Learning To Understand and Accept Your Hearing Loss
Hearing loss impacts a person on several levels: physical, emotional, social, and vocational to name but a few. If you are a person with hearing loss and you pick up any article advising how to live your best life possible, you will always read about how important it is to understand your hearing loss. What does that really mean and how do you acquire such an understanding? I hope to be able to share some tools and resources with you, based on my own journey as a person with hearing loss.
Your first encounter with understanding your hearing loss may happen when you go to a hearing healthcare professional and have your hearing tested. There will have been signs and symptoms you may have noticed, or perhaps others may have noticed, that send you to get your hearing checked. You are told you have hearing loss.
You may or may not be given a copy of the audiogram that documents your hearing loss graphically. You may or may not have it explained to you. If not, ask for a paper or digital copy of your audiogram, ask for more information on what information the audiogram contains and how to read it. What you are trying to gain is an understanding of which listening situations are likely to be most challenging for you and what you can do to make them more accessible.
We think of hearing loss as a physical process and, to be sure, it certainly is. But it is also an emotional process, as well, because our need to communicate with our fellow human beings is hardwired into who we are. I never thought of it that way…I just thought I was “hard of hearing” (an understatement, but more about that later).
Most of us are aware of the ground-breaking work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote “On Death and Dying”. She describes that when human beings suffer a loss or anticipate suffering a loss, they go through a series of emotions. Some people move through all these emotions to finally arrive at Acceptance and some people become “stuck” in one or more of the preceding emotions.
With the help of skilled professionals, I came to understand that this applied to me and the realization was a game-changer. I began to understand how angry and sad I was at losing my ability to communicate effectively with other human beings. I was able to see how my unresolved anger and sadness was causing me to interact with the world in a way that was taking me to places I did not want to go and that only I could do something about that. Once I accepted my role in what was happening to me as a result of losing my hearing, I was free to make different choices. That was when my world began to change.
So what did I do with this newly-found knowledge and emotional intelligence? I went back to my hearing healthcare professional, who was a licensed clinical audiologist. I shared with her my desire to approach things differently. I asked her to compose a letter such as one she would write to someone about me, but to send the letter to me. I asked her to describe my hearing loss, my strengths, the challenges hearing loss was causing me in terms of job-related functional capacities, and her assessment of what an ideal working environment and job description would look like.
This became my objective, reality-based roadmap I used to inform future career decisions. As I said, this roadmap was a game-changer for me.
As an aside, I could have accessed the same thing from a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor, but I did not know that at the time.
A rehabilitation or disability employment counselor is trained to perform such assessments, if you have access to one. A highly skilled human resources professional who is strong in disability awareness can also be helpful. Many Hearing Loss Association of America local chapters have certified Peer Mentors who can also help.
Unrecognized and untreated hearing loss can isolate a person. The effort required to communicate can sometimes be overwhelming. I certainly fell into this category. I stopped going out to movies and plays. I avoided gatherings with background noise. I stopped using the telephone. Instead of reaching out and accepting the help I needed, I instead chose to shrink my world.
This is where a comprehensive approach can be worth its weight in gold. Hearing aids have come a long way. You do yourself no favors by refusing to purchase and wear hearing aids if they have been prescribed for you by a reputable and licensed hearing health professional. The same holds true for cochlear implants, if your hearing loss has progressed beyond the range for which hearing aids are normally prescribed. But hearing aids and cochlear implants are not the entire story.
You can also learn communication strategies that are more appropriate for persons with hearing loss. Auditory rehabilitation programs can train your brain to make better use of whatever residual hearing ability you have left. There are assistive listening devices and speech-to-text technologies that work with your hearing aids and cochlear implants to make the spoken word accessible.
It is vitally important that you restore your social connections. I found it extremely helpful to get plugged in to the deaf and hard of hearing community. After all, they understand totally what I was going through. Many of the people I met were where I wanted to be in terms of adapting to their hearing loss and living well with it.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect group right off the bat…concentrate on finding a group, period. Go to a few meetings. Ask for a peer mentor or newcomer’s buddy, if they have one. Get involved by going to a few of the activities. Give it at least a couple of months and see where you are at. Try another group if the first one does not feel comfortable. Go online and join a hearing loss group you find through a Google search, observing all the usual precautions you observe when going online, of course.
I mentioned the letter I asked my audiologist to write. Having been around the block more than a few times vocationally, I was able to take the information in the letter and restructure my job search accordingly. But, if you feel like you would like more help, search out a Vocational Rehabilitation office or One-Stop Career Center and go there with your hearing evaluation. Ask them to help you understand your hearing loss and to help you explore how job-modification or job change might be beneficial. Ask also to come away with a plan for implementing any recommendations decided upon. I believe that knowledge is not very useful without implementation.
Affiliating with a local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America and going to the meetings can expose you to speakers and members with employment expertise. A deaf services center can also help you connect with workforce development professionals who understand the workplace communication needs of persons who have hearing loss. You may be fortunate enough to work for an employer with an understanding human resources department or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). All it takes is one good resource and you are on your way!
We have covered a lot of ground. I hope I have made it possible for you to identify at least three or four resources you did not know about. I will not tell you the road ahead is easy, but I promise you it can be rewarding. I was headed on a long road to nowhere fighting and denying my hearing loss, until I decided to embrace it instead. I know I will always look back on that one decision as a key turning point in my life.
I have been mentored and befriended by some of the wisest and most inspiring people I could ever have known existed and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to each and every one of them. The knowledge, empathy, and guidance I gained from them, coupled with my own drive to implement, opened doors for me I never imagined possible back when I was on the outside looking in.
My hope and my prayer is that you will find resources, connections, and knowledge that will do the same thing for you. I send you my best wishes! For information about HLAA chapters, assistive services and technology that can open your world of communication, please email me at Valerie@acscaptions.com