Back to Basics

I sometimes forget how surprised and dismayed people are by the loss of their hearing, how much of a hidden disability it remains. I was reminded of this when I attended a virtual meeting this week of the New York City Chapter of The Hearing Loss Association of America. The speaker was Michael A. Harvey, a clinical psychologist whose books include Listen with the Heart: Relationships and Hearing Loss and The Odyssey of Hearing Loss: Tales of Triumph. Dr. Harvey’s talk clearly resonated with a lot of people, and during the question and answer session I saw how many in the audience were struggling as I had back in 2009, when my hearing loss derailed me.

My first blog post was published on February 11, 2013, on the Psychology Today website. I called the blog What I Hear, and it was intended both for people who had hearing loss and for those who didn’t. I didn’t realize how great the need for information was until I published my book “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I – and 50 Million Other Americans – Can’t Hear You.”

This was one of my very first readings, and possibly the first time I ever saw CART captioning.

The response from the hearing community was gratifying. There was a lot of curiosity about the hearing-loss experience. I did many interviews and the book got good mainstream-media reviews.  The response from the hearing-loss community was also gratifying but in a profoundly different way. People reacted to my book emotionally. My experience was theirs. We shared the confusion, anger, distress and depression of learning to live with hearing loss.

When I was writing Shouting Won’t Help, I interviewed dozens of people across the country with hearing loss, I talked to doctors and researchers about the causes and treatments for hearing loss, and to psychologists and psychiatrists about the emotional effects of hearing loss. Their stories — and their wisdom — complemented my own story.

The two most important things I learned were 1) Most people with hearing loss feel isolated and alone. And 2) Most people who know people with hearing loss have no idea what they are going through.

In recent years, I’ve lost sight of that basic response to hearing loss and I realize I need to go back to some of those essential issues, to help others with hearing loss understand that their experiences are normal and shared by many. And to offer suggestions for living with hearing loss — practical suggestions from how to explain your hearing loss to someone, to the many apps and devices that help minimize the affect of hearing loss, to asking for and getting accommodations in public places.

Hearing loss affects 50 million Americans of all ages. It’s not just for the old. Sixty percent of men with hearing loss first lost their hearing between the ages of 19 and 44, according to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the NIDCD. For women the peak age of onset is between 40 and 59.  Even teenagers are affected at an alarming rate. One in five teenagers has some degree of hearing loss.

I began to lose my hearing at age 30, from unknown causes. Today I have a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other. I went through difficult times, and in fact my day still involves overcoming one hearing obstacle after another. But I’m no longer devastated by my loss, and most of the time I’m no longer angry. I live with hearing loss every minute of every day. But I’m no longer “hearing impaired.” It no longer defines me. Now I’m a person with hearing loss. A person first, who happens to have hearing loss.

I welcome comments and suggestions for topics readers would like to see addressed.

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For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.