Or not, which is more often the case. I didn’t talk about it for the first 30 years I had it, except as a joke, a distraction from the fact that I actually couldn’t hear what someone said to me. That’s okay. We all need to talk less about our various ailments and more about literature and politics and art and the Higgs boson.
But that doesn’t mean we should deny it, to ourselves or to others. Because if we do, that means we aren’t going to hear — or participate in — that conversation about the Higgs boson. (The Higgs is on my mind because I just saw “Particle Fever,” which I can safely say is probably the most fun and interesting and thought-provoking movie you’ll ever see about particle physics).
We also shouldn’t deny it, as a society, because if we do we’re going to end up — in the not so distant future — overwhelmed by a disproportionately large segment of our population who can’t hear, who can’t or won’t correct it, and who therefore can no longer be productive members of society.
So that’s the subject of this blog. Or the main subject anyway. If we talk about hearing loss, if we acknowledge it both personally and as a society, we normalize it. And it IS normal. Twenty percent of our population, from teenagers to nonagenarians has hearing loss. Teenagers themselves have hearing loss in astonishingly high numbers — 19% of them. Most of them don’t realize it, or don’t care, but by ignoring it they’re setting themselves up for hearing problems they won’t be able to ignore — at a much younger age than that should be happening.
My hearing loss is not normal. It began when I was 30. Nobody could figure out why I went from hearing perfectly one day to being practically deaf in one ear the next. They still couldn’t figure it out as I progressively lost almost all the hearing in the other ear as well. But what was normal was how I reacted to it: with jokes, with denial, with a refusal to get hearing aids. And then when it got really bad, when I couldn’t do my job or understand what anyone said to me most of the time, I also got seriously depressed. That’s normal too. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It was only when I began to speak honestly about my hearing loss that I was able to overcome that depression, to find my life again.
I was good at denial. I fooled a lot of people for a lot of years. Most of them didn’t know know I had hearing loss. But (as I learned when I started being more open about it) they did think something was off. Was I going senile? Was I drunk? Burned out? Bored? How could any of these impressions be preferable to acknowledging a physical disability? A disability that can be treated, that should not be incompatible with a healthy productive life.
Once I acknowledged the severity of my hearing loss – to myself and to others – I began to learn to live with it. And the more open I was about it, the better I seemed to hear. The better I DID hear. In this blog I want to share some what I’ve learned about living well with hearing loss.
For other information about me, go to katherinebouton.com. That site includes archives of the blog posts I’ve written over the past 18 months, as well as reviews of my book, “Shouting Won’t Help,” information about public appearances, and references to other sites and sources about hearing loss.