This is not a topic I have ever written about before, but for a few years now, I have known that my hearing isn’t quite what it should be.
About five years ago, my ENT in Germany did a hearing test on me. The test showed some hearing loss, especially in higher frequencies, on both ears. For a couple of weeks I received steroid infusions (I believe) to see if that would help, but the hearing test afterwards showed no change which meant the loss was permanent, and not just due to poor blood circulation, for example. My ENT said that there wasn’t really anything they needed to do and that unless I was going to work, e.g. as a teacher, things could just stay as they were (i.e. I didn’t need hearing aids).
There were quite a few ways I noticed that my hearing wasn’t that good: I struggled to hear my alarm clock when lying on my right side (as my right ear was slightly better), and in general, I sometimes struggled to follow conversations when there was a lot of background noise, or when the people I was speaking to were further away. I also think that there are a lot of quiet ambient sounds I did not really register anymore (birds, insects, etc.). But it wasn’t a huge problem.
A little over three years ago, I began working my first office job after uni, and as my colleagues were sitting a little further away from me (not that far, but further than you would be in a cubicle office environment), I often had problems understanding what they were saying. After a little while, I felt that I should explain to them that my hearing wasn’t as good as it should be, because I did not want them to get the impression that I wasn’t listening or paying attention to them. I really just wanted the three colleagues to know who were sitting in the same office, but unfortunately news spread quickly. And you guys, I absolutely hated it. I am sure people had good intentions, and were trying to be sensitive (for the most part) but I absolutely hated whenever it was brought up by colleagues or my team lead.
All I wanted was for them to know I was not ignoring them, and I found myself getting unsolicited “advice” and was generally feeling extremely uncomfortable whenever it was mentioned (way too often!), because I felt that people were making too big a deal about it, they were making me feel like I was disabled, they were making me feel even more self-conscious about it than I was feeling already. I wasn’t deaf, but with the way they were acting I might as well have been. My hearing wasn’t 100% but in most situations I was doing fine. Yeah, there were probably things I missed, I couldn’t listen/butt in to other people’s conversations that easily and sometimes I had to ask somebody to repeat something or actually walk over to their desk to have a conversation instead of talking across our desks. But again, it wasn’t a huge problem.
Luckily, after a few months, things quieted down, I guess people lost interest and maybe they realised that it wasn’t as big a deal as they had made it out to be. But for the first few months in my job, this had made me absolutely miserable and I told myself I would not bring it up again at a new job. I did not want to be made to feel that way again.
When N. and I started dating, I told him very early on that my hearing was not perfect, and thankfully he has never made a big deal of it. He does get frustrated sometimes, when I just do not understand something he’s saying, especially when he has to repeat himself several times (although I think that may not be entirely down to my hearing problems) but he has always been understanding and supportive and has never made me feel weird (for lack of a better word) because of it.
Over the past year or two, I have noticed that my hearing problems had gotten worse. I think since I moved here, they have probably been amplified by my struggling with the different British accents as well as generally trying to make out what people are saying. Or rather: it has become harder for me to compensate for my hearing loss because I cannot just “guess” what somebody is saying, like I probably could in German.
At the same time, I think that at work, the various European accents of my co-workers have sort of masked my hearing problems a little because people assume their accent is the reason I don’t understand them. (Quite often it is actually, it can be difficult to understand my co-worker’s strong Spanish or French accents.)
I also noticed that I really struggle when in a noisy environment with a group of people, e.g. at a restaurant. In December, a friend of mine celebrated her birthday at a restaurant, and it was basically impossible to talk to anyone but the persons to my left and right, even talking to my friend across the table was very difficult. N. (who was one of the persons sitting next to me) later commented that he also found it hard to follow any of the conversations there, and his hearing is normal, which made me feel a little better about it, but my hearing was definitely a contributing factor.
Another situation I have huge problems in is when I am in the car with N. and his mum. Often it is me sitting in the back and it is basically impossible for me to hear what they are saying over the traffic noise if they are facing forward. N. will have to really speak up and look back to face me for me to be able to understand him.
More things I have noticed:
– Often N. will point out a noise to me (for example, something outside) and I cannot hear it.
– My problems with hearing my alarm clock have gotten worse, sometimes I don’t hear it no matter which side I lie on, although sometimes I do. I do always hear my iPhone alarm so it’s not a big problem, but I guess I will have to stay away from those alarm clocks that make a high frequency beeping sound.
– Our fridge has an alarm when you leave the door open for too long – I cannot hear it at all.
– I also have a hard time hearing where sound is coming from, i.e. if someone is calling my name, I do not always turn into the right direction and often it takes them calling my name again before I even register that they are trying to get my attention.
– There is an old-fashioned cinema in Edinburgh we like to go to, which has a more old-fashioned sound system than owe big multiplexes, and the last time we went, I really had a hard time understanding what people were saying in the film. In fact there was a lot I simply didn’t understand.
– Another one of the ways I have noticed my hearing has got worse is watching TV. I have to have the volume turned up higher and when I watch TV shows on my laptop or iPad, I really struggle to understand everything (here earphones help if I am watching something alone).
The impact that my hearing loss has had on my life has definitely increased. When I don’t understand something, I usually ask the person to repeat themselves and usually I understand them then. But there have been situations in which I just could not understand what somebody had said, and often I would just give up, too embarrassed to ask again. It makes me feel quite self-conscious and insecure when I don’t understand somebody or something as well as I should. When I have to ask somebody to repeat themselves. Repeatedly. Or when I am in a big group and everyone but me understood. Often I would just smile and nod along. Frequently, I would feel a little left out of a conversation, simply because I was not able to participate like the rest of the people. Obviously, this is not a good strategy in the long run, purely from a practical point of view, it could cause me to miss out on important information, for example at work.
All this made me think that maybe I needed to do something about it, as is had been weighing on me quite heavily. I was thinking of seeing one of those places that offer free hearing tests and speaking to a professional about it, when the referral for my BPPV came and it mentioned that they were going to do a hearing test (as some balance problems and hearing loss can be related).
(To be continued.)
Below you can find an infographic with some more information on hearing loss. As you can see, I am affected by most of the symptoms.
Infographic by Amplifon