There’s a secret club and membership that comes with hearing loss. If you don’t come from a family gene with hereditary hearing loss or grew up within the deaf community, you’ll know when you arrive in this private club. It makes sense to people surrounded by hearing individuals all their lives. These hearing people could be the family who cared for us, our friends or colleagues around us.
What’s so interesting about our hearing loss is that you could be in another country, and the similarities that we experience are all too familiar. The lack of or limited hearing abilities creates an exciting and unique worldview. So many day-to-day experiences will appear so normal to you that you’ll know exactly what I am talking about here.
As humans, we want to be self-sufficient and cover our basic human needs, but beyond that, we want to enjoy our lives and have a sense of purpose. Employment enables us to live the life that we want.
Doubt is our enemy when finding and choosing a career. We doubt if we can do the job, especially if we are expected to have many responsibilities to communicate with others. We might doubt ourselves by choosing careers that avoid things we know to put ourselves or others in danger. We may never apply for jobs where we are afraid of making too many mistakes. When you have hearing loss, doubt is often the primary motivator in your decisions.
We might believe that specific careers are beyond of limits because of our hearing loss and not even think about pursuing them. Role models play a huge part in what one sees and helps us know what is possible. Without the examples of others leading before us, it is hard for the conscious mind to conceptualize what could be. As a result, we may not be building the capacity to learn new ways to work in any jobs we want to pursue. Instead, we avoid them.
Maybe we desired to be a pilot or a doctor. Some of us are thinking about how flying a plane wouldn’t be possible without communicating with the air traffic controller. We may doubt our ability to be top surgeons because, in every TV scene involving an operation, the medical doctors and nurses are wearing masks. They communicate in commands to work as a team, and listening is vital during high-risk surgery. But surely, someone with hearing loss is making it in careers we thought were impossible.
It is left for us to decide how we do the job without any plan or roadmap from others to guide us. Audiologists and other support groups do not understand the tools and systems in place for specific niche careers, and you may feel like you’re taking on the biggest challenge in the world to find a new way to do the job if you choose to go through it. Indeed, we settle for careers that don’t allow us to capitalize on our full potential.
Most of us are surrounded by hearing families and friends. However, very few of us are the majority in our social circles. Often this is not easy. We must find ways to blend into the conversations that the majority prefers. Moreover, everything associated with entertainment is often associated with tons of background noises. These environments are challenging for us to be the social beings we are biologically designed to be.
Most of our friends may not be into quiet activities like knitting or painting. Still, when we go out to the movies, restaurants, amusement parks, community events, trade shows, and baseball games, we are constantly surrounded by background noises. Unfortunately, these environments do not make it easy to have deep conversations or even hear.
The idea of having to catch every word that comes out of your company’s mouth is exhausting and tiring. And listening fatigue is real, and any person with hearing loss can tell you the moment they come home, they take off their hearing device like they’re taking off an uncomfortable bra or undergarments. So it is freeing to let loose and have a hearing break.
Sometimes it is much easier to tune out and relax at home. Habits like these can lead to isolation. However, not engaging and interacting with others regularly comes at a considerable cost for you and your future life. It becomes harder to engage because the pain of connecting with others is greater than the pain of being alone. At least in the beginning, but over time you realize that there are moments in your life where you wish you’d invested in your relationships with others. It’s more complex as you get older and with the balance of life’s responsibilities. Trust me. I know this all too well.
Ableism is real. We all experienced it one way or another. If you were ever a foreigner in another country where the primary language isn’t your first language, you would be able to relate. Has anyone felt the need to speak on your behalf because they didn’t think you were competent enough to jump in and respond yourself? How about excluding you from a conversation because it’s too much work for them to repeat? What about correcting your speech and turning your discussion into a speech therapy session you didn’t sign up for?
Or one of my biggest pet peeves that I see often is that they forget that you can’t always hear, and you feel like nothing has changed with their behaviour while you are doing all you can to engage. So annoying!
In these situations, the people closest to us feel self-conscious and often project their insecurities onto us. As a result, they feel that we do not measure up to what they perceive as their ideal standards. As a result, you may take on their insecurities and make yourself feel like you are not measuring up. It’s even more complicated when your family and close friends add to your insecurities.
In these circumstances, you cannot control how others perceive or react around you. This makes it hard because you hope that empathy and understanding are the traits that are around people you hang around with. It’s a tough choice that we have to make. Either we can disassociate ourselves or come to terms with how others are reacting around us as a reflection of their insecurities or lack of worth. The reality is that content people are fully present and have more to give than putting the burden on us.
The history of stigma has been around for centuries. Stigma has become a learned behaviour. In our capitalist society, we had to establish norms and standards of how to act and behave for people to get jobs and contribute to the evolution of our society. Any deviation from the norm creates the stigma we often see and experience with hearing loss.
The reality is that we don’t live in a world where everyone sees each other as equal. Instead, we will always have people viewing the world in hierarchical structures to elevate themselves and make themselves feel good about their place in society. So stigma often comes to us through them. As a result, we overcompensate by being small or hiding our hearing loss from others. We barely even notice that we’re doing it.
Some of us fear the shame others bring upon us that we compensate with perfectionism. The desire to show ourselves are perfect human beings despite our flaws. We don’t want our hearing loss to be the excuse card that others use to get us out of doing what we want. So we exhaust ourselves to get it right and fear failure like the Covid-19 virus. So we do all we need to avoid making mistakes and finding ourselves unhappy along the way.
Many of us will go to lengths to avoid disclosing our hearing loss for fear of being put down on that hierarchical ladder. We want to be in the norm or at the top.
Many of us would hide our hearing loss, particularly when finding a job. We don’t want to allow others to decide that we are incompetent to do the job, and we want the job badly enough that we feel it is essential not to let the interviewer find out. But unfortunately, when we don’t disclose early enough, we don’t know where people stand and how they view us as a person. If they can’t deal with it, maybe they’re not the best collaborators for the lives we want and the experiences that we want to have.
Pretending to laugh when someone says something you know to be a joke. The person gives a subtle clue with their body language or facial expression that says it all. They are waiting for you to clue in and laugh with them.
Another thing I noticed that I would do is to position myself to sit or walk with my good ear close to the person I’m talking to. This happens so often that I can’t let go of my spot if the other person moves to another location. So say if we were walking, I could find myself in the dish or circling around the one in a dance as they carry themselves in another location. I need my good ear to hear them better, and I can’t lose that position.
Disability has often been stigmatized as a charitable cause to alleviate the suffering of not being what society considers normal. However, the inspiration porn that appears and is designed to pull the heartstring is so over the top. The glorification of others taking us out of what they think is a misery to be deaf or hard of hearing unsettles me.
The perpetuation of specific narratives from the media and non-profit organizations trying to win eyeballs at our expense is all too common. As a result, we are often placed as weak and vulnerable without any means of helping ourselves. This causes some of us to want to belong by playing the role of victims our society has placed us where we are less than without the help of others.
We still can’t live in the world in isolation, and we can support each other but support in the form of two people who view each other as equal is ideal. We are coming together to elevate each other, not from the patronizing views about disability.
The more and more I live, the better I understand why we are the way we are. We are perfectly designed to be on this planet to show another way forward. We exist to highlight a method, a process or an ability that is so unique to us that others couldn’t conceptualize without ever knowing or experiencing what we go through.
By living our truth, we build new capacities, and when others join the club, they have an idea of what to share from our experiences. We design new ways of communicating and bring human interaction from a different angle. We show that there isn’t one way to live, and silence is not bad. All these things allow us to contribute to society and advance new ways of being.
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