By Virginia Parker, Hard of Hearing Assistant
It is possible to have a successful and happy life, even when faced with hearing loss. That is the message five panelists shared on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, during a panel discussion entitled: “Successful Living with Hearing Loss.” The panelists provided practical life and career advice for attendees.
Some of the panelists have lived with hearing loss since birth, while others have had to adapt to hearing loss later in life. The panelists’ careers vary from research scientists, to concert organizers, to legal assistants. Some are parents. Some are single. One has traveled the world alone. Some are leaders in the hearing loss community. Some depend on hearing aids or assistive hearing devices. Some have cochlear implants. Some know signing. Some rely heavily on lip/speech reading. The panelists all live in different parts of the country; but, besides hearing loss, there’s one other thing they all have in common: they are all happy, successful people! Hearing loss, even at the most severe levels, has not stopped any of them from living a fulfilling, exciting and enjoyable life.
Panel Question: Did you ever hide your hearing loss and what helped you come to terms with your hearing loss?
“I couldn't hide my hearing loss. Because my mom always had me in short hair my hearing aids were exposed. I did get teased quite a bit, plus I had glasses. I was called ‘four eyes’ and ‘Dumbo ears’. Kids are cruel. I dealt with it, but I do remember the time when I finally said, ‘You know what? I'm going to be the best person I can be. I am going to be the best friend I can to people and if they [can’t] accept me for who I am, and don’t want to be my friend, then that’s their problem. It wasn't going to be mine.’ So I think that was the ‘ah-ha’ moment for me.”
“I never had to hide my hearing loss because I grew up with it. I had to learn to advocate for myself in different environments. Whether it was school, work, or social gatherings, I would make sure to tell hearing people that I lip read and to make sure I see their faces clearly when communicating with me. I'm as open as I need to be about my hearing loss, because it is pretty obvious when you meet me that I have hearing loss, so I don't need to explain too much. I do have two cochlear implants, which helps me function and they help me hear a lot of environmental sounds around me.”
“I flunked the hearing screening in public school and the doctor said I was a really good lip reader. That was the last time my hearing loss was mentioned in my entire childhood. I was pretty much left on my own. That sounds cruel, but I kind of look at it as maybe a mixed blessing. I think the reason I did so well in my childhood was because I was such a good lip reader and I lost my hearing gradually, so I learned some hard-wired skills. I did not hide my hearing loss. Nobody paid attention. No teachers knew I couldn’t hear. Only my best friends knew. I coped and faked it a lot until my 40s. Then I realized I didn’t like the feeling of depending on others to hear for me. I started to not deal with it well. I needed to tell people I couldn’t hear and I didn’t know how. I realized I’m going to have to learn how to do this well and started experimenting.”
“I was in my late 30s when I was diagnosed and it was mild at that point in time. I got used to it, never thought it was a big difference, but there have been times as the loss progressed that I didn't really want to reveal it right away to everybody I met. Because it wasn't really how I defined myself, I would wait until they got to know me a little bit before I brought it up. There have been periods though, where due to drops, I went into a little bit of staying away and isolating myself as I adjusted to the drops.”
“I coped with a lot growing up. At times I was stuck between a hard place and a rock. I had huge hearing aids and my parents gave me the worst hair cuts! I learned lip reading early. In high school, I learned to cope better in terms of using an outlet. I participated in a lot of musicals. I had to learn how to sing with my hearing loss, which is different from how someone with hearing goes about musicals and dancing. I was very driven because there was a real lack of people being outspoken and addressing change. I don’t want future generations to have to adapt and put themselves out there and be bullied. I try to be outspoken and be okay with bringing it up in every conversation.”
Panel Question: Can you share a time when you had an extreme difficulty with hearing loss?
“I don't really consider much of anything a failure any more. I got to the point where I worked out good ways to manage. I’ve had all of those embarrassing moments, that mortification, when you feel your face flush red when you say the wrong thing. Nothing much phases me anymore and that makes me feel really good about who I am. I can handle most anything, not let it embarrass me and take charge of it.”
“I'm grateful to have the experience of failure. It led me to a much better career path than if I stayed where I was. So it was all about having a really good positive outlook and trying to be positive and learn from your mistakes and learn from your failures.”
“With the failures we go through, no matter what it is, it is how you react to it, We’ve learned how to bounce back. We've learned how to become stronger.”
“In 2013, I was very depressed about not being able to hear well in restaurants and in social settings. I was able to learn a lot about technology. I had been using stuff already, but I was kind of embarrassed to throw it out on the table in a restaurant. I researched a lot of technology and was able to find a way to improve hearing in a restaurant for me. It just made a big difference. I find ways to get through hard things.”
“I felt like a failure, because I thought I can't do these things. Now, when I go to government entities or concerts, I don't care. I think you have to realize that at the end of the day you need to come to a place of understanding; and, if the other person doesn't, then you should not have them in your life to begin with.”
Panel Question: What can a person do to be successful living with hearing loss?
“I think there's a lot of value in knowing how to be comfortable with who you are with the hearing loss, even without all the technology and without sign language, and to develop communication skills without assistance. When hearing aids didn't work for me, I was sent on my way. I was lost. I had to figure it out. I think there's a lot of value in that and sometimes I don't think people take the time to really get to know themselves with the hearing loss. For me, I had to in order to be able to function. Learn how to be really comfortable with yourself, even when your technology fails. There's value in that. My hearing loss doesn't keep me from doing anything I want to do. Becoming comfortable with yourself and not placing limits on yourself is critical.”
“We need to be self-sufficient and we need to be able to depend on ourselves, not necessarily depending on other people who can hear better than us, because that's not really fair to us, to always rely on someone else. I think it takes someone with a lot of stubbornness, determination, and a good sense of humor to be successful with hearing loss. We need to be able to laugh at mistakes, be able to laugh at the captioning when you see some really strange words in there. And just overall having a positive attitude in general. It is very helpful, even more so, when dealing with communication issues and obstacles. I deal with communication problems a lot better when I can make a joke out of it, rather than being all serious and mad. That doesn't work, so just laugh about it.”
“Everyone has challenges in their different environments, but it's what you do with those challenges that makes you successful. And whatever challenge comes in my life, I find a way around it. Because I'm not going to let something beat me down. That's what is important.”
“I think it is equally about having people around you who support you and who want to lift you up to where you want to be in life. Just because you want to be self-sufficient it is also totally good to seek support from someone who doesn't have a hearing loss, who will have your back as much as you have theirs.”
The panelists were well-spoken and their comments were inspirational. Here are some “Be” skills the panelists' shared for successful living with hearing loss:
- BE PATIENT – with yourself and others
- BE DETERMINED – don’t give up, find a way around a problem, adapt to change
- BE INVOLVED – with the Hard of Hearing Community. Take an active part regularly, meet new people, make new friends
- BE TECH SAVVY – learn about the myriad of advanced technologies designed and developed to assist those of us with hearing loss
- BE PROACTIVE – “Do something that scares you every day.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
- BE INDEPENDENT – don’t rely on an audiologist or others
- BE AN ADVOCATE – for yourself and others. Stand up for yourself, be vocal about hard of hearing needs
- BE KIND – to yourself and others. Treat other people as you would like to be treated
- BE SELF-AWARE – get to know who you are, don’t let hearing loss define you
- BE STRONG AND CALM – breathe in peace, breathe out fear
For more information about Utah's Hard of Hearing Services, visit: https://jobs.utah.gov/usor/dhh/programs/hoh.html.