I am 44 years old and have lived with hearing loss since I was ten. At that time my mother was having real difficulty as she has hereditary sensorineural hearing loss which as far as I can recall she had been born with.I knew that I had inherited this too, but was able to live with it throughout my university years and still finished my degree with good marks. I began to work in the Mental Health field when I was 18, and it wasn’t until I had my second child that my hearing began to deteriorate noticeably and this affected my family life and job. At the time my sons were diagnosed with Sensorineural Loss when they were in elementary school. My energies were focused on getting help for them. I thought at the time that help for me was out of reach as I knew the staggering cost of hearing aids and I was going through a divorce at the time and had limited income.
I was going through all the stages of grief at the time associated with a major loss, such as that of the sense of hearing, and just couldn’t believe there was no cure! I was back and forth to doctors imploring them to stop the ringing in my ears. I would say that I was finally able to accept the Tinnitus after several years when a very excellent and compassionate doctor took the time to explain to me exactly why it happened.
Throughout this difficult time I had people yelling at me for not hearing, dismissing polite requests that they repeat themselves I think because they were frustrated and it became too much of an effort. The phrase “Forget it!” I grew to abhor as it made me feel insignificant and not worth the effort to communicate with. Please note that my perspective now from the significant others comes from the way that I felt when my mother could not hear me. It was very much a case of the shoe being on the other foot and not a good feeling. I think I learnt to stop saying “pardon me” as I was afraid I would be dismissed.
Through my job I am fortunate to have learnt of the many services available to help people. The School Division and Hard of Hearing Consultant helped me obtain a trial of hearing aids for my eldest son. I was able to secure funding through Purple Elks for a sound field system for my youngest child a daughter also diagnosed with Sensorineural Hearing Loss when she was very young. I began to work with the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities and through their Vocational Rehabilitation Program they helped my eldest son in obtaining his degree. He is a 4th year Chemistry Major now and has a job working with people.
Hearing Loss in an invisible disability with many stigmas and myths, primary of which is that one has lost their intelligence along with their hearing. That is one of the hardest things to live with coupled with other peoples’ anger and frustration. One can be told to get hearing aids, but can almost be guaranteed the one who makes that request has no idea of the cost involved, or the fact that the aids will not cure the loss. Many are unaware of how hard it is to adjust to wearing hearing aids either. I think that any one that has hearing impairment, can fully identify with the experience of feedback while trying to talk on the phone or how startling it is to suddenly have all that sound.
Don’t get me wrong as hearing aids are wonderful and I could not be without mine now. I am currently a Domestic Violence Counselor and effective communication is imperative for me.
In conclusion, there is a huge difference between living with hearing loss and struggling with hearing loss. I am an Instructor now for the “Living with Hearing Loss” course held in Brandon. I have learnt the power of non verbal communication and feel a great deal of happiness at helping others learn that they do not have to live in isolation or loneliness. What I once viewed as, a huge loss, I now embrace as great gift.
Heather M. Sharpe