Getting your first hearing aid is quite a big deal. I was 30 and embarrassed about my hearing loss. The first pair I received ended up in a drawer and I returned them to the hospital during a declutter two years later. I was not ready to hear some of the new (painful) sounds in my everyday life. And I was not ready to wear hearing aids. I mean, how sexy is that?
A few years later, I learned from my audiologist that they were the wrong type for my hearing loss. Looking back, I know I also lacked emotional support. Somebody who understood and could resonate with my struggles, feelings and journey.
I had been missing this support since I had first discovered my hearing loss at the age of 15. The initial diagnosis with no explanation concluded:
“There’s nothing we can do. Go away and get on with it.”
These words defined my life. The next decade was spent studying languages, travelling the world, and teaching English abroad. And proving to the world that I decide what I can do. Not my ears.
I clocked up a list of things I couldn’t do and developed my own set of subconscious self-managed strategies – and embarrassing situations to go with it.
The molehill became a mountain
My first office job in the late ‘90s in London found me going to work in an attic, working for a family-owned small business with no HR department, sharing my space with five colleagues, ringing telephones, fax machines, printers, and more. I had admitted at the interview that I would struggle with typing up interview summaries from the dictaphones. And suddenly I “made too many mistakes” when putting international calls through to our consultants.
I was banned from telephone work and demoted to shredding paper.
As my embarrassment increased, so did my fear. Suddenly my hearing loss became a huge thing in my life.
I had my first consultation with an audiologist on Harley Street while working in London. He thought a hearing aid might help me, but said he was not sure. The deciding factor, however, was about finances. I didn’t want to spend my childhood savings on a hearing aid. And I was not ready to hear more noise in an already noisy city.
My guardian angel in disguise
It wasn’t until I got my first hearing aid in Denmark in 2008 in the private sector that I found the support I needed. My audiologist made me feel human, normal, and understood. She explained why I struggled and understood why I couldn’t do some things. She showed empathy. She had my back. I didn’t hesitate to follow her when she set up her own clinic.
This was my first experience with a person-centered hearing care professional, something I had not thought about in the past. Encounters with doctors who tested my hearing always left me feeling sad and not good enough. I felt I had to explain my hearing loss or what I was able to accomplish in my life. And got ready to roll up my sleeves when their negative diagnosis was less than encouraging. I never felt they saw the whole person I am.
My cochlear implant (CI) changed my life for the better
I still remember the fear and daunting feeling of the year-long waiting process leading up to my CI. I reached out to the global CI community on Facebook and was met with nothing but encouragement and support from other global users – mainly in the US and Canada. Although we all have a different starting point, there were plenty of positive stories and cheerleaders. And no pressure to make a decision. In fact, I don’t remember feeling any pressure from the Danish healthcare system either. Only support and an informed testing process. Looking back, I cannot even put my finger on what exactly I was afraid of. My heart knew this was the next step, yet my head took a bit longer to catch up. Perhaps because there are no guarantees.
I’m still learning about hearing loss. There’s almost too much information out there. I’ve developed many strategies, but subconsciously I cannot totally shake the words “go away and get on with it.” Sometimes it’s overwhelming. I don’t want my identity to be about my hearing loss. I don’t want to wear that label. So I allow myself to bite off what I can chew. Slowly. And relax. Living with hearing loss is a never-ending learning journey.
Karin Weiser is British by birth, global by choice. Karin has a professional background in communications and learning and development. She has lived and worked in nine countries across four continents and speaks four languages. Karin lives with hearing loss and got her first CI in 2017. Karin works as an International Business Coach and (copy)writer. She offers coaching to support other hearing-impaired individuals (globally) who need to build self-coping strategies. Learn more at www.karinweiser.com.