by Melissa Vaughan, Kentville, NS
To live with a unilateral hearing loss is one thing, but to live with a unilateral hearing loss with no amplification is another. First off, what is unilateral hearing loss? Unilateral hearing loss as described on the website hear it is “when you have reduced or no hearing in one ear. If the hearing loss is very severe or profound, it is also called single-sided deafness (SSD).” Now what is amplification? Amplification in regard to hearing loss are types of technology such as a hearing aid, cochlear impact, and bone anchored hearing aid that increases the volume of sound. Without amplification I find myself relying more on my good ear which can cause me to feel more tired in certain situations. At the end of a long day of listening I often want and need some time to myself, which says a lot as I am an extravert. Hearing loss, in general, can cause us all difficulties and insecurities, but with time, practice, and understanding we can overcome them.
The fact that people have no visible cues of the difficulties, I and other hard of hearing people have can be one of the hardest parts of being deaf or hard of hearing. As hearing aids, cochlear implants, and bone anchored hearing aids can often be covered by hair, other people are not able identify the different ways that they can communicating with you. This is why I think no matter what we should all be kind to each other as you never know the difficulties people are having. Throughout my life teachers and people around me have thought that I have “normal” hearing because I do not have any amplification devices. When I was younger, I did have a hearing aid, but decided I did not want to wear it as I did not want to be bullied for being different, a great reason I thought then, but no one ever did bully me because of my hearing. In classes, I have used an FM system, but otherwise, no one has ever noticed that I have difficulties hearing. Even in many friendships I for the longest time would not tell them about my hearing loss until it somehow got brought up. For example, one of my friends did not know about my hearing loss until I told the entire class. She then realized why I would try to get to the right side of her when we were walking or turn my good ear towards her. Once people know about someone’s hearing loss, it is often something that people have to consistently remember and since it is invisible it is easy to forget the ways that you can help that person hear better. Some ways that people can help hard of hearing and deaf people are to repeat themselves if asked and to not say “never mind” as that action is very isolating, making sure you have the persons attention before starting a conversation, reducing background noise, and not turning away when speaking.
It took a long time to fully accept my hearing loss, however, once I did, I found I was finally truly myself. I was hiding such a big part of my life that makes me unique and makes me who I am. I think it took me so long to accept my hearing loss as I was not only scared of being different due to my bright beautiful red hearing aid and resisted wearing it, but I did not always see myself as someone with a hearing loss and ignored it. I, therefore, then had to adapt to challenges I faced and come up with ways to help me in different situations. I do often regret not wearing my hearing aid, but I am who I am today without it. Someone who played a big role in helping me understand and accept my hearing loss, was my itinerant teacher in high school. Recently I was told about how she had early challenges with me not wanting to wear my hearing aid when I was younger and did not give up, which I am very grateful for. Without her helping me understand my hearing loss and to advocate for myself, I do not think I would be as open as I am today. For those who have hearing loss, do not let your hearing loss limit yourself. Dream big and pursue those dreams.
Imagine groups of people talking and music playing, this is one scenario that may seem normal to those with normal hearing, but for those who are hard of hearing and deaf the background noise can make it difficult to hear the people around them. The more background noise there is and the louder it is, the more difficult it can be to hear. As someone without amplification to assist me in hearing better I find it very hard to hear friends, family, and colleagues in loud environments. I normally will try to turn my good ear towards the person speaking, but in many environments’ this still does not help. Therefore, I feel left out and zone out as I am not able to be a part of the conversation. As someone who loves meeting new people and making connections, I find myself worrying more than I should about where people will want to meet, as if it is at a restaurant that has more of a noisy environment, I will not be able to hear very well. Therefore, limiting the conversation I can have. Although I LOVE to be around people, it can often come at a cost of feeling fatigued after half hearing what is being said, piecing the conversation together, and processing what I heard. This fatigue is called listening fatigue, As is explained by the Fullerton Hearing Centre (2017) “Listening fatigue is exactly what it sounds like; it happens after a lengthy time frame of listening to any noise.” Listening fatigue can come from listening to music or watching television for long periods of time or listening to your colleagues talk throughout the workday. There are various different ways to help when you are feeling fatigued after listening for long periods such as taking a break/taking out your hearing devices, practice deep breathing, eliminate background noise, or take a nap.
I find I can feel isolated in many different situations and aspects. In many social situations I feel isolated as I cannot hear enough to be a part of the conversation and often after trying, zone out. Another instance where I have found myself feeling isolated is whenever I meet or am at a social gathering with other hard of hearing and deaf people. For instance, when other hard of hearing and deaf people introduce themselves and say “Hi I’m ____ and I wear/use _____, I do not have assistive technology to mention. Therefore, I feel left out on the experience of hearing more normally and of having assistive technology that can help in many different situations. I was the only one at the CHHA Youth Forum without technology and it did not bother me much then, but I found myself not hearing what other participants were saying at times. Although I do not have assistive technology, I struggle with being a part of everyday conversations, especially when the people around me do not know I have a hearing loss as I sometimes miss out on what they are saying if my deaf ear is towards them. I do struggle, but I have developed strategies to use when I am finding things challenging.
Growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia, I was one of two children in my elementary and middle school who was hard of hearing. The lack of community was a challenge growing up as I did not have many other people to confide in or talk about hearing loss with. I did not realize how important and how special having friends with hearing loss is until I attended the Canadian Hard of Hearing Youth Forum in 2018. Before I arrived, I did not expect to make the connections that I did. The Youth Forum was truly a life changing experience as I was able to meet other hard of hearing and deaf people, learn new strategies to cope with the challenges of hearing loss, and explore more of a city I have come to love. I met a group of lifelong friends who I still keep in touch with to this day and I also created a new friendship with someone gladly also from Nova Scotia who is now one of my best friends, who is always there for me, and who I can share my challenges with, and she truly understands. A friendship like this is one I wish for every hard of hearing and deaf person sometime in their life as it is so special to have someone you connect with on various levels.