’s less stressful! Let people know what you need. By the way, you’re allowed to ask your audiologist to make some tweaks.

She: Man, I’m not going back there for a while. I still haven’t recovered from the last hearing test, which I failed again.

Me: You don’t fail! It’s not a test with right or wrong answers. I’ll admit, though, people still freak out over what’s only an assessment of hearing levels. And right now, you have moderate hearing loss.

She: Moderate? That doesn’t sound too bad. Hey, you said ‘right now.’ Does it get better?

Me: No.

She: Worse?

Me: Much worse.

She: Bummer.

Me: Yes, but technology gets better! Now it streams with your cell phone!

She: You’re talking crazy stuff. What’s a cell phone?

Me: Right, you’re still using a rotary dial. Let’s get back to the ‘feeling fine’ thing you mentioned – the mental and emotional stuff. Just as important as the technology, is how you view your hearing loss. I no longer see it as something to be ashamed of. I’m even proud of how I handle it.

She: Wow, that’s heavy.

Me: But good heavy!

She: I don’t really want to…

Me: Listen, I know this is the first time you’ve ever talked about your feelings about hearing loss.

She: Who else in my life would I talk to about it! I don’t even know anyone else who’s hard of hearing except our 98-year-old great grandmother – and she doesn’t want to talk about it either!

Me: I’m so sorry you don’t have someone to talk to. Because later on, that made the difference for me – connecting with other people on the same journey. I just know that, deep down, you’re feeling a bit lesser than.

She: Why wouldn’t I? It’s embarrassing! When I miss stuff. When I can’t hear what someone’s saying - especially a guy, in the dark. I get stuff wrong all the time. I talk over people and, apparently, I’m loud and I keep going huh-pardon-what? Sometimes, often, I just pretend I understand what’s going on.

Me: Oh, my darling girl, I understand all that. But bluffing never ends well. It takes so much energy to convince people that you’re understanding, even when you’re not – and why? Later, you have to figure out what actually happened, or miss out completely. Honestly, I let more than one nice guy get away because I bluffed my way out of the relationship. If I could give you advice, it’s this: be honest about your hearing loss. People won’t think less of you. Just the opposite, especially when you can tell them what you need, with confidence. That’s you, walking tall!

She: I hear ya, but you’re starting to fade away. But tell me, do we eventually marry a nice guy?

Me: Yes! A lovely man, the Hearing Husband.

She: Fab. Can he do other things besides hear?

Me: Ha, ha, yes. He’s supportive and easy to speechread. And we have a son!

She: Cool! Does the baby, uh, have hearing problems?

Me: The baby is 27 now and no, he doesn’t. Our hearing loss isn’t hereditary, so we couldn’t pass it on.

She: What did cause our hearing loss?

Me: We’ll never know.

She: I guess it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

Me: No, it doesn’t – but good communication does. Let your hearing aid out of the drawer and get on with life, girl. Be an inspiration for others.