Dear Lisnen. I have been living a big lie and holding a secret for the longest time. I never told anybody, and only my closest friends and family know. I have a hearing loss. I am pretty good at hiding it from everyone, and my long hair covers my hearing aids in my ears. So no one ever knows. But I am sick and tired of having to pretend all the time. I’m feeling withdrawn from life and alone, but I just don’t know how I could have the confidence to be my true self. NotReadytoComeOut
Dear NotReadytoComeOut. There’s a story that our society talks about when it is related to hearing loss. There’s a label associated with hearing aids that explains why you are writing to me feeling you can’t be yourself.
Hearing loss is not openly accepted in our society, and with its ability to be invisible, it adds a whole new dimension that makes it harder to destigmatize hearing loss. Our world has taught you that hearing loss means that we are either old, dumb, or unattractive. It is no wonder you feel the need to hide under these prevailing thoughts and beliefs running in our communities.
Hearing loss has been labeled as an old people problem, and although many people can lose their hearing at any point in their life, the label no longer makes sense. Yet people still believe it to be true. Sometimes, what we think is right, is not valid, and we need to collectively challenge ourselves and our beliefs.
Your ability to be free from the demon that wants to keep you close and safe from getting hurt is not working. The negative thoughts want you to believe the sense of shame you have for your hearing loss. They want to tell you that you shouldn’t draw attention to who you are and display your disability. They do that to protect you from what they think will upset you when you experience the demeaning, rude, and condescending behavior that people who display their hearing loss will experience. Realize that many people worldwide are proudly displaying their hearing aids in multiple colors and dazzle with jewelry and trust me, they are not being attacked and hurt daily. If someone has the decency to say mean and hurtful things and go through all that effort to say it to you, it tells me that it much of their issues than it is about yours. We are now all in a vicious cycle because of something that someone says or believed, and we are acting it out on ourselves and others, and others interpret our behavior and pass it along. It keeps going and going. It is your job to break that cycle.
I am sorry to say that the hearing care industry hasn’t been doing much to support it. Most hearing manufacturers and brands of the hearing care industry focus on older people. They promote hearing aids with the label old, and when that backfired, we started to see more marketing messages that feed into the stigma. Hearing loss has been stigmatized to the point that even hearing aids and assistive technologies are advertised to be as discreet as possible. I remember buying one assistive device, and the packaging could have been mistaken for a sex toy. Discreet. No one will know!
The notion of discreet and trying to keep hearing loss, not a thing to disclose, is what causes you to hide your hearing aid behind your hair and pretend. But is faking your hearing working for you? There is an exhaustion that comes with having to pretend all the time. You are continually having to be aware of your environment and stay on top of things. I am sure you’ve caught yourself in a lie, pretending to be going along with a conversation only to realize the person is giving you funny looks because you said something inappropriate. Chances are you will get caught, and the only interpretation someone is going to have of you is that you don’t care or just confused or not so smart.
The government is another group that usually plays into this story. Hearing loss has a label of disadvantage, and when the government is helping out, there’s usually a problem. Our hearing loss has been labeled the problem, and now we subconsciously think that there is something wrong with us because we have “the problem.” It is rarely seen that governments are funding or supporting rich people or programs or companies that are doing well.
A hearing aid is like the grey hair in our society. The marker that one has passed their prime time and no longer can achieve their youthfulness despite not feeling old. Earbuds do nothing to make the stigma less than it appears because we know the difference by looking at what a hearing aid and an earbud are. Hearing loss has been treated as a medical problem to highlight that something is physically wrong with us, even though hearing loss is just one inability to hear. That doesn’t make me less than. It is a constraint that we have, but there are far more other ways we can communicate.
By not accepting your hearing loss, this means you are not accepting who you are. You deserve to be you and not allow your hearing loss to become a deciding factor on how you can live your life. It is not easy to do, and I don’t expect you to wake up one day announcing to the world that you are deaf or hard of hearing. But what I think you should be doing first is learning to love and accept yourself as who you are. Knowing that even if you are young or old, those markers in life don’t mean a thing until you give it a meaning.
You are worried about what others think of you, and you are trying all of the things that you could be enjoying in life to something that someone may and not say. It is a false world that you are living in. You haven’t even turned the pages to the chapter to see what will happen. You’ve already made an assumption that what the story is. You could be missing out on something great. What you are really saying is that your feeling of isolation is more important than others knowing.
You don’t have to wait for things to go wrong before you take action to change your life. You can start today. Start with one person you know that you will never see again, and slowly build confidence in the people around you every day. Test your assumptions about how people view you and what you think they may react to. The truth is far better than what you know now.
If you have any questions to help navigate life with hearing loss, and you would like my advice and as a friend, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t forget to subscribe to read more Dear Lisnen articles.